Lots of Sign:
Jamaican Dancehall signs
The series "Lots of Sign: Jamaican Dancehall Signs" delves into the artistry of dancehall signs, which is a distinctive form of Jamaican street art that has enjoyed popularity on the island for many years. While graffiti is often considered the visual language of Hip-hop, dancehall's visual language can be seen through its signs.
These hand-painted signs, created by self-taught Jamaican sign artists, adorn brick walls, zinc fences, and signboards across the island. The artist behind the series began documenting dancehall signs as part of her project "Hand-painted Jamaica" in approximately 2018. However, she soon noticed a decline in this practice as many promoters now rely on printed digital media and screen-printed signs.
Hand-painted dancehall signs can still be found in rural communities and parishes, where they continue to thrive. However, in urban areas such as Kingston and Montego Bay, the signs have been impacted by the ongoing urban development, contributing to their diminishing presence.
The cultural importance of dancehall signs as found objects cannot be understated. These signs serve as more than just advertising displays; they embody the vibrant spirit, creativity, and cultural identity of Jamaican dancehall music and its associated lifestyle. They are an integral part of the visual landscape in communities where dancehall thrives, reflecting the energy and passion of the music genre.
As found objects, dancehall signs hold a unique charm and authenticity. Each sign tells a story, showcasing the craftsmanship and artistic expression of the sign artists who hand-painted them. These signs capture a specific moment in time, embodying the cultural trends, musical influences, and social dynamics of the communities in which they are found.
Tracey Thorne has spent years photographing dancehall signs as part of a documentary photography series. By treating them as found objects, she recognizes their artistic value beyond commercial purposes and their role in depicting the broader narrative of Jamaican dancehall culture's impact on society. Her photography preserves and showcases the artistic craftsmanship, unique designs, and cultural symbolism of these signs, celebrating their heritage and contributing to the preservation of Jamaican cultural history.
Photograph Jamaican artist Bug Art Sav, Westmoreland
The Covid pandemic brought an historic pause to Jamaica's dancehall and outdoor music parties scene with the Jamaican Government banning such events for almost two years as part of their Covid management protocols. During this time the language of Jamaica's walls became frozen with Dancehall signs for parties in 2020 that never took place and older signs providing a window into an old world, and freedomes enjoyed before covid.
The series is ongoing and the artist has recorded the re-emergence of the Dancehall signs once the restrictions were lifted and the sound systems began to play again.
Selected Images Online Exhibition and Published Work
The intial series Lots of Signs: Jamaican Dancehall Signs was made just before the COVID pandemic with the artist returning from Jamaica in February 2020. As a result of the UK lockdown the work was only able to be published online.
Lots of Sign Uonline gallery (2020)
Limited-edition Lots of Sign: Jamaican Dancehall Signs zine is available here
The series title is inspired by the 1985 song Lots of Sign by Tenor Saw. The project received support from Arts Council England.