Two sides of Jamaica: Exhibit analyzes country’s perception

A new exhibit titled “By the Rivers of Babylon” by Jamaican visual artist and professor Jacqueline Bishop, opens March 30 at the Sro Gallery in Crown Heights.
Jacqueline Bishop

Jamaica through a different lense.

In a new art exhibit titled “By the Rivers of Babylon,” visual artist and New York University professor Jacqueline Bishop analyzes her homeland in recent times. The monthlong exhibit, which opens on March 30 at Sro Gallery, was inspired by the aftermath of the infamous international manhunt for gang leader Christopher “Dudus” Coke in 2010, and the decades-old tourist perception of the island nation — two extremes in which outsiders often see Jamaica, said Bishop. And in her search for family during the manhunt she discovered something unsettling.

“My first instinct was to get an idea of what was going on because I still had friends and family in Jamaica, but in trying to get through and find information online — I kept running into idyllic tourist images,” she said. “And this juxtaposition became an arising problem for me.”

From that moment on, Bishop began to examine the way Jamaica was seen through the eyes of the world, and challenge how it was seen. Working in France at the time, she felt conflicted on what it personally meant to her. And a few of her first artworks in the 36-piece exhibit highlighted those two extremes.

“I am an American citizen and a Jamaican citizen who ended up in France working for the U.S., so I felt that both parts of myself were at war over this guy,” said Bishop. “The Dudus and landscape paintings came out of that, and I started doing a body of work against those typical images because I always felt there were two sides people saw Jamaica — the tourist side and the gritty images of the inner city.”

Some of the art depicts a street vendorship, shantytowns and homes, and some written work.

The artwork stands to be somewhat of a lesson for anyone who categorizes the country in one way, said Bishop. She says her art is a learning opportunity for guests to see the many aspects of Jamaica.

“They can learn that Jamaica is a very complex place and it is not one thing or the other. Dudus will never define Jamaica and tourism will never define it either,” said Bishop. “And neither will Babylon or Zion define it because Jamaica is a mixture of all of these things and I hope people takeaway that Jamaica is a very complicated place, and trying to flatten it into one specific place is not feasible.”

Bishop said her mission with her artwork was also to foster and build more intra-Caribbean relationships and give light to issues yet to be heard.

“If this exhibit prompts one thing, it’s the way in which we connect with other Caribbean islands and foster dialogue and build bridges,” she said. “My work is to be the voice for the voicelessness, tell untold stories, and foster bridges.”

“By the Rivers of Babylon” at Sro Gallery [1144 Dean St. between Nostrand and Rogers avenues in Crown Heights, (347) 489-6189,]. March 30–April 22.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]

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