Jamaican Artist Laura Facey’s Spiritual Voyage

Trish Perkins of Tropical Escapes arranged some lovely excursions for the creative writing and yoga retreat I attended, including a visit to Jamaican artist Laura Facey’s home and studio.

Artist Laura Facey describes the spiritual side of her work.

It’s always a treat to be invited into a working artist’s home, to get to meet the artist in the space where they live and create. Facey and her husband reside on a farm estate called Mount Plenty, a place that’s bountiful with tropical color and nature.

Slim and unassuming in a pair of denim overalls, Facey welcomed our group with a tour of her house, which doubles as a gallery — glorious sculptures and multi-media works take center stage in the living room, family room, dining room and even in the guest bedrooms.

Songs of Freedom

Facey is best known for her sculpture, “Redemption Song,” a monument in Kingston’s Emancipation Park. The 11-foot bronze sculpture consists of naked black male and female statues emerging from the water of a fountain and gazing to the skies. The piece is symbolic of Africans’ triumphant rise from slavery. “The water is refreshing, purifying and symbolically washes away the pain and suffering of the past,” says Facey.

“Redemption Song” sculpture in Emancipation Park

Her sculpture was inspired by the words of Marcus Garvey: “Free yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our mind.” Those words were popularized by singer Bob Marley in “The Redemption Song,” which gave the statue its name.

Kingston’s Emancipation Park commemorates August 1, 1838, the day Parliament freed all enslaved people in Jamaica.

Yet there’s controversy over Facey’s “Redemption Song,” in part due to the nudity — which some Jamaicans feel is overly sexual. Others claim the woman’s face displays European features.

The cedar “Peaks” or “Horns” sculpture is in a bedroom at the artist’s house.

Facey says: “Some people think I was the wrong gender, race and class to be the artist chosen for such a prominent piece of public art.” However, this eighth-generation Jamaican points out that her work was chosen in a blind selection process: no one on the committee knew the identity of the artists who submitted pieces.

Facey shut out the brouhaha over the 2003 installation of the sculpture by working more and more intently. “As an artist, you just have to keep creating and don’t pay attention to criticism.”

In her studio, Facey explains the origins of “Their Spirits Gone Before Them.”

The piece that she considers her most significant work has some roots in the “Redemption Song” controversy. She placed miniatures of that piece,  originally meant to be souvenirs, inside a canoe carved from a cottonwood tree.

Reminiscent of a slave ship, the canoe floats on a sea of sugar cane, a symbol of the slave-powered industry. The result is “Their Spirits Gone Before Them.”

Swimming in the White River

After learning about Facey’s creative vision, our group changed into bathing suits and hiked down a steep ravine to the White River, so named because the limestone rocks give the water a white, milky color. This place is so deep in the jungle that you can’t see the sun — a magical spot for a cool swim. Facey came too, and she hiked the rocky trail in bare feet. “This is my reflexology,” she says, adding that she comes down here almost daily for creative refreshment.

She waded in and demonstrated a rope for swinging over the water and dropping into a deep pool. In some spots, the river’s current is so swift you have to paddle hard upstream just to stay in one place. Or you can find a less swift passage, then catch the current and let it shoot you downstream 40 yards or so.

Jacqueline swims in the cool, milky water of the White River.

To cap off the afternoon, Facey served fresh ginger tea with banana bread and ginger-bread. We admired more of her exquisite wood sculptures as we enjoyed her baking talents.

To see more art, visit Laura Facey’s website.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

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