Aptly called the artbeat of Jamaica, the annual Liguanea Art Festival (LAF) is the Caribbean’s largest. This festival showcases upcoming talent alongside local veterans in photography, painting, ceramics, jewellery and sculpture since its 2005 inception. Hosted by June and Tony Wong, a Jamaican couple which shares a passion for the arts, LAF has evolved into a household name with 2017 being its biggest yet. This year featured more than 110 artists, some of whom are widely celebrated and have traversed the Jamaican and international art landscape.
Centrally located in the heart of Liguanea, an upscale neighbourhood in Saint Andrew, there’s no trouble locating its venue. The Liguanea Plaza at 134 Old Hope Road comes alive with tents, music, people and a kaleidoscope of colour brought by vivid paintings and bold handcrafts. It lasts only one day; in recent years that being the first Sunday of December (this year it was December 3) from 10am to 7pm. Free parking is provided at the Sts. Peter and Paul Preparatory School (entrance on Munroe Road) and my beloved alma mater Campion College, a stones-throw away. Two free shuttles are provided to and from the parking lot which ran much smoother than I would’ve expected. Admission to the festival is also free. Restroom facilities are available in the plaza’s General Food Supermarket and of course, since no festival in Jamaica is complete without food, you can bet there was lots of it.
Highlights of the Art Festival
The shuttle unloaded by the plaza’s exit next to Mothers’ Restaurant so I entered the festival there. Tents were arranged along the mall’s perimetre with additional tents on the interior to maximize their limited space. I wandered in and out of so many that I lost count and it was difficult committing to memory the whirlwind of largely unfamiliar artist names. The paintings, portraits and sculptures were mostly on the veeeery expensive side with the average piece going for JM$25,000+. I admit my naiveté in the cost of making these stunning pieces and while I’m sure many of the prices are justified, I’m sure smaller and less expensive pieces could have been included in more of the displays. Take for instance 100 people visit booth X with pieces ranging from JM$30-50,000. One wealthy person has $50,000 while the rest are only able to spare between $5,000 and $20,000. Therefore, booth X only gets one sale of $50,000 instead of 50 purchases of $5,000+, amounting to several hundred thousand dollars.
Unfortunately, I noted another trend. A lot of the artists only regarded those who they believed would be able to make a purchase. I entered quite a few tents and said hello to the artists who didn’t bat an eyelid, yet warmly greeted others who based on colour, race or accent appeared to be wealthier. I wish this weren’t so. I was looking forward to seeing and appreciating all the talent, noting the ones who piqued my interest and keeping contact information for those artists until the day comes where I’m able to afford some of their pieces– a day which could be sooner than later. Life is funny and rather cyclical. Today’s patron who merely admires your art could be tomorrow’s purchaser or even throw in a good word and refer lots of other customers your way. You can’t pay for that sort of advertisement. It’s about time Jamaican vendors, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs and other people involved in customer relations ditch that backward practice. Gone are the days where you can assess a person’s wallet by looking at them.
On a better note, here are a few places and artists which stood out. Forty-four Miles Jewelry takes the prize for my favourite booth! Its artist Courtney Morris uses hemp cords, stones, aluminium, silver and copper wires to craft delicate elegant pieces. Her prices were all affordable ranging from rings of JM$300 to necklaces under JM$3,000. Above all, her customer service won me over. I saw similar pieces at other booths but what pulled my family to hers was her bright welcoming personality. It’s as if she genuinely wanted you to feel at home in her booth and as a result, it never ran empty of patrons.
Here are a few other pieces which caught my eye. Many of the artists refused photographs of their pieces but an artist friend of mine explained that flash can damage the paintings and that intellectual property theft in the art world is very real. I explained my reason for wanting to take photos but of course, who’s to say I wasn’t lying. For all they know I could be an artist looking to copy their work. Nonetheless, enjoy the few photos below which I was allowed to capture:
Lastly, the food & drink companies with free samples at the back were instant crowd favourites. These include Ceres Drink, Best Dressed Chicken, Caribbean Passion Ham, National Bakery promoting their healthier bread alternative with 33% less sugar and Grace promoting their latest food drink to rival that of Lasco Manufacturing & Distributors, the only company which still hadn’t shown by time I left the festival at 2pm. Red Stripe was my favourite– not only because a cold beer on a sweltering afternoon is always welcome but also from the free 1/4 pan jerk chicken which I received from purchasing additional flavoured beers to take home. 🤗
LAF is a must-see for locals and visitors alike of Kingston who enjoy admiring and purchasing unique pieces of handcraft, portraits and paintings. I’ve been saying this a lot of late because it’s true! There’s always something new to do wherever you live, even if you’ve lived there all your life and think you’ve seen it all. For instance, I live in the same parish which has hosted the Caribbean’s largest outdoor art festival since 2005 yet I never heard of its existence before until last year and this was my first time attending. In a country where majority of its souvenirs are imported from China, the economy is lagging and youth unemployment is soaring, it was heartwarming to see only local craft on display right next to the talented artist responsible. However, my experience at the festival wasn’t all that honestly. Maybe I wasn’t their target audience being a broke college student and as such, I give the festival 3 stars, ☆☆☆. Someday in the future (maybe) it’ll be better appreciated and worth a revisit. For now, at least I know where to locate fine Jamaican artists in one place should I need it.
‘Til next time. ✌