When I first heard of the International Reggae Poster Contest (IRPC), I was so intrigued by the sheer randomness of it: the connection between two people from opposite ends of the world – Greece and Jamaica – who aim to promote peace and positivity through the power of reggae and design.
Interested to learn more, I contacted the founders of IRPC, Michael Thompson, a Jamaican designer residing in the US, and Maria Papaefstathiou, a designer in Greece. The contest was launched last December and closed in March of this year, attracting submissions from all over the world. Greece’s own famed designer Charis Tsevis was part of the talented panel of judges who selected the winning poster designs. Posters were first shown to the public at a debut exhibition in Kingston, Jamaica, followed by a 4-week exhibit at Athens’ AKTO art&design College which opened on November 22, 2012.
The founders of the IRPC also have a long term vision in mind— the realization of a Reggae Hall of Fame—to document and bear witness to past achievements as well as the living heritage of reggae music. The IRPC is also a strong supporter of one of Jamaica’s musical success stories, Alpha Boys School, a residential vocational school for at-risk boys aged 8 to 18 years old. In addition to tailoring, agriculture and woodworking, Alpha’s music program has launched the careers of an all star list of reggae music pioneers in ska, rocksteady, dub and reggae including Don Drummond, Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace, Leroy Smart and Winston ‘Yellowman’ Foster. At the end of the exhibition, the posters will be auctioned to the public with the proceeds to benefit Alpha, a way honoring it’s past while contributing to its future.
Check out our exclusive interview with Michael Thomson and Maria Papaefstathiou to learn more about the First International Reggae Poster Contest and their plans for 2013.
The Goddess of the Hunt: Tell us how the First International Reggae Poster Contest came to be.
Michael Thomson: The idea was sparked by a necessity and a desire to celebrate the pioneers of reggae music; the musicians, artistes and the institutions that made reggae music a global sensation deserve this. The theme of the contest is “Toward the Reggae Hall of Fame: Celebrating Great Jamaican Music.” The theme suggests our big vision, as we believe there is a real need for a Reggae Hall of Fame museum to be established in Kingston, Jamaica. Not just any museum, but one with Frank Gehry-designed architecture that could become a catalyst for transforming the capital and the economy of the island. Reggae music is Jamaica’s biggest cultural export and asset. In the past 60 years the music has grown far beyond the shores of Jamaica to find roots in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. My partner, Maria Papaefstathiou, and I believe that with the positive impact and success reggae music has achieved globally, it is important for the narratives of global reggae to find a home in a Reggae Hall of Fame experience on the island of Jamaica, the birthplace of reggae. I suggested the vision and the poster contest to her and she accepted. Once the idea took root it was clear to me that designers around the world, given the opportunity would be delighted to participate in such an initiative and share their creative expression around the music. This contest is the platform to present this vision and to build a global movement to help us achieve our goals.
GOTH: What were your goals with the contest? Where do you see this going?
MT & MP: We have two main objectives: the realization Reggae Hall of Fame and to reinforce awareness for Reggae music and celebrate its positive impact on the world. The other goal is to generate funds by auctioning the posters to help support the amazing work of a historic Jamaican institution: the Alpha Boys’ School, an institution that was instrumental to the development of the musician who pioneered Ska, Rock Steady and thus reggae music. The school is a jewel in the center of Kingston, and shines its light and its love all over Jamaica through the music of its graduates. The school has had decades of success helping young Jamaicans nurture their talent, many to become world-renowned musicians. At the auction in Jamaica we raised half a million Jamaican dollars (US$ 6,000).
GOTH: How many posters were submitted and from which countries did they come from?
MT & MP: We received 1,142 poster submissions from 80 countries. We had posters from as far away as Ghana, Pakistan, India, China, Korea, Malaysia, Malta, Russia and other places like Australia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Vietnam, Brazil and Argentina, just to name a few. In essence we covered the globe. We created a world map info chart showing where we had received submissions and it became a powerful symbol of our contest’s global footprint. When we showed it in Jamaica, it was a very impressive statement that reggae was truly global. It made a big impact on those attending the exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica. We also showed the map here in Athens at our exhibition at AKTO where our present exhibition is held. We believe this is a compelling symbol of our contest’s success.
GOTH: How many judges were involved and what were their criteria?
MP: When Michael presented the contest idea to me, I knew that for the contest to be successful, assembling a respected panel of judges drawn from well known influential international designers was a key component and necessary to gain respect for a first-time contest such as ours. I reached out to designers like Luba Lukova, Andrew Lewis, Charis Tsevis from Greece, John Moore, Roy Villalobos, Elmer Sosa and other distinguished. We launched on December 27, 2011, and four months later we selected our winner and the 100 best reggae posters. It was truly an amazing experience. Charis is a good friend and respected designer and illustrator not just here in Greece but internationally. We were delighted to have him join our panel.
The criteria were simple: select the poster designs that best capture the essence of the music. We wanted to see iconic and powerful poster designs capturing the reggae vibe. The odds of winning were influenced by the rules set by the contest and the scores of the judges. We wanted designs that were not cliché, and to see new approach taken in the submissions.
GOTH: Overall what kind of imagery and/or themes emerged from the submitted posters?
MT & MP: Our 2012 winner Alon Braier is from Israel. He created a very striking and beautiful poster, depicting three giants of Dub – Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby and Augustus Pablo – in an iconic fashion. We are pleased with the varied iconic symbolism depicted and the posters did not just represent the popular themes and names normally associated with reggae, like Bob Marley, Rastafarian motifs etc, but covered a broader representation of imagery, new forms, and colors. We had many designs featuring the Alpha Boys’ School. The poster designs covered all the musical genre of Jamaican popular culture: Ska, Rock Steady, Roots Reggae, Dub, Dancehall and the unique Jamaican Sound System. The messages of roots reggae is always one of positive vibration, one love and hope, a message influenced by Rastafarian tradition of many of the singers, including Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and others. That message was very much reflected in the posters we received.
GOTH: How do you promote a global campaign like this?
MT & MP: Social media, a website, and blogs are the ultimate tools for promoting a global campaign such as this. And a lot of hard work and late nights of course.
GOTH: Based on your travels, tell us about Jamaican people and culture as it pertains to the artists and creative arts there.
MP: Jamaican people are a rich simmering brew, a mixture of cultures from around the world; African, Chinese, East Indians, and Jews. I was very surprised by this. All these cultures coming together to make a unique mixture of life and art, as the country official motto says “out of many one people.” Jamaican art forms a vehicle to tell their story. Music, dance, colorful canvases, graphic arts, painting the story of Jamaican art with vibrant colors, strong portraits, and many, many murals! My first thought the first time I drove in Jamaica, was that the island is the country of murals! So, it was not a surprise to see the Jamaican artist Taj Francis reaching 5th place in the contest. I had a chance to visit and speak at the Edna Manley College, the Arts College, and was impressed by the rich talent expressed in the various creative disciplines. For a small country their creative scene is advanced. It is not surprising that Michael is a top poster designer and from Jamaica.
GOTH: Is there a reggae or Jamaican culture scene in Greece?
MP: The answer is yes. Reggae roots goes back to the 1960s here in Greece, and the scene continues to grow with a new generation of reggae bands and artists like One Drop Forward, Soul Fire, Jamma Roots and the Oscillators, AMP Outernational are playing regularly around the country, and making great reggae music. Other good reggae acts include Radical Gee, I-Mitri, Professor Skank, who are finding big support locally and international as well. In Athens you find reggae clubs like Red Sea, which have operated for years, playing Roots Reggae, Dancehall and Dub music. We also enjoy reggae festivals like One Love Reggae Ideas catering to huge audiences in Athens. Home grown DJ and Selectors include such as champions THC Sound Systems, Anna Mystic, Irie Action, Senci Tom, Full Cycle, Stefanatty, Nesta. With our second International Reggae Poster Contest exhibition to be held in Athens, we are making connections with many of the key players in the local Reggae scene and we hope we will become a part of the yearly activities on the Greek reggae calendar going forward. I’ll remind you that Greek director Ted Bafaloukos created in the 1970s one of the most significant reggae movies ever made: Rockers. If you have not seen it, you should.
GOTH: Has this contest helped bring awareness between the countries, Greece and Jamaica?
MP: Certainly. We now have many connections and friends in both countries that we never had before we launched this contest. It will only help to foster new awareness between Greece and Jamaica; this is a first step. Hopefully in time this could encourage cultural exchange of designers and musicians between both countries. I am confident this will evolve to bigger things. Michael has discovered Rebetiko music and loving it and I am learning more about Jamaican culture and music; this is all good.
GOTH: What are the plans for the 2013 contest? Will you be doing anything different?
MT & MP: For the 2013, we are planning to keep the same theme, “Toward a Reggae Hall of Fame”. First, because we believe many more designers wanted to be a part of the first year’s contest but didn’t have the chance, or didn’t hear about it. Second, because we wish to publish a book, featuring the top poster designs from 2012 and 2013, along with some history of reggae, creating a unique publication that doesn’t exist yet. But most importantly, our objectives remain the same so why change the theme?