The Art of Reggae Exhibition

The Art of Reggae Exhibition

Constellations, 35-39 Greenland Street (Baltic Triangle)
Until 15th June 2016

Reviewed by Tom Calderbank

This is a fantastic exhibition, and is a credit to all concerned. From the way the work is chosen to how they’re presented, the result is a heady brew indeed. Speaking of heady brews, a real tip of the hat to the team for creating an ale in honour of the beautiful DJ Derek, named after the tune he always ended his sets with: One Love. You should definitely go, and go quick, as its only on for another week (this review is late, late, late). Local hero Rory Taylor, from ace promoters Rebel Soul, says in the programme notes:

“We are very excited to be collaborating with the International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC) … hosting the 17th Art of Reggae Exhibition. To be bringing the Exhibition to the UK for the first time ever is a real honour. The IRPC and Positive Vibration both share a deep-rooted passion for reggae and its positive message, and together, we will continue to share the love and support the creative industries.”

It’s an honour for the city to be chosen to host it, too, and I suspect not a coincidence: both Liverpool and Jamaica are small places that have had a disproportionately massive impact on the world of music. This magnificent display of posters shows beyond doubt the global reach of Jamaican popular culture. Visual artists from 84 countries submitted 1664 entries. This creative explosion is testament to the power of Reggae music to INSPIRE. It has powerfully touched the hearts and minds of people across every possible divide, and moved us in our MILLIONS. IRPS founder Michael Thompson (www.freestylee.net) is on a mission to help transform Kingston into a global port of call, whose centerpiece will be an incredible Reggae Hall of Fame Museum. Judging by this exhibition, his vision will be realised in a monumental way….

Stepping into Constellations, the thing that hits you is the COLOUR. Almost every poster is a riot of colour, exemplified by the overall winning design ‘Prism of Nature’ by Seyed Abbas Mirqeisari from Iran. This is the head of a rainbow lion. The lion, of course, is a recurring theme throughout the designs. Runner up by Turkey’s Oktay Barkin cleverly delineates a lion’s profile in the arched back of a Rasta playing what looks like the ultimate lick on his guitar. Number 19, depicting an old Rasta’s head with his beard twirling down, becoming the neck of a bass guitar, was a personal fave. He looked just like a sadhu, a good, wise and holy man, with a look of compassion in his eyes. There’s something about the simplicity of it, the relative lack of colour in the context of the others, and a real Jamaicaness to it.

Others that stood out for me included Carlo Cadenas (Venezuala), which depicts an almost 3D dove of peace – looking like its made out of marzipan – outlining symbols and noting the branches of Reggae: Dance Hall, Rock Steady, Dub, Roots Reggae, Ska, Jamaican Soundsystem. Also the posters with slogans on them: Chen Hsiao-Ying’s “Music Contributes to a joyful mind”, and “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” Robert Nesta Marley, naturally, bestrides this exhibition, as he does the whole genre. He figures in at least 5 pieces, including the US’s Collen Yessman’s artful rendering of his face through the words ‘Marley’, ‘Poet’ and ‘Prophet’.

I really liked the simple posters. Such as Nitin Sharma from India, who uses white lettering against a black background, saying ‘Reggae Basics’, with a seed, growing red, yellow and green leaves. The roots of Reggae. Saeed Nasri of Iran, uses a simple, minimal approach, with a red, gold and green stereo display against a black background, with the words ‘Jamaican Music Dub’ in green lettering. Or Hana Seng’s appealing effort from South Korea, which features a clean, childlike graphic of a cosmos pinging around planet lion. As Fernando Benedictti (Uraguay) puts it, ‘Reggae is Everywhere’, which shows a guitar, bass, drums, keys, sax and a trumpet in a trailer with a Jamaican flag and lion of Judah sticker on the side. The poster with a smiling Dennis Brown is warm, intelligent and sensual.

As Dr Carolyn Cooper notes in the programme, “hardcore reggae music of the 1970’s was the amplified soundtrack of global campaigns for human rights and justice. Peter Tosh’s anthemic ‘Equal Rights’ militantly asserts a universal truth:

Everyone is cryin’ out for peace (Yes)
None is cryin’ out for justice
I don’t want no peace
I need equal rights and justice.

Reggae music is, indeed, a therapeutic weapon of resistance against systems of political repression. The brilliant posters in this exhibition are simultaneously global and local. All the artists pay tribute to the Jamaican roots of reggae music. But they also acknowledge the far-reaching branches of roots culture. They interpret the story in new ways that manifest their own cultural values and aesthetic practices.”

What she said…..

The posters will be auctioned at the end of the run, with all proceeds going to the music department of Alphas Boys’ School, a great Jamaican institution. So do go along and pop a bid in for your favourite. The Exhibition runs until 15th June, and will run alongside Positive Vibration – Festival of Reggae which is to take place on 10th-11th June also at Constellations. With a great line-up, including Mad Professor, Trojan Sound System, Don Letts and DJ Vadim, this promises to be an incredible festival.

Reggae is a reason to thank JAH for; an incredible inspiration which has positively influenced so much in our global culture. From this little island, right across the globe and back again. this exhibition goes a long way to capturing its joyful spirit Righteous, brethren! Big up! Go See!

BIG respect and ONE love to all concerned.

9/10

@posvibefest
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