Past Events

“Starting from that earth”: Humanized Landscape, Rastafarian Painting and Anticolonial Visions in 1970s Kingston

Research Lunch – Adrienne Rooney

  • 19 May 2020
  • 12:00 – 1:00 pm
  • This talk will be given online via a Zoom Webinar

In early 1970, students and a small group of faculty supporters pointedly attacked the recently founded Creative Arts Center (CAC) at the University of the West Indies, Mona (UWI Mona). Along with other universities in the UWI system, the Mona campus had been a hub of protest since October 1968. Those demonstrating against the CAC leadership demanded attention to questions roughly summarized as: whose cultural values should be advanced, and how can we reform the arts to spring from a non-elite? At the core of the students’ critiques – which were articulated in the local newspaper, the Daily Gleaner, by theorist Sylvia Wynter (then a lecturer at UWI Mona) – was the persistence of what they saw as colonial standards within the Arts Center, and moreover the UWI more broadly, a whole eight years after Jamaica celebrated its independence from centuries of British rule.

Such was the discursive environment grounding my presentation which, informed by a circle of anticolonial thinkers grappling with the persistence of colonial-era racialized class and cultural norms after Independence, studies British colonial depictions of Jamaica and its inhabitants alongside paintings and sculptures by Jamaican “self-taught” artists including Everald Brown and Ras Dizzy. Working from early writings of anticolonial authors Wynter and (Edward) Kamau Brathwaite – who both reference, though do not fully theoretically engage, contemporaneous Rastafarian and Revivalist artists working in and around Kingston – I will read these artworks as foils to (neo)colonial modes of viewing under fire in the CAC protests and represented in colonial imagery. This presentation, based upon ongoing research for my doctoral dissertation, moreover, argues that their artwork contravened attendant ideologies that challenged the validity of certain ways of being and art-making.

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About the speaker

  • Adrienne Rooney, a PhD candidate in Art History at Rice University, studies twentieth-century art and visual culture in the Americas with a focus on the Caribbean and United States. Her dissertation considers how political and epistemological shifts during the late 1960s and 1970s in the Circum-Caribbean provided intellectuals and artists a productive environment to confront post-Columbian, 'Western' treatments of art and its historicization. She is currently a Junior Fellow at the Paul Mellon Centre conducting dissertation research. Prior to Rice, where she received her M.A., she worked as a curatorial assistant at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She received her B.A. from Barnard College / Columbia University.