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Mural 59 - Standpipe, Kingston, Jamaica

My guess is any time of the year is a good time to go to Jamaica. I was supposed to visit in June, and then the schedule changed to July, and then it changed to January. My vote would have been January all along. I'll take any excuse I can to leave Ohio in the winter. But, as it turned out, I finally visited the Caribbean in April . . . well, make that October.

After four delays, I wasn't holding my breath when the fifth invitation came my way. I had to see the airline ticket and hotel reservation before I would believe anything. And, nothing was truly certain in my mind until I stepped onto the airplane.

Upon arrival in Kingston, I had a meeting at the U.S. embassy with their staff as well as representatives from the two communities scheduled for murals and the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. It didn't take long for me to see I was in good company and I think I set their minds at ease. I hope so, anyway.

The first mural was in Standpipe, a community directly across the street from the U.S. Embassy. A wall in a major intersection in the community was selected and, thankfully, it was very smooth. The people I met with liked the idea of illustrating things inside the word "Standpipe". And, in case you were wondering, the area got its name because there once was a single standing pipe that provided water for the entire community. Life has improved since then, but the name remains.

From left to right, the illustration begins with a Rasta man and his guitar. Contrary to every stereotype in my mind, the majority of the people in Jamaica do not sport dreadlocks. Yes, there are some, but not nearly as many as you might think. If they don't do it because of the heat, I completely understand.

Large oil drums get converted into grills, called jerk pans. Of course, if you use a grill that big, it's for a community feeding. And, the local favorite cooked in any of them is jerk chicken. I guess you can have jerk goat or jerk whatever meat suits your tastes. I drew a chicken who wrote the word "fish" under jerk chicken.

Loodie is a game very much like Sorry, but the board is much bigger. You throw the dice and need a six to begin. But, they don't just toss the dice. And, it's way more than just a little wrist action. The whole body is used to properly get that six. One man I observed couldn't get a six to save his life, but I told him he lost beautifully. He used his body in ways I'd never be able to use mine. I just don't have the right genes. But, he looked so good losing.

Helping in the Community

The design included a man playing basketball and a woman playing netball. I included a couple of dominoes. And, I like to toss in a map whenever I can. Hovering above Jamaica were a couple of pineapples from the national crest, the national bird - a humming bird called a doctor bird - and the quote "Out of many, one people".

Now, you can't illustrate Standpipe without that original pipe. To round out the mural, I added a tropical sun, a drummer, the Jamaican swallowtail and a red hibiscus.

I thought I was done. After hours of work (and it takes so much longer than anyone really understands to assemble these kid-friendly cartoons into a mural), I went to bed. But, in the middle of the night, I realized I forgot to add the number 59 somewhere for my latest mural. When I figured out how to add it, I rolled back over for a few more zzz's. In the morning, I filled in a little negative space with one more domino. You can already guess the two numbers on the tile. However, I never dreamed there would be any controversy. Most domino sets in Jamaica have six as the highest number. It took a lot of explaining, almost every time someone passed by, to explain that nine.

An artist from Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts

Very fortunately, we had a tarp set up over the mural. On the first day of painting, we needed protection from the rains. Tropical rains. Drenching, miserable, soak everything rains. But, we successfully managed even though the paint was so slow to dry. On every day after that, we needed the tarps to shade us from tropical rays. On both days, I was drenched. On the first day it was because of the rains and after that it was my usual tropical weather, fashion statement. I get drenched, and drenched fast. Some people might say I sweat like a pig. I've never seen a pig sweat, but I know drenched when I am it.

The mural was so very well received in the community. It was in a location that had a lot of foot traffic. There was a lot of conversation, but it was usually in Jamaican Patois, a dialect that is a combination of English, Spanish and African origins. You can listen to it, and it is lovely, but you will never understand enough to make heads or tails of it. So, when my local contact in the Standpipe community, Boxer, wanted to really communicate with me, it had to be in English. He said that there had been a lot of talk about me and the mural. And, he came to one conclusion. "You should move to Jamaica." I don't think he could have given me a higher compliment.

Help from the U.S. Embassy
Copyright 2019 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.