- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 16, 2006

The culture and heritage of Jamaica — as well as the journey of Jamaican immigrants — is captured in vivid color and texture at the Art Museum of the Americas.

“New Possessions: Jamaican Artists in the U.S.,” produced in honor of the 44th anniversary of Jamaican independence, features the works of 15 contemporary artists of Jamaican heritage who live and work in the United States. The artists express different viewpoints and moods on the journey of their people as well as using vastly different paintbrushes and media.

“New Possessions” is a temporary exhibition that will be on display through Oct. 29. Its home at the Art Museum of the Americas is a natural fit. The museum was established by the Organization of American States in 1976 in a tribute to the U.S. bicentennial. The museum, in a Spanish-style building at 18th Street and Virginia Avenue Northwest, is dedicated to preserving the art of Latin America and the Caribbean.

It is a small museum — almost more of a gallery — so the permanent collection has been stored to allow the “New Possessions” works to be showcased. Because the whole exhibit can be viewed in about half an hour, a trip to the Art Museum of the Americas would make a nice addition to a downtown trek to see other Washington cultural and tourist spots. Nearby are the Washington Monument, DAR Constitution Hall and the White House, among others.

Each artist has one to three works on display, and the museum does a good job of providing bios and background and thematic information about the artists and their art.

“This is an interesting exhibit for us because we wanted to look at a country that had been underrepresented in our collection in the past,” says Maria Leyva, the museum’s curator of collections. “The themes of immigration and displacement are so common in today’s world.”

Among the most moving works are those by Bernard Hoyes. Mr. Hoyes depicts scenes of Jamaican musicians and rituals using vibrant reds, yellows and greens.

Meanwhile, local quilt artist Donnette Cooper has made African-inspired designs that feature Ghanian Adinkra symbols, cowrie shells and colors inspired by African kente cloth. Ms. Cooper’s quilts also feature bits of her own life — including fabrics purchased during her travels and materials from her own clothing.

Ms. Cooper, who is also a lawyer, says in the display materials that quilting is a connection to Africa as well as Jamaica.

“I like to travel to Africa, and I am fascinated by the masks, the art, the fabric,” she says in the printed materials at the museum. “I am particularly moved by the fabric because African textiles were not just fabric for clothing — so many messages were encoded in the textiles. I see in my art a search for a re-connection to Africa.”

In an upstairs corner of the museum, artist Yasmin Spiro takes a different approach to her heritage in giant sculptures that use burlap, hair, shipping rope, twine and coir.

The rough materials seem to symbolize labor and slavery. Ms. Spiro’s work, reminiscent of the human body, also symbolizes women’s bodies and the metaphorical chains that bind them. Ms. Spiro explains in the exhibit materials that she is trying to show the social paradox of Jamaica.

“Jamaica is … a land of extreme natural beauty and spirit but also one of harsh poverty and despair,” she says. “My work and the materials I employ reflect that duality.”

She says the use of burlap, for instance, symbolizes the sugar trade and the moral and commercial exploitation of many Jamaicans. However, it also symbolizes death and is a durable resource that is used in farming to protect roots.

“Perhaps most important to me, [burlap] is a vernacular, yet expressive and resilient material,” she explains.

Another expressive artist is Eglon Daley, whose acrylic-on-canvas paintings capture groups of people in a style similar to that of a photographer. Mr. Daley is a local artist whose works also hang in One Judiciary Square and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport’s North Terminal.

In Mr. Daley’s work, some of the faces are very detailed, while some are blurred, shadowed or not defined at all. Mr. Daley explains in the museum materials that this is how people perceive other people — when faced with an assortment of information, we tend to focus on one face, one pattern or one color.

When you go:

Location: “New Possessions: Jamaican Artists in the U.S.” is featured at the Art Museum of the Americas at 201 18th St. NW.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday

Admission: Free

Parking: Street and meter parking are available nearby. The nearest Metro stop is the Farragut West station on the Orange and Blue lines.

More information: 202/668-6016 or www.museum.oas.org

Notes:

• “New Possessions” is a temporary exhibit featuring 15 contemporary Jamaican artists who live in the United States. The artists all convey messages about their cultural heritage, struggles and journey, but each artist works in a unique style. The exhibit will run through Oct. 29.

• A family workshop featuring artist Helen Elliott will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 14. Admission is free.

• The Art Museum of the Americas is sponsored by the Organization of American States and is dedicated to the art of Latin America and the Caribbean.

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