Tag Archives: black women in art

The Turning Point in Jamaican Art

 

Albert Huie - the counting lesson - 1938

‘The Counting  Lesson’ (1938), oil painting by Albert Huie

The representation of blacks as subjects in Jamaican art remained almost absent until Albert Huie (1920-2010) entered the art scene. Huie was artistically formed in an era where Ethiopianism, Rastafarianism, Garveyism, and cultural nationalism transformed the island’s social and political landscape. He incorporated the collective ideas of these movements about a black African consciousness and a black Jamaican culture in his works.


By Jorge Cuartas

In early Jamaican art, black inhabitants played a marginal role; they were portrayed as part of the scenery. This image was replaced in the late nineteenth century by the ‘market woman’, a stereotype introduced on postcards, photographs and advertisements as part of the first efforts to promote Jamaica as a tourist winter resort. Although represented in the foreground, the market woman is characterized as primitive, backward, childlike, barefooted, picturesque, tropical, and full of queer superstitions.

Albert Huie’s The Counting Lesson (1938) represents an important turning point in Jamaican art. In it a black young girl is the central point. The girl, looking intently at what is in front of her, is counting. She wears a polka dot dress, her hair is neatly coifed with a red bow, and the finger poised in midair stresses her mental calculations. All elements of the painting point to the girl’s education, respectability, and civility.

On its surface the work is fairly unremarkable. However, in the Jamaican context of the 1930s, the painting changes the focus of black people as subjects in art. No longer are they part of the scenery, or used to emphasize stereotypes, but now they are the central focus of the painting. By fitting the girl into the frame of art, Huie allowed black viewers to attribute to themselves the signs of distinction, prestige, and self-hood formerly reserved for the white colonial elite.

Today, Albert Huie is locally and internationally acclaimed as a key figure in Jamaican art and remembered as ‘The Father of Jamaican painting’, but in many ways it is ‘The Counting Lesson’ that set him apart from others. The painting can be seen at National Gallery of Jamaica, where it is on permanent display.

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The Imaginary World of Jorge Severino

Jorge Severino - Debut en sociedad di mi prima Cleotilde. Oil and acrylic on linen.

When he started exhibiting his paintings in the mid-sixties, Jorge Severino from the Dominican Republic didn’t have a clue to what he was doing. Reviewing Severino’s first exhibition in 1966, art critic Contín Aybar commented that “the ten paintings could easily have been created by six different artists. There is no common style in them”. So when Severino sold his first painting for $75, he was astonished that people would even pay for his work. Nowadays his paintings are hard to come by and cost $12,500 or more.


By Jorge Cuartas

Severino came to his own when he started painting black woman in luxury dresses. Using mostly a combination of oil and acrylics and never an easel, these black society women are decorated with over the top jewelry, silk dresses and red flowers. They stare defiantly at their observers.

Jorge Severino - 'Tía Gertrudis que era amante de Toulouse, haciendo antesala en el Moulin Rouge'. Oil and arylics on linen.

Severino is a representative of the magical realism movement, to which Gabriel García Márquez also belonged. His paintings are based on an imaginary photo album found in the attic with written indications in the margins about the Tia Clotilde in Paris, and the Tio Roque at the Prado Museum in Madrid. Severino uses this family to mock the megalomaniac fantasies of middle and upper classes of the Caribbean.

Jorge Severino 'Prima Johanna posando para Hector Baez'. Oil and acrylics on linen

His brilliance not only lies in transforming the perception of black women’s reality, but also in adding surrealistic elements to his paintings. Look for floating keys, football goal posts, or red fishes swimming in the air as part of his decorations.

Jorge Severino’s paintings have been shown in Europe, Latin America and the United States. He has won several international prizes for his paintings and is considered one of the Master Artists of the Dominican Republic.

Paintings used in this article:

  1. ‘Debut en sociedad di mi prima Cleotilde’, Jorge Severino. Oil and acrylic on linen.
  2. ‘Do you like Klimt’, Jorge Severino. Silkscreen.
  3. ‘Morena’, Jorge Severino.
  4. ‘Tía Gertrudis que era amante de Toulouse, haciendo antesala en el Moulin Rouge’, Jorge Severino. Oil and arylics on linen
  5. ‘Prima Johanna posando para Hector Baez’ by Jorge Severino. Oil and acrylics on linen.
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Contemporary Classical Art

Inspired by the Old Masters, contemporary painter Elizabeth Colomba (b1973) shows black people in classical settings. Using iconography as a tool, she re-interprets history while at the same time challenging and exploring issues of identity.

Of Martinique descendant, Elizabeth Colomba, was born and raised in Paris. She was classically trained at the Auguste Renoir, the Estienne School of Art and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. She uses both oil and watercolors.

She deliberately chooses a classical context to make her paintings look and feel historical. Her theme however, is very modern. Historically black people in art have been portrayed either as anonymous, less-than-human entities or playing banjos in raggedy clothes, smiling meekly at an absent observer.

Colomba’s paintings change that. She inserts black individuals into classical settings and re-interprets their place in history. Her paintings redefine how black people have been conditioned to exist, and how they have been conditioned to reflect upon themselves.

Elizabeth Colomba has exhibited her paintings in Los Angeles, New York City and Switzerland. As a visual artist she has contributed to feature films like Romeo and Juliet, One Hour Photo, Jesse James and A Single Man.

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