This article appeared in the Gleaner and remains current.
Anthea McGibbon, Gleaner Writer
WITHIN THE past 20 years, visual expressions have become more increasingly popular than verbal and textual expressions in appreciating worldwide cultures. As Jamaicans become more sensitised to the definition of art, Couples Resorts ensures an indelible impression of Jamaica’s art as visual culture.
Jane Issa, designer for Couples Resorts, creates a potpourri of artistic expressions at all four Couples resorts to enhance the Jamaican experience beyond sun, sea and sand, promising a Jamaican experience beyond sun, sea and sand. She believes in Jamaica and recommends that only Jamaican artists and artisans should be in the local hotels
. Where other cultures are introduced, she believes it “should not be at the expense of opportunities to showcase Jamaican talent”.
Leading by example, the art aficionado who acquired a fine arts degree in South Florida, ensures that every inch of each Couples hotel from Negril to Ocho Rios is covered with some form of high-quality Jamaican art.
Jane Issa follows no precedent set by other hotels when it comes to the utilisation of the talents of Jamaicans.
A focus on design, applicable to even waste bins and ashtrays, is prominent throughout to ensure an overall Caribbean ambience, indulging all your senses from you enter the lobby. Artists include Laura Facey, Alva Colley, Will and Margaret Robson and Judy Ann McMillan.
Beautiful rattan furniture
The lobby area at Couples Swept Away is decked out with beautiful rattan furniture, while a portrait of a rasta man proudly hangs above a couch. This is set beneath an overhead balcony whose metal railing has a motif of palm leaves and sea grass, designed and fabricated locally – a warm Caribbean welcome for every guest.
The architecture of each Couples property has its own unique beauty. Working closely with the architects and landscape designers, Jane has had a great deal of input in the finishes of the buildings, and the strategic placement of trees and plants along the pathways that wind to central restaurants along the seaside or by the pools.
The rooms are built with huge glass doors, to let the light in. In this she strives to bring the outside in, ensuring a connectivity with nature, which she says cannot be improved. There are little paintings by lesser-known Jamaican artists all around the hotels, and a focus on wider Jamaican art forms such as ceramics, textiles, furniture, sculpture and craft.
On the walls of the rooms are batik creations by Ireko, complemented by Gene Pearson’s classic sculpted hanging lamps and sconces, which create a romantic mood by night and pitch vibrant Caribbean life during the day. These lighting fixtures are so popular with the hotels’ guests that many opt to buy replicas of them to take home. The lamps, modelled in coloured resin, are of poeple embracing each other. The furniture and cabinetry are the work of several artisans and cabinet-makers, influenced by traditional and mid-20th century designs.
In the Patois restaurant at Couples Swept Away, there are bas-relief murals carved from wood and painted – Caribbean scenes with carved trees set behind carved animals set again behind carved blades of grass. In the Lemon Grass restaurant, there is a colourful fish mural creating a seabed for the bar’s liqueurs. Located opposite lively fish paintings, a three-dimensional fish is carved to represent an actual fish diving from the mural into the line of bottles.
In Feathers gourmet restaurant, Spanish-born Jamaican artist Oriente Issa (sister-in-law to Jane’s husband, Lee) relaxes guests with her fantasy paintings. The pieces are created in glittering gold, silver and white with hints of soft pastels. On one of the walls angels protect the world, while on the opposite wall the flight progression of a flock of heron is featured.
The charm of one winding staircase at Couples Negril are the posts which are metal fabrications of a negro woman poised with African pride, as her head is tilted backwards, but sporting the popular ‘Chinese bumps’ hairstyle.
Jane Issa has gone way beyond the call of duty as wife of a hotelier to evince the talent present in Jamaica. She is inspired by Jamaicans, who she says have a natural talent at being witty, and are hospitable which reflects in their art.
Complementing the experience at the hotels, are craft vendors who are given space on the properties to showcase and sell their craft to the guests, and to offer interactive workshops in crafting.
Additionally, Jane operates a craft shop in Negril called Jamaica Jane (located opposite her own personal little family resort property, the 12-room Idle-A-While). Most of the items in Jamaica Jane are made from materials found in Jamaica, which include coconut husks, egg shells, wood, seeds, feathers, bamboo and rattan.
Although there is no Jamaica Jane doll as yet, the variety of indigenous items include Jamaican dollhouses, musical chimes, rocking chairs, hammocks, handbags, paintings, and the increasingly popular Gene Pearson fixtures. There are parrots and lamps made from coconut shell. The exceptional chandelier from Jamaican sea shells made by shop manager, Sandria Jackson, is inspirational when lit at night.
At Couples, there is opportunity for frequent exhibitions of Jamaican fine art, and at two of the resorts, guests can have their portraits done in pastels by local artists. Artisans and artists in Jamaica currently face a number of challenges: high taxes, for example, on raw materials for local artists, and a proliferation of cheap craft goods from places such as Indonesia. It is difficult for local artists and craftsmen to compete pricewise, often forcing hoteliers to buy readymade items from other countries. Things that benefit Jamaicans and the country should not be subject to taxation or high taxation where it is necessary in some instances, says Jane.
Jane Issa reinforces the plea by local artists to the Government to implement policies regulating the imports of cheap art and craft from other countries at the expense of locally made items, and to create policies that encourage and facilitate local artists and artisans. Jane is also the founder of the charity organisation Purse Strings. All profits from the Jamaica Jane store are solely utilised by Purse Strings to assist needy children across Jamaica. Twenty-six boys from the Clifton Boys Home in Darliston, Westmoreland are a few Jamaican non-artists who have so far benefited from this.
Truly Jamaica’s Jane at heart, she never ceases waging her campaign to ensure a balanced experience of art, vegetation, light and air in her design of the Couples properties. In her quest to advocate and promote artists, she sometimes wonders whether she is fighting a losing battle, but as long as she is given the opportunity, she will remain true to her instincts.
Anthea McGibbon, graduate of the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing has experience in the fields of journalism, paralegal