Jamaican Artist

Namba Roy


Born in Accompong Jamaica, Namba Roy settled in South London after World War Two where he established himself as both a writer and artist. Despite migration, Namba Roy was always conscious of his Caribbean-African heritage especially the tradition of rebellion and courage that was a part of the runaway slaves, maroon history and settlement in his home town, Accompong. His novels Black Albino and No Black Sparrows written in the 1950s recreate this history and are a testament to black culture.

Jamaica's Maroons were among the earliest of the black men in the West Indies to achieve and hold their freedom from slavery. They established themselves in remote communities in the mountains. Namba Roy was a Maroon descendant. 
His novel Black Albino is set in a Maroon community in the Jamaican hills in the eighteenth century. This historical novel imaginatively reconstructs the Jamaican Maroon world. The early Maroons had fresh memories of Africa and Africa appears in the novel in the Maroons' organizational life and language. 
(Ken Ramchand, West Indian Narrative: An Introductory Anthology, Part 3).

In the same way, Roy’s paintings and sculpture are suggestive of African themes and a proud past. Many of his images suggest the princely heritage of ancient Africa and whether mythical or otherwise, they serve to uplift the race,

Although Namba Roy was self-taught, he was well read with a keen interest in developing his own talents as a painter and sculptor. In this way, he documented his technical understanding of his work, in his book Ivory as the Medium in 'Studio (1958) as well as formulating his own material for sculpting (or moulding) images involving a mixture of plastic resin and wood chippings. His proficiency in this medium is evidenced in works such Accompong Madonna (1958) currently on show in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Jamaica. He is best known, however for his ivories such as Spirit of the Black Stallion (c. 1952) and Jesus and his Mammy(1956), delicately hewn forms that also pay homage to Africa.

The Roy family was a talented one, Namba Roy’s wife was an actress while his children Tamba, a school headmaster, and daughters Jacqueline and Lucinda Roy both academics and writers. Lucinda Roy has recently authored two books Lady Moses, (1999) and The Hotel Alleluia, (2000) that explore some of the racial issues related to growing up as a mixed race child in mainstream white society. As a woman of colour she pays homage to her father’s influence on issues of identity:

My father's (Namba Roy's) ancestors were taken from the area known as the Cameroon, and, as the Jamaican carver for the Maroon people in Accompong Village in Jamaica, he was schooled in the African carving traditions. He therefore had a strong sense of oral history, and Africa lived in my home in South London while I was growing up. It was present in my father's carvings and artwork, and it was present in the stories he told. Although my father died when his children were very young, my mother made sure that we didn't forget him or the lands he knew. Africa therefore seemed as much like home to me as England and America have been.

As a an artist living outside of his culture, Namba Roy held fast to his identity as a black man, however despite limited success in exhibitions in London and Paris, his talents were not fully appreciated during his lifetime. His work finally came to prominence, after his death in 1961 and was celebrated two decades later as the centerpiece of the Commonwealth Institute’s exhibition of Jamaican art entitledRemembrance. In this show of 138 works created by pioneer Jamaican artists, Namba Roy ‘s was honoured with a display of 31 sculptures and 25 paintings. Many of these works were subsequently viewed in Jamaican Art 1922 – 1982, the SITES exhibition mounted in Washington that toured the USA in 1983.