Some Thoughts on the Miss Lou Statue

 

Jamaica has been on a statue frenzy recently and that is, in itself, a good thing. Late last year there was the unveiling of the Usain Bolt statue at National Stadium and this will soon be followed, I gather, by the statue to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (we were initially told this would take place some time this summer but, unless I missed something while traveling, only the maquette has thus far been unveiled.) Statues for Asafa Powell and Veronica Campbell-Brown are also being planned, all of them as part of the Jamaica 55 legacy projects. Earlier this summer, a group of National Heroes busts was unveiled at Emancipation Park, which was organized and funded by the Rotary Club with the blessings of government, and last year there was also the very contentious unveiling of a Garvey bust, the original of which replaced by another version, at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. (I have written another blog post on Jamaica’s public statue issues recently, and it can be read here.)

Most recently, on Friday, September 9, or the 89th birthday of the subject, a statue to Miss Lou was unveiled on Gordon Town Square.¬† Let me first say how happy I am that this long-overdue project has finally¬† come to fruition, and how excited I am that the statue was placed in the community where Miss Lou lived for most of her time in Jamaica, as her rootedness in community needed to be part of the recognition process. The placement of the statue in the middle of the square is fortuitous, although there are a few practical and aesthetic problems arising, and it is quite appropriate that Miss Lou is the one to welcome visitors to her community. So congrats and thanks (or should I say “tenky”?) to all who made it happen, the private and public individuals and the artist, and the many efforts that were made over the years.

As is now customary with any new public statue in Jamaica, the debate about its merits and failings almost immediately started and when we visited the statue to photograph it yesterday, several other persons were also seen taking pictures. So the statue is already making its mark and public opinion appears to be divided between those who absolutely love it, those who have a few reservations, and those who totally hate it. Most of it revolves, as usual, around whether the statue is an appropriate likeness but there are also concerns about the location (some would have preferred Emancipation Park), and about the politics that have surrounded its production and unveiling. It is not a major controversy at this time but there are definitely rumblings. I have a few reservations myself and thought I should share them here.

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Those Public Statues

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Alvin Marriott – The Athlete (1962), aluminium, National Stadium, Kingston, Jamaica (photo: Marc Rammelaere)

Jamaica has a very contentious history with public art and, particularly, with some of the official monuments to key historical moments and public figures that have been erected since Independence. As I write this post, there are rumblings about the recently unveiled maquette for a statue to the popular Olympian track athlete Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and, as seems to be the norm with such statues in Jamaica, the issue at hand is whether the maquette represents an adequate likeness. The completed statue, which was commissioned by government from the Jamaican artist Basil Watson, is slated for unveiling later this year, at a date to be announced.

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Basil Watson – Merlene Ottey (2005), bronze, National Stadium, Kingston, Jamaica (photo: Veerle Poupeye)

The Fraser-Pryce statue will be located at what has, quite unimaginatively, been christened Statue Park, in front of the National Stadium at Independence Park. There it will join Alvin Marriott’s imposing Athlete (1962), which was unveiled by Princess Margaret as a part of Jamaica’s Independence ceremonies, and various later statues dedicated to specific Jamaican track and field Olympians, such as Merlene Ottey, the first female athlete to be so honoured. Most later additions are by Basil Watson, who was also the artist of the statue to Usain Bolt that was successfully unveiled at the same location last year, after similar public anxieties about the maquette and the question of likeness. Additional statues, of Veronica Campbell-Brown and Asafa Powell and presumably also by Basil Watson, are being planned.

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Basil Watson – Usain Bolt (2017), bronze, National Stadium, Kingston, Jamaica (photo: Veerle Poupeye)

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