For 30 years Jamaican artist Jah Calo has built a legacy in Bluefields, a small fishing village in the Westmoreland parish of Jamaica and birthplace of Peter Tosh. Born in St. Catherine, he studied art in Kingston at the Jamaica School of Art. He also learned other trades like wielding, plumbing, electric work, and baking to support himself.
"I was born to be an artist," he says.
In 1977, after traveling to Bluefields, he founded Studio Black there and 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 --with funds from a CaribSave grant and help from friends--I witnessed the brilliance of an artist who is 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.