Two rising stars in Jamaica’s art world go to AFJ Charity Gala through Kingston Creative

Kingston Creative “gets it”: Partnerships are key. American Friends of Jamaica is celebrating forty years (and I was happy to share a few of those years in helping to promote their charitable activities, at one time). They are “do gooders” in the best and most genuine sense of the word. This trip was a great opportunity and exposure for two very talented artists. I met up with Richard early this year and recorded our conversation for Global Voices here; I am a huge fan of his work, which is ever-evolving. Now, he and Oneika Russell are spreading their wings.

Our artists need real, tangible support! Support them! Here is Kingston Creative’s release…

Kingston Creative, in partnership with the American Friends of Jamaica (AFJ) and the CB Facey Foundation, sponsored two Jamaican artists to attend the annual AFJ Jamaica Charity Gala at the Perez Art Museum, Miami (PAMM).  The selected artists were Richard Nattoo and Oneika Russell, rising stars in the Jamaican visual arts scene who are also CATAPULT Caribbean Art Grant recipients. 

(left to right) Richard Nattoo, Wendy Hart (American Friends of Jamaica) and Oneika Russell at the AFJ Jamaica Charity Ball in Miami.

The Jamaica Charity Gala celebrated the AFJ’s 40th year of service to Jamaica, honoured Ambassador Glen Holden (Lifetime Achievement Award), Keith Duncan (International Achievement Award) and Donna Duncan-Scott (International Humanitarian Award) and raised funds to support vital programs in Jamaica. Nattoo and Russell had their work up for auction and the Gala raised approximately $200,000 USD to support vital social development programmes in Jamaica. 

The brilliant young artist Richard Nattoo, who started his career as a high school student painting designs for mini buses in Kingston and trained as an architect before turning to art “full-time.”

“This has been the highlight of my career thus far because can you imagine how “seen” it makes an artist feel to be flown out on a fully sponsored trip, all due to the merit of their career?” Richard Nattoo said, reflecting on the night.  “I received an introduction that humbled me entirely: ‘This is Richard Nattoo, one of Jamaica’s rising stars in the art scene. Jamaica produces such exceptional talent.’” Richard added. “Attending this event empowered me as an artist and made me exceptionally proud to represent my country. I believe it is important for corporate entities to sponsor artists on ventures like this as it helps us to see what is possible on a global scale and how much more we can achieve as creatives for ourselves and our country. I am very grateful for the CB Facey Foundation for sponsoring my trip and helping to pave the way forward for an artist, such as myself, to make the most of the opportunity that was presented.” 

Oneika Russell incorporates not only painting, but also video, books, and textiles into her creative practice.

“Through this connection with Kingston Creative, I was invited to attend the American Friends of Jamaica Gala in Miami where I was able to meet many of the diaspora who are committed to development and growth locally. I was able to strengthen my own connections in the art world in Miami which is always important for Caribbean artists.” said Oneika Russell. “It is incredibly important for corporate Jamaica, potential funders and philanthropists to support creative organisations, initiatives, and projects who work with and support local artists and creatives. The development of Jamaica depends on it.”

ARTIST STATEMENTS:

FULL STATEMENT – Oneika Russell

In my journey as an artist I have always held the idea that an artist’s job is one of exploration and research of the human experience via creative work. If I ever feel curious about the way our culture feels or takes form that is channeled directly into my work. I studied Painting at Edna Manley College of the Visual & Performing Arts in the early 2000s and that was important for me to learn that Art wasn’t a thing you put on a wall but it was a practice, an engagement with history, culture, philosophy, spirituality, people etc. and once that is done it takes form in the medium I use. This has been my approach of leading with the ideas and what I wanted to find out and then using what selection of media is best suited for it. This has led me to making video, books, printed textiles, embroidery etc. etc. in my creative practice.

Later in my practice, in the last 5 years, I started to expand into art projects, social activities and engagements such as curating exhibitions, writing and social impact work. It was through my main initiative in the Arts, Tide Rising Art Projects that I came to work with Kingston Creative. Tide Rising Art Projects received a Catapult arts grant to help support our web presence and we worked on the Catapult magazine to document the grantees. I also received a grant as an artist working on a documentary film, Kumina Queen, as Art Director in collaboration with the Director Nyasha Laing, I received a grant to do research and development of the visual language for the film. 

These connections and funding support gave me the time to focus on pushing my design contribution to the film further. This was really important to me as a film about local spiritual leader, Queen Imogene Kennedy was needed. We have since participated in meetings as a part of DOK Leipzig film festival to create new opportunities for distribution and screening. Additionally, editing the CATAPULT magazine allowed me as an artist/cultural producer the exposure to a plethora of creative practices around the Caribbean which is proving useful as I further my work. Some of the artists I became aware of during the editing process were included in an essay I wrote for The Stedelijk Museum last year. 

Through this connection with Kingston Creative and CATAPULT I was invited to attend the American Friends of Jamaica Gala in Miami where I was able to meet many of the diaspora based overseas who are committed to development and growth locally. I was able to strengthen my own connections in the art world in Miami which is always important for Caribbean artists. For all the experiences and reasons described earlier it is incredibly important for corporate Jamaica and potential funders and philanthropists to support creative organisations, initiatives, projects etc. big and small who work with and support local artists and creatives. The development of Jamaica depends on it as we do know through IDB, World Bank and UNESCO that the Creative Economy is the focal point to pivot forward developmentally in the Caribbean.

FULL STATEMENT – Richard Nattoo

Art has always been my first language. At the age four I started drawing and by the time I was eighteen, I was exhibiting. Something about the magic of making work kept me moving. I knew from quite early that this is what I wanted to do with my life. While in university, I studied an art adjacent discipline – Architecture – and worked in that field while exhibiting every year. It was a deliberate approach to not study art as I saw that architecture gave me a set of skills that could amplify my practice and add structure to how I approached my craft. 

During the fourth year at my job at a prominent architectural firm, I realized that it was time for me to wake up and actually make art my full time job. I planned my way out. In the heights of the pandemic, I started working two shifts, namely the 9am-5pm shift at the firm and the 8pm-12am shift at my real job which was putting energy in my art career. I began putting myself out there and it was during that process that I collaborated with a few projects with Kingston Creative. The first was a mural project with the International Seabed Authority. It was with this project that my architectural knowledge shone through with the proposal I presented. At this time, I was the lead of creating proposals for new projects in the Architectural firm I was working at and this knowledge cross pollinated my art career, blooming prosperous flowers. 

Evidence of this fluorescence presented itself with other projects with Kingston Creative, such as the Paint the City project, Catapult Grant the H&L corporate card project, which I won for the first time in 2020. I saw the fruits of my labour awarded with the Prime Minister Youth Award in the category of arts and culture of that same year. Seeing the possibilities of what could be achieved that year, I resigned from my job January 2021 and never regretted it since. Now fast forward to April 2022, I am invited to Miami to the AFJ Gala. This has been the highlight of my career thus far because can you imagine how seen it makes an artist feel to be flown out on a fully sponsored trip, all due to the merit of their career? It was a surreal experience packing for the airport, arriving to the States, picking up my blazer from the cleaners and walking into the Gala. 

What stood out to me was how much I was known by more people than I actually knew. I received an introduction that humbled me entirely: “This is Richard Nattoo, one of Jamaica’s rising stars in the art scene. Jamaica produces such exceptional talent.” The night was pure bliss: networking, speaking about art, the art scene in Jamaica, the work KC is doing and ways forward for my career. Having attended this event has empowered me as an artist and makes me exceptionally proud to represent my country. 

I believe it is important for corporate entities to sponsor artists on ventures like this as it helps us to see what is possible on a global scale. It helps us to see how much more we can achieve as creatives for ourselves and our country. I am very grateful for the CB Facey Foundation for sponsoring my trip and helping to pave the way forward for an artist, such as myself to make the most of the opportunity that was presented.

(left to right): Oneika Russell, Richard Nattoo, Susanne Fredricks (Director, Susie Wong Presents), and Andrea Dempster-Chung (Executive Director, Kingston Creative) at Laura Facey’s “Laboratory of the Ticking Heart” exhibition in Rae Town, downtown Kingston recently (Photo: Errol Blake)


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