Edna Swithenbank Manley was a famous Jamaican sculptor and the wife of the founder of the People’s National Party Norman Manley, she was a big contributor to the Jamaican culture through art, born on the 1st of March 1900 to parents Harvey Swithenbank and Ellie Shearer in Yorkshire, England and died on the 2nd of February 1987.
She attended several art schools in a two-year period, as she sensed that these schools were incredibly limited in what they offered, she lost her father when she was only 9 years old. Her work in the 1920s and early 1930s strongly reflected the current Vorticist and Neo-classical trends in British sculpture.
In 1921, she married her cousin, Norman Manley, and moved to Jamaica with him in 1922. They had two children, Michael Manley and Douglas Manley, a sociologist and minister in his brother’s government.
Edna attended private lessons with a popular artist and continued her studies in London, she then moved back to Jamaica. Jamaica was facing many political changes during the late 1930s and early 1940s. 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 Blake’s romantic imagery of a renovated or resurrected man (Boxer, 1990), but conceptually it wrestles with edenic and primordial thinking closer to the primitivists Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Members of the African Diaspora were looking to do away with the aging colonial system that remained on the island.
They were ready for a new social order, and voiced their displeasure with the colonial system by incurring strikes (along with riots), instigating food shortages, and promoting protest marches.
Manley’s work of the time reflected this civil unrest. The 1950s and 1960s were quiet times for Manley as an artist. Her husband became more involved with politics, becoming the chief minister of Jamaica in 1955. Manley’s responsibilities as the wife of a politician left little time for art.
In 1965, she created a statue of Paul Bogle to commemorate his partaking in Jamaica’s Morant Bay Rebellion. The statue was highly controversial because it was inherently the very first Jamaican public statue that depicted a black man. Manley also returned, in her personal carvings, to the animal sculptures that she did as a young woman.
Edna Manley has played a major pioneering role in the history of 20th century Jamaican art. Her works are in private collections, galleries and public buildings worldwide. Since 1924 she exhibited in many one woman and group exhibitions mainly in London, the United States, the Caribbean and in Jamaica.
In 1929 she was awarded the Institute of Jamaica’s Silver Musgrave Medal. In 1943 she became the first recipient of the gold Musgrave Medal for her outstanding contribution and leadership in the arts in Jamaica.
She also taught at the Jamaica School of Art (now a component of the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts).