Visual Culture: Andre Woolery’s Dancehall Portraits

December 9, 2014

Words by Jesse Serwer

Like many professionals chasing their dreams in New York, Jamaican-born visual artist Andre Woolery eventually grew tired of the grind. A year ago, he and his wife Tanayia, a digital media consultant, decided to relocate from NYC to his childhood home of Chalky Hill, St. Ann, Jamaica. He would have more space and time to develop his art, and she would launch a food tourism business with Andre’s mother. “New York was starting to keep me distracted from things that truly mattered,” Woolery says. “I was moving 100 mph and never had a moment to reflect the deeper sense of self…When I arrived, I felt a sense of freedom.”

On his arrival back home, Woolery found inspiration in that distinctly Jamaican expression of freedom that is dancehallโ€”and specifically its loud fashions. “There was so much unadulterated culture spewing out of dancehall that it was the natural place to explore,” he says. “Style was visually dominating the scene. It was the cost of entry, and where some of the spotlight was shining. The music, artists and dancers captured most of the shine, but I wanted to see what story the fashion was telling the world. ”

Tapping the photos of street-style photographer Marlon Reid (of as source material, he began creating the pieces in his Freedom of Expression series, gleaning inspiration from the work of Barkley Hendricks, a Philadelphia-born painter known for his vibrant depiction of ’70s Black culture.

“[Hendricks] illustrated the style and personas of his subjects, and I always admired that. When I created this work, I definitely was attempting to pull from his energy. The way his work in the 70’s can be a time capsule for the aura that existed during that time is how I hope my work can exist for Jamaican culture.”

Woolery says Freedom of Expression will be part of a larger, ongoing series exploring how fashion is represented across the African diaspora. And it’s already getting recognition in Jamaica: his work will be featured in the National Gallery of Jamaica during this yearโ€™s biennial exhibition.

View the images from Freedom of Expression here, and purchase prints here and here.