It’s impossible to spend time in Jamaica and not experience the cultural creativity and joyful self-expression of the richly diverse Jamaican people. You hear it in their music, move with it in their dance forms, and witness it in the Jamaican art galleries. Art aficionado or not, you are sure to find plenty to hold your interest with a visit to these exhibitions. And what better souvenir to remember your island experience by than with an original piece of Jamaican art?
National Gallery of Jamaica
In downtown Kingston’s dynamic waterfront area you find the largest collection of local art on permanent view in the National Gallery of Jamaica. As you stroll through, you notice the collection is organized chronologically, starting with ancient carvings of the indigenous Taíno, through the bold modernist sculptures of Edna Manley (the mother of Jamaican art), and contemporary mixed-media installations of David Boxer. One of the gallery’s most influential contributions to the Jamaican art world was to boost the status of Jamaican intuitives, or self-taught artists. In the gift shop you can purchase prints of pieces by legendary intuitives, such as Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, Leonard Daley, and John Dunkley as well as those of trained professionals like Allan “Zion” Johnson and Albert Huie.
A 22-minute drive north of the National Gallery brings you to the Olympia Gallery with the largest private exhibition space of all Jamaican art galleries in Kingston. The octagonal building was constructed in the 1960s, and its design is a legacy of one of Jamaica’s most beloved artists, A.D. Scott. Beneath a clear domed roof, the gallery evokes a courtyard feel, with the artwork encircling the building’s center. You can view the work of emerging artists such as George Rodney, Patrick Waldemar, and the fine art photography of Marina Burnel. You’ll want to make time to wander through the sculpture garden. Afterwards, if you feel inspired to create your own pieces, you can pick up supplies at The Art Centre, the gallery’s on-site art store.
In a peaceful Kingston suburb across from Manor Park Plaza, boutique Grosvenor Galleries was started by owner Douglas Reid as a venue to show less mainstream and more experimental Jamaican pieces. A perfect example of this is when Reid exhibited his personal collection of vibrant hand-painted Jamaican street signs collected from all over the city. Within the gallery’s four rooms, you can spend a quiet afternoon viewing and shopping for paintings, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics created by up-and-coming artists.
Art lovers searching for Jamaican art in Ochos Rios will want to head about four miles east of the city to Harmony Hall. The beautiful Georgian-style manse holds works by more than 100 Jamaican artists and artisans, focusing on the work of intuitives. As you make your way through the airy rooms, it becomes clear that the artwork reflects the kaleidoscopic mix of races and cultural influences found on the islands. Don’t miss the distinctive mixed-media shell collages and cyanotypes. If you’ve wanted one of Jamaica’s famous Annabella boxes, this is the place to get them. The gallery’s late owner, Annabella Proudlock, is the original creator of these sought-after collectibles.
Once you’ve finished exploring the gallery’s treasures, head down to the ground level for dinner at Toscanini’s. With a menu of fresh-caught seafood, Italian classics, and Jamaican fusion fare, you can’t go wrong. And leave room for one of their decadent desserts. Their chocolate profiteroles, tiramisu, and coffee-lovers’ affogato are absolutely dreamy.