Jamaican Rastafarian Traditional Art and Crafts Symbology

Rastaman Carving

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Rastafarian traditional art, be it a painting, carving, song, or poem, is perhaps one of the most spiritual and personal art forms known to man. Each piece speaks of the daily struggles of the Rastaman and the hope that still burns inside them. Some images may seem unfamiliar to outsiders, but this is simply because they do not understand the symbolism and the thoughts that are put into such incredible displays of talent.

The words of Ras”T”, captured by Leonard E. Barrett, Sr. in his book The Rastafarians, are an excellent representation of the Rastaman’s struggle to survive as an artist in Jamaica. They also reveal the core concept of Rastafarianism itself; the idea that one is born with Rasta inside them, and a true Rasta lives every second of every day in spiritual contact with Jah, Rastafari. One cannot be a Sunday worshiper of Rastafarianism. For the Rastafarian artist, every stroke of every painting or each chip of wood from the sculpture is inspired by Jah.

Despite the problems such as lack of materials, and difficulties in getting exposure for their work, many members of the Rastafarian movement have turned to artistic expression in order to convey the Rastaman’s message, and also as a means of out-letting their spirituality. These expressions include visual art, music, and poetry. In some cases, the Rastas use their artistic ability to create crafts and”folk art”such as jewelry and figurines, which are purchased by tourists. Prior to the mid 1900’s, Jamaicans were known for their talent in ceramics and sculpting, but the majority of these artists were from elite White and East Indian communities. The first Jamaican sculptor to be known internationally was Kapo, the famous Pukumina leader, whose works were all composed under religious inspiration (Barrett, 186). The birth of Rastafarian livity created an important outlet for African-rooted artistic creativity, and the Rastafarian artists became the first ones to appear from a grassroots community. This incredible outburst of creativity is described by Barrett as follows:”from the primitive paintings of Ras Dizzy to the superb etchings of Ras Daniel Heartman; from the rough sculpture of Ras Canute who works under the coconut tree in front of the Casa Montego in Montego Bay to the refined pieces in Joe James Gallery in front of the Holiday Inn at Rose Hall, St. James – Rastafarian and Rastafarian inspired art can be found everywhere.”(Barrett, 186).

The Rastafarians have contributed so much to their country’s culture that goes by unnoticed. In the words of Barrett:”Great social developments are not always made in the halls of parliament or in the citadels of learning. These institutions merely react to the dreams of the creative mass. Some of the most creative trends in nations’ development are born in the dreams of the visionaries, the radicals, the seers, and the charismatic prophets.”(Barrett, 266). Many of these prophets are artists, and their beliefs are so strong that they are able to rise out of the poverty they live in and project their messages anywhere they will go.

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