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Hand-painted Jamaica Tracey Thorne

​Hand-painted Jamaica |  Notes | Tracey Thorne


​Hand-painted Jamaica is a documentary photography project undertaken by Tracey Thorne, who received an arts award grant from Arts Council England in 2018. The project explores the visual language of Jamaica through the examination of hand-painted signage, street art, and graffiti found on walls throughout the island. Over the course of several years, Thorne created a collection that serves as an important archive of Jamaica's current visual culture.  The early stages of the project involved collaborating with local street artists and sign painters in Jamaica to gain insight into their artistic practices and the origins of sign painting on the island. This collaborative approach allowed for a socially engaged documentation of the Jamaican artists' work found on the streets.​ The photographs in the series were captured during walking field trips with the sign artists in their own neighborhoods, such as Denham Town in Kingston.


This alternative approach provided a unique way to experience the urban spaces and capture the essence of these areas.​The graffiti, signs, and street art showcased in the project offer a glimpse into the cultural geography of Jamaica. Through urban photography, the series acts as a tool to explore the island's spaces, objects, and events. The images aim not only to provide a cultural record of the walls in Jamaica but also to evoke a sense of place and the vibrant material richness found throughout the island's streets.​Tracey Thorne, the photographer and photo artist behind the project, specializes in themes related to place, cultural memory, the typographical landscape, and the environment. She is particularly interested in working with found objects and historical records and artifacts, especially those that shed light on untold stories connected to British colonisation. The artist continues to collect original wood and fabric Jamaican signs as part of her ongoing series.​


The history of painted walls in Jamaica can be traced back to the British colonial period in the eighteenth century. During the twentieth century, Jamaicans developed their own informal and colorful style of commercial sign painting, deviating from the formal British style. Most sign painters were self-taught, contributing to the unique and vibrant Jamaican sign style.​ As dancehall culture emerged in Jamaica during the 1980s, the signs and dancehall parties became synonymous with the Jamaican dancehall sign, characterized by distinctive lettering forms and bright colors. It is often said that if graffiti is the language of hip-hop, then the dancehall sign is the language of reggae/dancehall the sign equivalent of Jamaica's graffiti.​​


Exhibitions ​The Hand-painted Jamaica series has been exhibited in various venues, including "Big Tings a Gwaan Down Di Street" at The Old Print Works in Birmingham, UK, in 2019.


Yuh Nah Ready Fi Di, (2020) single image judges cateory winner, Fix photo Awards, L N Noble Gallery​Publications  


​Selected images from the Hand-painted Jamaica series, were published in 2019 in a limited edition Hand-painted Jamaica zine available here 


Works were also published in Whole Lotta Signs (2021) selected images from the series featured in the printed journal Islandia Journal Vol II, A Subtropical Periodical 


© Tracey Thorne
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