Street Murals

The walls of many alleys throughout the world are covered with memorial murals for those who have been lost to violence. Here we have captured photos of some of the murals done by community artists in Kingston.

The figure of the “threatening and violent criminal Jamaican” has become a common but contentious racialized image circulated in the mainstream media of Europe and North America and Jamaica itself. Popular commemorative community murals have proliferated as the bodies of victims of urban wars of the last forty years multiply in Kingston’s inner cities and in urban communities of color all over the world. Interpreting the the murals themselves can help us to understand ambivalence and the contradictions inherent discussions about violence and the violent Jamaican and discussion of them opens up a space for community responses to the emergence and circulation of gendered images of “the violent Jamaican.”

The memorial murals represent the casualties of the wars of the last 40 years. These images proliferate on the walls of the downtown and working class communities of Kingston as if attempting to overcome the forgetfulness on which much of the formal aspects of hemispheric governance has been built. The murals usually represent young men, fallen street soldiers memorialized by their area crew or community and/or their families. Others murals represent community heroes and heroines who work hard to serve their neighbourhood and its organizations or who have brought distinction to the area. Some of these include Marcia Davis the singer from Hannah Town or Bogle the dancer from Black Roses corner. Murals can also represent young women and children who are accidental or innocent victims of violence caught in the midst of gunfire not meant for them.

Some of the images include both sacred and secular symbolism. They cross reference a mixture of political struggles over time – referencing political parties, Marcus Garvery, Rastafari as well as American popular culture old and new and the constantly evolving form of graffiti art. They are marked by humour and defiance encapsulating much of the ambivalence and the contradictions inherent in the memorialization murals which proliferate all over communities of Kingston. These contradictions are highly generative and critical to understanding the how urban subjects are shaped by the discourses on violence which have developed over the last years.

The majority of the murals recorded here have been painted by muralists from the communities they represent. We have focused on two of the artists we have been able to identify and speak with about their work. There are several other artists included who we have not yet interviewed or even identified.


Hannah Town