National Gallery of Jamaica’s National Biennial 2012: Interview with Jasmine Thomas-Girvan

By Nicole Smythe Johnson Saturday, December 8th, 2012 Categories: Biennales, Features, Updates

The National Gallery of Jamaica presents the 2012 National Biennial exhibition, which opens to the public on Sunday, December 9 at 11 am. The Honourable Lisa Hanna, M.P., Minister of Youth and Culture will be the guest speaker. In its current form, the National Biennial consists of an invited section, to which artists with an already well-established track record are invited by the NGJ to submit work, and a juried section, which is open to all Jamaican artists and all artists living in Jamaica and selected by a panel of judges representative of major stakeholders in the local artistic community. Nicole Smythe Johnson, recently appointed Senior Curator for the National Gallery of Jamaica will present a series of interviews with a selected group of artists whose work will be featured in the 2012 National Biennial.

Jasmine Thomas Girvan- Dreaming backwards. 2012. Images courtesy of the National Gallery of Jamaica

Nicole Smythe Johnson: What do you think about this year’s Biennial with what you’ve seen so far. Are you excited about any particular pieces or artists?

Jasmine Thomas Girvan: I am very excited. It is the first time that I am physically in the space as everything takes shape. Though one understands theoretically  how challenging mounting a major exhibition must be, it is entirely another thing to witness how it takes shape . So far I have seen quite a lot of striking work but what has impressed me the most is the tireless dedication and focus of the staff. They are constructing a little city within the walls of the space and are completely dedicated to the task. Pride is what I feel as I stand in the space.

NSJ: This year the Gallery has made some changes to our submission requirements, we’ve included more diaspora artists (particularly artists of Jamaican parentage though not necessarily residency). What do you think about this move? Are there any particular diaspora artists whose work you’re keen to see? How do you think it will shift the landscape of the biennial?

JTG: Quite honestly  I was not aware of these major changes but It is a positive development . The diaspora plays a significant role not only economically but culturally as well and therefore they should be recognized. This is about the mindscape that we inhabit because, aren’t we all on the same mission?

NSJ: How has you’re experienced changed this year (if at all) being an invited artist?

JTG: My approach is essentially the same.

NSJ: Tell us about the pieces you’ve submitted this year.

JTG: I have 2 pieces in the exhibition . Over time my work has been expanding in scale and so one of the pieces is a wall piece 10 feet long, titled “Dreaming backwards”. This piece brings together many of the recurring themes in my work referencing our collective history/memory and and is realized in materials which are environmentally relevant. The second piece traverses the defined boundaries of jewellery and  sculpture is titled “Alchemy of Promise” crafted in local mahogany and bronze with wearable accents in silver, pearl, bone and jumbie beads.It represents a meditation on the way forward.

As a part of the body of work in the exhibition I have also created 3 medals . The series is titled “Give us vision” a line from Jamaica’s National Anthem, “give us vision lest we perish….” The medals are dedicated to John Maxwell, Angela Cropper and the Cuban People. It recognises the creative vision of Angela, a champion of the environment, the courage of  John, a brilliant journalist who  used the pen to champion truth and justice  and the magnaimous  Operation Milagro , an extarordinary international programme offered by the Cuban Government that literally has given vision to over a million people across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Jasmine Thomas-Girvan – Occupy Wood (2012), bronze and wood



Jasmine Thomas-Girvan was born in Jamaica. She attended the Parsons School of Design in New York, where she received a BFA in Jewellery and Textile Design. Whilst at Parson’s Jasmine was awarded the Tiffany Honour Award for Excellence. Later she received a Prime Minister’s Certificate of Recognition for Excellence in Jamaica, and in 1996 she was the recipient of a Commonwealth Foundation Arts award. Jasmine has also made a number of public commissions, one of which was presented to the Queen of England . Jasmine’s work has been exhibited in the USA, Jamaica, Trinidad, Venezuela and Mexico, and featured in Accessories Magazine, Skywritings, Shabeau and Caribbean Beat. Jasmine lives and works in Trinidad, West Indies

Artist Statement:

For me, the process is intuitive. It begins to take shape through sketches that might immediately be made into a preliminary model, or sit and hibernate on a shelf as a mystery for a year or two then suddenly spring to life with vigour and crystallise in a flash. My pieces echo their organic origins. I am intrigued by the poetry in Nature and attempt to capture the elemental and ephemeral beauty and rhythms thriving in the organic world. I have always regarded Nature as a teacher and guide that constantly sharpens my senses.

The process may begin with a walk by the Queen’s Park Savannah; watching the tide in Carriacou; the thunderous cascade of Kaieteur Falls; imagining what lies beneath those sleeping volcanoes in Dominica; stumbling over a mountain of bodi in the market; inhaling tassa in St James, or simply flirting with hummingbirds as they hover over coffee blossoms in the Blue Mountains. The sources of my inspiration are as diverse and rich as the land we are privileged to walk on and its people: myths, architecture, literature, food, fashion, moonfire, birdsongs, radiowaves and even the way feathers mysteriously arrive carried on the wind.

Nicole Smythe Johnson
Nicole Smythe Johnson

Nicole Smythe-Johnson is a curator and writer living in Jamaica and working across the Caribbean region. In 2013, she completed her tenure as Senior Curator with the National Gallery of Jamaica where she worked on the 2012 National Biennial, Natural Histories (2013) and New Roots (2013) exhibitions. Since then, she has worked with contemporary Caribbean art and culture magazine ARC as an editor and writer, and also works with Jamaica-based contemporary art organization New Local Space (NLS) as outreach coordinator and host of NLS’ online art conversation series IN.