Monday, November 06, 2006

Edna Manley - An Accomplished Jamaican Artist

Edna Manley, OM (Order of Merit - Jamaica) (1900-1987) was an English-born Jamaican artist and social activist. Born to an English father and Jamaican mother, she married her cousin Norman Manley and moved to Jamaica in 1922. Two children, both sons, were born to that marriage, Michael who was to become a union activist and eventually prime minister, and Douglas, a sociologist and minister in his brother's government.

When her husband became leader of the People's National Party, in the wake of the worker uprising of 1938, she became a public figure both as an artist committed to producing works centered on Jamaica (most notably the figure 'Negro Aroused') and as a promoter of Jamaican literary culture through the journal Focus, which she edited in the 1940s and 1950s.

Throughout her career the artist passed through a series of phases, each representing Edna' stages in the development of her life and that of Jamaica:

  • Negro Aroused (1935 - 1940): This represented a search for a new order, a vision of a people being awakened to a new consciousness. Chief among her works at this time were Mountain Girl, Negro Aroused, The Prophet, and Pocomania.
  • The Dying God Series (1941 - 1948): Works including Before Thought, the Forerunner, Before Truth, and Into the Mist. These are at one and the same time her most private yet universal works. In them are elements of a personal symbolism based on her own intimate relationships with her husband and family.
  • The Public Year and Public Commissions (1949 - 1969): At this time there is intense pressure on family and political life. Works at this time are isolated pieces, usually commissions. These include The Hills of Papine, The Mountains, and all the All Saints Crucifix.
  • A Period of Mourning (1969-1974): This is the period of illness and death of Norman Manley. She does Angel, the Grief of Mary, Journey, among others.

Ms. Manley has played a major pioneering role in the history of 20th century Jamaican art. Her works are in private collections, galleries and public buildings worldwide. Since 1924 she exhibited in many one woman and group exhibitions mainly in London, the United States, the Caribbean and in Jamaica. In 1929 she was awarded the Institute of Jamaica's Silver Musgrave Medal. In 1943 she became the first recipient of the gold Musgrave Medal for her outstanding contribution and leadership in the arts in Jamaica.

Edna was co-founder of the Jamaica School of Art in 1950. She stopped carving in wood in 1974 with 'Journey' and all her subsequent works were carved in clay and cast. Later in 1977 she received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of West Indies, Kingston. In 1980 at the National Gallery Retrospective Exhibition ‘Edna Manley the Seventies’, she was awarded the Order of Merit (Jamaica).

Pics of Edna Manley

See you in Jamaica.


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