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Ronald Moody

Born, 1900 in Kingston, Jamaica. Died, 1984

When Rasheed Araeen included the sculpture of Ronald Moody in The Other Story: Afro-Asian artists in post-war Britain, Hayward Gallery, London, 1989, it was an opportunity for gallery audiences to acquaint themselves, or reacquaint themselves, with the work of an important Jamaican-born sculptor who had died about five years earlier. The Other Story brought together eleven of Moody’s key works, and together they formed a striking and impressive introduction to the exhibition. Whilst Moody had had a lifetime filled with making and exhibiting art, and undertaking other visual arts projects, it was in the wake of his death that his work became more widely known, beyond the Caribbean art circles in which it was often exhibited.

Ronald Clive Moody was born in Jamaica in 1900 and was to spend well over half a century making art, right up until the time of his death in 1984. Though Jamaican by birth, Moody maintained something of an uneasy relationship with the country. There were no major exhibitions of his work in Jamaica during his lifetime, though he was awarded the prestigious Gold Musgrave medal by the Institute of Jamaica in the late 1970s. Moody’s first substantial exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica took place in 2000, some sixteen years after his death.

Moody was a sculptor who came to his practice after being inspired by visits to the British Museum where he was particularly drawn to the galleries of Egyptian and Asian art. From his earliest work through to his later practice, Moody’s sculptures reflected his interest in ancient and world ideas of metaphysics (the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.) In contrast to this distinctive work, Moody produced a number of portraits. These included a bust, made in 1946, of his brother Harold Moody. Some years previously, in the early 1930s, Harold Moody had been instrumental in founding, in London, the League of Coloured Peoples, which had the aim of racial equality for all peoples throughout the world, though the League’s principal focus of activity was the racial situation in Britain itself. Another very important bust produced by Ronald Moody was his rendering of Paul Robeson, the African American singer, actor of stage and screen, and civil rights campaigner, in copper resin, in 1968.

In looking at his sculpture, particularly his dramatic faces, heads, and figures, his work has the appearance not so much of racialised imagery (what we might term the Black image, or the Black form); instead, it presents itself to us as a compelling amalgamation of the breadth of humanity. It is in work such as Johanaan that we see most clearly the artist’s embrace of the transcendental and the metaphysical.

Veerle Poupeye has noted that: “In the 1960s Moody became more actively interested in his Caribbean background. His best-known work of the period, Savacou (1964) represents a stylized, emblematic parrot figure inspired by the mythical bird deity of the Carib Indians.” The work exists in both its finished form (as a commission for the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica) as well as in maquette form. The finished work, made of aluminium is a dramatic and distinctive feature of the campus.

Rasheed Araeen, writing in the catalogue for The Other Story noted that: “Moody was not just a sculptor. He wrote about art, as well as exploring philosophy and mysticism, particularly during the time he was unable to do heavy work.” A prolific artist, Moody worked with a variety of materials, most notably wood, a medium with which he had a particular attachment. However, as early as the late 1940s Moody had begun to use man-made materials, such as concrete, resin, aluminium, fiberglass, resin and so on.

In the years following The Other Story, Moody’s niece, Cynthia Moody has worked tirelessly to preserve, safeguard and advance Moody’s legacy. A hugely significant landmark of this process was the acquisition by the Tate Gallery, in 1992, of the magnificent and imposing figure of Johanaan (sometimes known as John the Baptist). Unfortunately, Moody’s sculpture has yet to be the subject of a major monograph, though a number of texts on his life and practice have been published. Chief amongst them perhaps is Cynthia Moody’s Ronald Moody: A man true to his Vision, which appeared in Third Text 8/9, Autumn/Winter 1989.

The Veerle Poupeye quote is taken from her entry on Ronald Moody in the St. James Guide to Black Artists, St James Press and Schomburg Center, 1997.

Ronald Moody’s entry in the Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture (edited by Alison Donnell, Routledge, 2002) has his year of birth as 1890, though he was in fact born in 1900.

Moody’s work was included in the exhibition Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance, which toured to galleries in the UK and the USA in 1997 and 1998. Within the exhibition’s catalogue there is a fascinating full page reproduction of a gallery installation view of Children looking up at Ronald C. Moody’s Midonz (Goddess of Transmutation), taken in 1939. Within the credit, neither the gallery nor the exhibition are identified.

Related items + view all 21

click to show details of The Other Story - exhibition guide

»  The Other Story - exhibition guide

Exhibition guide relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of The Other Story - Manchester invitation

»  The Other Story - Manchester invitation

Invite relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of The Other Story - Wolverhampton invitation

»  The Other Story - Wolverhampton invitation

Invite relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of Third Text: The Other Story

»  Third Text: The Other Story

Journal relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Transforming the Crown

»  Transforming the Crown

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1997

Related exhibitions + view all 7

Related venues + view all 14

»  Caribbean Cultural Center

United States of America

»  Cornerhouse

Manchester, United Kingdom

»  Hayward Gallery

London, United Kingdom

»  Manchester City Art Gallery

Manchester, United Kingdom

»  Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Wolverhampton, United Kingdom