February 2, 2010
We mourn the passing of Rex Nettleford tonight. His contribution to Jamaican cultural development and to the critical discourse on art and society in the Caribbean, is too big a subject for a single blog post but we present a simple tribute, an excerpt of his introduction to the NGJ’s catalogue of the landmark Intuitive Eye exhibition of 1979, in which the concept of Intuitive art was articulated.
“… these Intuitive painters and carvers must be closely observed and keenly studied as guides to that aesthetic certitude which must be rooted in our own creative potential if the world is to take us seriously as creators rather than as imitators. Those intuitive artists have indeed found what to paint with and what to paint on, what to carve with and what to carve on, despite the economic marginality most of them have suffered in a society that has not functioned largely in their interest. But instead of taking refuge in flight they have pursued their art with vigour and as a form of action against both material poverty and threats to spiritual survival, by drawing on their own resources which include the diverse dimensions of everyday living, the deep and poignant inspiration of the Jamaican religious experience, the mythology and lore of a transplanted and creolised people and the dynamic recall of suppressed cultural memories.
This last fact of our Jamaican existence renders these artists as highly sophisticated guardians of aspects of our heritage which is here celebrated in paint, in wood and in alabaster – with an elegance which is sometimes savage, sometimes serene, often with a hieratic quality that asserts the dignity of self and the elevation of the human spirit, and always with ancestral rhythms which are bold and emphatic even at their subtlest. And probably the most reassuring thing about the best among these artists is that this is achieved with freedom from demagoguery and without the crassness of social realism. Yet they are no less ‘revolutionary’ for it. Rather, they are the embodiment of that creative tension between tradition and revolution, between an ancestral past and a groping but hopefully self-assured future. They are, as well, the embodiment of passion and contemplation of culture and instinct.”
Rex Nettleford, 1979