In Jamaica, advertisements are still to a large degree painted by hand. This includes the depictions of women in various states of undress meant to lure men inside rum shacks and go-go bars. A colorful artifact of Caribbean commerce, Di Gyal Dem is a photo scrapbook documenting these ubiquitous and often shocking roadside portraits, as seen on walls across Jamaica.
The creators of the book, published by Raw Tings, prefer to remain anonymous, in deference to the mostly unknown painters behind the imagery. “We didn’t feel like we should take credit for something that we couldn’t ourselves credit. It’s kind of an ephemeral art form. I’d talk to the rum shop owners, and 98 percent of the time they said, ‘He’s dead,’ or ‘I don’t know who painted that.’”
One artist whose name is known is the late Barrington Clarke, whose murals adorning stalls on Hellshire Beach are seen in Di Gyal Dem. An itinerant painter who made a meager living as a commercial artist in the Portmore area, Clarke was also commissioned to paint murals by The Congos before his death.
The book was inspired by a desire to document this work for posterity: “Everything is in flux in Jamaica — Things are built simply and the weather is intense, so these paintings are very temporary. A year later, almost half of those paintings were already gone. There was a sense of urgency to document these interesting, beautiful and unique paintings.”
Neo-realist art abounds in Jamaica, from the ubiquitous murals celebrating reggae icons from Bob Marley to Leroy Smart, to the portraits of the country’s National Heroes seen in so many schoolyards. By and large, only women are depicted in the murals at rum shops. The more revealing and explicit the illustration, the more likely the shack you’ve come across functions as a go-go club.
It’s worth noting that the women seen in rum shop murals come in all shapes, colors and sizes.
“For all of the talk it gets about being misogynistic, [Jamaica] really is a body positive place. It’s always been ahead of the curve — ‘fluffy’ has been a thing since the ’70s. Whether you are super skinny or super fat, [women] will always get a compliment in Jamaica, and I think you really see that in the book — All types of women are represented.”
Get your copy of Di Gyal Dem here.