(HA) The Jamaica Making Exhibition and a Special Interview with Dr Emma Roberts

This section also contains an interview with Dr Emma Roberts listed at the bottom.

Tuesday 22nd February, 14:00 to 16:00, we visited the Victoria Gallery for Emma‘s exhibition on Theresa Roberts collection of Jamaican art.


Personally, the artwork exhibited in the gallery piqued my interest. The skill and talent that went into the artwork were impressive and to be exposed to the art of a country that I have never been exposed to is an eye-opener. Gallery was laid out as a small space to emulate what Theresa Roberts’s house would be like (apart from the fireplace!), creating a personalized environment. Cosy and casual, with beautiful paintings of still life to the politicized paintings in the second room. The mixture of sculpture and many other media also shows how wide-ranging contemporary art can be and it doesn’t simply have to be the Eurocentric painting.

The personal atmosphere of the gallery creates a cosy area; for reference take- it is around the same size albeit a bit smaller than the Garstang Museum.

Besides the visit to the gallery, the interview exposed me to the impact of non-European contemporary art and the process of bringing artworks into an exhibition. These recent works tend to be picked up by collectors, so it really only takes someone, like Emma, to get them to be exhibited by making the connections necessary for that to happen.

Before the interview, Emma had told me while in the gallery that she got in contact with Theresa Roberts by accident through another person. Sometimes, life throws a bucket of good luck at you and the right circumstances. I believe with this as an example is that contemporary art history is created through unique events and through creating those connections. An artist cannot break through if the artist doesn’t promote their work, connect with others and show their work.

Interview with Dr Emma Roberts

(Josh) Did you connect with any of the artists showcased in the exhibition as a curator?

(Emma) Yes, actually a lot. With the earliest artwork only being 1964 in the exhibition, many are pretty recent artworks like 2010 and 2017. So many of the artists are still alive, so I emailed them or went through their agents to email them to contact them. Then they replied that it was really valuable to get the information straight from the horse’s mouth.

(Josh) Did some of them not reply?

(Emma) Some of them didn’t reply, but all of them that did were really nice. And they’ve continued to help like I got quotes and things from the artist who did all the very sexual images, Kristina Rowe, and since then. Oh, I should mention that she’s been happy to do the YouTube video on the outreach! To be on the art gallery website, they continued to help.

How does this help their careers?

(Josh) Do you think the exhibition will help proceed their careers further?

(Emma) Yes, I supposed I do think that. I know I’m talking myself up by saying that because while the artists are really well known in Jamaica- not all of them are known in Europe (or the UK). So, for example, O’mar McKay did the video piece- I don’t think he’s exhibited anything outside of Jamaica his whole life before because he’s still young. So far, the people I’ve been with within the gallery have received it quite positively, and it’s not in the collector’s collection. So Theresa Roberts, who gave most of the collection, doesn’t own the O’mar McKay work, but now she will probably take an interest in his work. Maybe buy some of his, so I think it will help some artists’ careers.

(Josh) What, to you, is so unique about Jamaican contemporary art?

(Emma) Hmm, unique about it? I’d probably say that it’s merging European influences and Afro-European influences. That’s what’s nice about it; the mixing of those. You can still see the references to Picasso, Matisse and Dali, but they’re thinking about their indigenous culture and the African culture that came through the slave trade. So it’s the mixing of that. In much of European contemporary art, we don’t have such a diverse range of influences behind it – it might be UK-based influences instead.

Who collects the art?

(Josh) How do you think Jamaican art will be viewed by future historians?

(Dr Emma Roberts) That’s an excellent question; I feel that it’s on an upwards trajectory. For example, 20 to 30 years of art from Haiti was really picked up, especially by Americans, especially the collecting of primitive Haitian art. However, Jamaica is a really good turning point, so I think now. I wish I had more money to hand to buy things because if I bought some stuff now, it might be worth a lot of money in ten years. Again, I shouldn’t be thinking about money. As I said the other day, I think it will be more widely collected in galleries like the Tate or by very wealthy collectors, so it’s on the upwards rise.

(Josh) Do you think not just the United Kingdom will be collecting this artwork?

(Emma) Yes, I think- especially America because they’re quite close geographically to Jamaica. Philip Thomas did his self-portrait in a shirt and tie; he’s been taken up by a dealer in America, and his work has been shown quite widely. Oh- there’s an artist not in the exhibition called Andrae Green – he got a government scholarship to train in New York. He now lives in America, and the Americans are now really picking up on his art – so I think the Tate might buy it. Other European countries and soon America will hopefully be buying a lot of Jamaican art.

How do you find the art?

(Josh) What goes into the process of finding art for the exhibition? What gets an artwork was chosen and another not?

(Emma) I suppose I was a bit limited for this exhibition because I only really had access to the collection of Theresa Roberts plus the artist in residence and O’mar McKay- the video artist. So I didn’t have access to everything else, which would have been amazing Jamaican art, but I suppose I could talk about why I filtered things out there when I did have access to Theresa’s collection. The main thing was that I wanted a variety of media, and I didn’t just want paintings because I could have just done an exhibition on paintings from Theresa’s collection. After all, she has got loads. I definitely wanted mixed media things such as photos, sculptures, fabric and as much of a variety that I could get- that was the main thing. I also wanted a good age range, so the oldest work was Albin Marriott’s carved wooden head to going right up to 2019 when the exhibition was in really full throes of being planned. So it’s a good age spread and definitely key names- I wanted Albert Huie and Barrington Watson to be there and (Edna) Manley’s sculpture of the Greek Orpheus. That was another criterium.

(Josh) Talking about Caribbean countries, would there be any other country you would want to do an exhibition on?

(Emma) I’m not really as knowledgeable about the other islands, but I would love to! For my work in my spare time, I’ve done a lecture on the art of Barbados, which was, for me, very interesting. So Barbados would be my next-in-line lecture after this, but I don’t think I’ll have the opportunity if I did. I’ve learnt a lot more about Barbadian art.

Behind the scenes and YouTube!

(Josh) Talking about lectures, do you do online lectures, YouTube by any chance, or would you consider going into doing those?

(Emma) I would be open to it- I haven’t done that yet, but where I do, I do other online lectures but not very publicly accessible. I work for cruise ship companies; on my holidays, I go onto cruise ships and speak about art history to the passengers there. They’re all broadcasted and shown on the cruise ship, and the company owns those then, so they can just show them as much as they want. If you’re not on the cruise ship or have access to the company, you can’t access them. I would be willing to do YouTube videos- one of those cruise companies is Viking, and they have a digital TV channel called Viking TV, so I’ve done two TV programmes with them. You have to know it, to see that it’s there. If you Google Viking TV, then it will probably come up there.

(Josh) How did you get the exhibition and the gallery to run the exhibition? Anything behind the scenes?

(Emma) In the second year in the history of art – you have two curating modules, and in that, we teach everybody to do a curatorial proposal assignment. Hence, what I did for myself is that I used that template of a curatorial proposal, and I wrote it out fully and sent it to the Victoria gallery. I thought that they’re not as popular as the Tate or the Walker, and they would be more open to my suggestions maybe- which they were. So once they received the curatorial proposal, they thankfully liked it, and they invited me for a meeting. So that’s how it happened.

That was the interview with Dr Emma Roberts on the Jamaica Making exhibition!

(Josh) I think that’s all for the interview! Thank you and see you in two weeks!

(Emma) Have a good week until then!

(Josh) Thank you!

(Emma) Thanks or you’re welcome! Bye!

(Josh) Bye!

Listen to this on my Podcast: