For 30 years Jamaican artist Jah Calo maintained a legacy in Bluefields, a small fishing village in the Westmoreland parish of Jamaica and the birthplace of reggae legend Peter Tosh. Born in St. Catherine, he studied art in Kingston at the Jamaica School of Art. He learned carving and painting as well as other trades like wielding, plumbing, electric work, and baking to support himself. In the end, he felt most connected to art.
"I was born to be an artist," he says.
In 1977, Jah Calo founded Studio Black, which serves as both his exhibition space and studio. He creates and sells hand-crafted carvings, paintings, and signs with positive messages like "equal rights & justice," "stop child abuse" and longer, creative ones. A community landmark, Studio Black is where tourists, friends, and family often come by to reason with Calo or buy his work.
"I stay in the public where they can see me by the roadside and anyone who wanna come, they can some," he says.
The walls of the two-room building--built with the help of his friends--are adorned with his carvings and paintings. His work features black women and men with dreadlocks, afros, and braids and ornate gold jewelry, reminiscent of wood carvings and masks from Nigeria, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. These figures poise cooly, sometimes with a spliff hanging from their mouths, mirror their creator. But beyond the cool exterior, Jah Calo's work represents the importance of representing the variations of blackness.
During my stay in Bluefields, I got the chance to talk with him at Studio Black. As I interviewed him in his new Studio Black building next to his old studio -- built with funds from a CaribSave grant and help from friends. While there, I witnessed the brilliance of an artist committed to a healthy life and positive outlook in an otherwise bleak world. He shares what motivates him as an artist, his background, and how Bluefields stole his heart.
Listen to our conversation below: