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The Jamaica-born artist based in Canada wins the Visual Arts Award

Charles Campbell, a Jamaican-born visual artist, is the winner of the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Foundation for the Visual Arts VIVA Award in 2022, which carries a $ 15,000 grant. Campbell is a Fernwood-based painter, sculptor and performative artist who has been working across multiple disciplines for nearly 30 years. At the age of 52, race and climate change are the current most critical motivations for creating his art of him.

In an interview with the Vancouver Island Free Daily, Campbell noted that the world right now looks like “things are closing,” adding that the world is experiencing an ecological tragedy and a segmentation of groups. She tries to regain a sense of possibility in the world through his art and help others have a broader perspective. Campbell believes his art of him involves capturing the experiences he and other black / radicalized people have and understanding how they can help everyone navigate the future. He said that black history required cultures to be reinvented and people to move forward. He added that the history of slavery with its brutality and attempts to eliminate social structures and black personalities required a kind of “cultural ferment” that allowed people to “rebuild” themselves.

Campbell moved with his family from Jamaica to Prince Edward Island when he was five. He wanted to reconnect with his Jamaican heritage, however, and returned to the island after earning a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Concordia University in Montreal. His interest in issues of race and identity while attending art school forced him to reconnect with his “Jamaican”. He stayed in Jamaica for five years to pursue a master’s degree from Goldsmiths College in London and spent five years there. He then moved to Vancouver Island before returning to Jamaica again for another two years, during which time he worked as chief curator at the National Gallery of Jamaica.

His interest in Jamaican history, particularly that of slavery and how his colonial past affects social dynamics and problems with modern-day violence, and his art helps him explore and expand these ideas. He always asks himself: “How did we end up here?” He believes that, in Canada, facts such as the founding of the nation originating from the genocide of indigenous peoples are “ignored”, but in Jamaica it is more difficult to pretend that its economic foundations were anything other than slavery.

His time in Goldsmiths introduced him to performance art, which brought more attention and attention to his commitment to depicting Caribbean history, which was too easily dismissed in his paintings. He continued to paint while exploring performance and sculpture through a character from a popular Jamaican festival called “Jonkonnu”. He created a character called “Actor Boy” from a utopian future and asked him “How did we get here”. The character began making objects, which later became Campbell’s sculpture practice. He played the character in “Travels in Birdsong” on stage in PEI, with interactions with his sculpture of him as part of the performance. He also created “Time Catcher: The Fruiting of Chaos” which is on permanent display at Victoria International Airport.

Although he has been making art for the past 30 years, Campbell has said that his great success and recognition has only come in the last three or four years and he can now make a living being a full-time artist.

Photo – Charles Campbell

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