PAINT JAMAICA: bringing art into Kingston’s inner cities
The Paint Jamaica project started in July 2014 when a group of Jamaican artists and a French traveler got together and decided to bring art into the streets of Kingston in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. The idea at heart was to change and revolutionize the relationship between art, talent and society. However, along with creative expression, Paint Jamaica had a greater social cause which was to change the negative stigma around Kingston’s inner cities. With this vision in mind, the team embarked on a ten day project of beautifying the walls of a gigantic abandoned warehouse at 41 Fleet Street in Parade Gardens- an inner city that few Kingstonians had been to, yet even heard of.
For over a month, prior to bringing brush-to-wall, the Paint Jamaica team had been connecting with the residents of Parade Gardens to understand their aspirations. This feedback translated into dazzling murals led by talented artists such as Taj Francis, Matthew McCarthy, Djet Layne and Kokab Zohoori-Dossa. “We did not want to come in and impose a vision” explains Marianna, founder and project manager of Paint Jamaica. “This is their community, and after we leave, these walls belong to them… so the community has to drive our creative vision”. Some of the popular themes that came up were unity, education, peace and boosting self-esteem.
With over twenty walls to paint, Paint Jamaica launched a social media campaign with an open call for artists to be a part of the adventure- as long as they were willing to paint murals with an uplifting and positive message. Talented individuals rolled in from all over Kingston- and surpassed the original number of artists that were required. Paint Jamaica thus grew and evolved into a movement of democratic art and as a true community project, engaging volunteers of all backgrounds and the residents of Parade Gardens. Hand in hand, they transformed an abandoned space into a new landmark that is day after day, capturing the attention of thousands of Jamaicans, the local media and more recently favourite local artistes such as Tessanne Chin, who spontaneously came to pay a visit at 41 Fleet Street.
“The reality is that as artists this is what we always hoped for, even while in at school: to be able to contribute to changing the visual landscape of our country,” said Matthew McCarthy, who had become somewhat of a mentor to one of the community artists.
For fellow artist, Taj Francis, the project is really about changing the feelings that people have towards inner-city Kingston.
Kokab Zohoori-Dossa, the only female artist on the team, takes the time out to interact with the young girls who come to admire their progress.
“I see the kind of environment they’ve grown up in, with the skin bleaching and straightening of the hair. I wanted to promote natural beauty, getting them to accept themselves as young, black girls,” she said.
Referencing her painting of a woman, which community members fondly call the “queen”, Zohoori-Dossa wants these girls to see themselves that way — beautiful.
To date, the support and feedback has been tremendous. A high level of excitement has been generated namely because the initiative is a first of its kind in Jamaica. Via social media, Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans alike are following the movement. Paint Jamaica has received support from the iconic music label Tuff Gong Worldwide and Ziggy Marley himself. The impact has been extremely positive on the local community: with their involvement, new skills are being transferred and individuals have been inspired to creatively express themselves. Furthermore, the mere act of changing the visual landscape helps reduce crime and littering. Of note, police surveillance has now increased around Fleet Street. Marianna points out that “people have told us that when you beautify a street, locals are more likely to want to protect and preserve it… hence keeping unlawful possibilities away”.
Paint Jamaica was financially possible with the support of a crowdfunding initiative and non-monetary donations from local companies such as Diamond Paints, National Baking, True Rapid Value, Sun Island Company and Kremi.
Paint Jamaica has plans to carry the movement across Jamaica- and potentially in to other countries too. The focus will remain to inspire people to embellish and transform their visual surroundings through democratic art… in unexpected ways and unexpected places.