|Bamboo Rafts along Rio grande|
Born in Yorkshire England, Edna Manley's mother was Jamaican, from the prominent Shearer family. In 1936 she met her cousin Norman Manley who had come to England as a Rhodes scholar to study at Oxford. He was later conscripted and fought in (WW1) World War 1, while Edna studied at St Martin's School of Art. They married in 1922 and moved to Jamaica where Edna was to pursue her career as a sculptor creating images that reflected Jamaica's struggle for nationhood. During the 1930's Edna Manley continued to exhibit in London but increasingly her focus was Jamaica where she exhibited and supported the development of the arts.
Edna Manley's Negro Aroused (1935) aptly reflects her stylistic and social interests during that era. Hewn intentionally from dark mahogany, its naked black torso supports a head thrust upwards in search of a new dawn. Stylistically, Negro Aroused' is linked to William B lake's romantic imagery of a renovated or resurrected man (Boxer, 1990), but conceptually it wrestles with edenic and primordial thinking closer to the primitives Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Yet, in spite of its idealism, Negro Aroused is a constrained and even pained figure. Even without chains, its movement is frustrated by its rooted akimbo posture, suggesting that the black man's future is not born out of freedom but an irrevocable recognition of place. Norman Manley considering how the black man might triumph over this adversity wrote,
There is a tremendous difference between living in a place and belonging to it and feeling that your own life and destiny is irrevocably bound up in the life and destiny of that place. It is that spirit which is the most hopeful thing in Jamaica today. It is that spirit which alone encourages the development of our national consciousness...
Sculptures such as Negro Aroused (1936) became icons for this era and much of the work that she created in the run up to Jamaica's independence such as Into the Sun (1954), Growth (1958) and I Saw My Land (1960) featuring the same heroic black figure, bear this weight of representing the nation's vision.
Edna Manley College: http://emc.edu.jm/?q=artlibrary/artist_bio/171