Arts Council Exchange Ties Nebraska, Jamaica

by Donnette Dunbar

Omaha World Herald
October 16, 1997

Athletics has long provided a link between Nebraska and Jamaica, thanks to people like Donald Quarry and Merlene Ottey, members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln track team.

The Nebraska Arts Council would like to extend that relationship to the arts as well.

The organization is collaberating with the Edna Manley School for the Visual Arts in Kingston, Jamaica, to establish an exchange program. This week the Nebraska Arts Council plays host to Cecil Cooper, a renowned Jamaican artist who heads the painting department at Edna Manley. The school is considered to have the most important visual arts program in the English-speaking Caribbean.

"We think that cultures are best learned about and understood via the arts," said Jennifer Clark, executive director for teh Nebraska council. "If you appreciate the art, generally you have a better understanding of a culture and can then finally celebrate it."

Neville Murray, multicultural coordinator, sees the exchange program as a way to foster better relationships between the two cultures. "It's taking it one step beyond the athletic connection."

In the exchange program, which probably will begin [in the spring of 1998], artists from Nebraska will attend Edna Manley School while Jamaican artists will be on sabbatical at institutions here, Ms. Clark said.

Meanwhile, Cooper and representatives of teh Nebraska Arts Council will travel to Kansas City, Mo., Friday to meet Exhibits USA, a regional arts group. They will propose a collaberative effort featuring Jamaican contemporary art.

Jamaican art, Cooper said, is in a state of flux and needs to be critically examined as well as exposed to a global market. Unlike reggae music, which has found its international niche, Jamaican visual art still is relatively undiscovered, he said.

Cooper, 51, attributes this to the mostly European schooling artists receive in the Caribbean. "A great percentage of our artists have been considered expressionists," Cooper said in his lyrical [patois]. The work of artists such as Milton George and David George focus primarily on politics, self-analysis and global concerns, he said.

"Therein lies our dilemma. There is a notion that Caribbean artists should have a certain kind of look, that the art should be festive, tropical, colorful. And that's not the case in Jamaica. We need to shake that image that is very dated."

A classically trained singer, Cooper received a master of fine arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His acrylic paintings, exhibited around the world, are contemplative and thought provoking.

A painting titled "Family" shows two children in the tight embrace of their mother. They look somber yet at peace. The viewer wonders: "Where is the father?"

The inspiration for Cooper's reflective pieces, he said, comes from the process of work.

"I don't wait around for inspiration . . . Inspiration isn't going to come and bite you like a mosquito. I'm constantly playing with materials. It's a constant dialogue between me and the art."