Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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About 30,000 people are said to have thronged the streets around Boys' Town, Kingston, when Collie Smith died in a car accident in England in 1959. Smith, 26, had been travelling with close friend Garry Sobers, who would go on to dedicate a chapter to Smith in his book Cricket Crusaders.
"In all my innings, and especially in Jamaica where they so loved Collie, I played with him inside me. Trying perhaps to give him the innings that death had denied him. We had some wonderful innings together. They were beginning to call me a great allrounder. Collie was a greater allrounder than I," Sobers said.
Smith played 26 Tests for West Indies between 1955 and 1959, and was believed to be the only batter to score centuries on first appearance (at 21 and 24, respectively) against both Australia and England at the time. His most important achievement, though, was doing it all coming from Boys' Town, a neighbourhood that has battled a long-standing reputation for violence and corruption. To his people, Smith was an immortal beacon of representation in cricket.
That story, and many others, will be now be represented on a new mural at Sabina Park that aims to capture the spirit of Jamaican cricket, as part of a larger art project that aims to turn Kingston into a "destination city". Nineteen cricketers are featured on the mural: George Headley, Allan Rae, Alf Valentine, Jackie Hendricks, Easton McMorris, Collie Smith, Maurice Foster, Michael Holding, Jimmy Adams, Stafanie Taylor, Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Marlon Tucker, Jeff Dujon, Courtney Walsh, Patrick Patterson, Tamar Lambert, Dennal Shim and Nikita Miller.
"When the administration that I lead took office in 2016, we decided as a policy position, that we would reposition the city of Kingston in the form of a vision, and that was to transform it into a destination city, a tourism city," says Mayor Delroy Williams. "The repositioning means that we have to integrate its history - it has a rich cultural history in the arts, music and literature. We are creating spaces for our residents and our visitors, so that they can interact with our culture and history."
The mural at Sabina Park follows a wide-ranging do-over of downtown Kingston, a region that had previously become synonymous with rundown buildings and abandoned businesses. For Rosemarie "Rozi" Chung, director at Studio 174, a non-profit arts academy, who led the project, the brief came directly from the Minister of Culture. It revolved around capturing the spirit of Jamaican cricket, and its significance to the population. The mural has a template - one action photo juxtaposed with one portrait of each player against a blue backdrop that sprawls across the wall; but Chung and her team of young artists - Anthony, Tiana Anglin, Cee Jay Carpio, Yanque Yip, and Jordan Harrison - wanted to go beyond simple portraiture.
"Cricket is not just a game. It's a way of being, and we wanted to create it in such a manner that young people could come on board," Chung says.
"We speak about Jamaican culture, so we went [far] back with the research. It wasn't just creating imagery, but researching a bit about Sabina and some of the symbols we have on the wall reflect that."
The imagery derives from the Adinkra symbols of Ghana, in a bid to reflect Jamaican culture before slavery, Chung says, and a way to get the education system involved.
"The fact is the Adinkra symbols are used all over the world and people don't even realise it. So we put that in as a way of speaking to you about the character. For instance, Stafanie Taylor, what I created there, along with an artist called Delano Macfarlane - her symbol represents strength, beauty, and humility. That's an example of what the symbols could mean and refer to - taking you beyond a face. Deeper, to describe the person and how they play."
The symbol used for Chris Gayle is illustrative of that - Adinkrahene, the king of the Adinkra symbols, that depicts greatness, charisma, and leadership.
But beyond their deeper meanings, the symbols also served as visual elements to anchor the art and connect cricketers of different eras, says Anthony Smith, the artist who painted Collie Smith (symbol: Bese Saka, meaning: Affluence, Abundance, Unity), Holding (also Adinkrahene), Walsh (Nsoromma - Child of the Heavens) and Marlon Tucker (Gye W'Ani - Celebration).
"For those who are not interested in asking the questions, they will see something beautiful, something that not only unites the works across the entire wall, but represents something they themselves can learn," Anthony says. "It's not a case where we created these symbols right here on the project. We borrowed them. So what we're doing is creating some kind of education, so that someone else may use this kind of visual language as a way of spreading the culture."
Discussions on the project began in 2019. The cricket board selected the list of cricketers, and Chung's team then had to think of the scale of the mural, which she believes it could be among the biggest in Kingston. The involvement of women artists, painting women cricketers in the murals, drew intrigue among young girls as the project went along, say the team members.
Representation is at the heart of this project, and one of the major topics the team hopes to create conversation around is racism.
"We Jamaicans did, in various forms, oppose the racism in South Africa, and the sport of cricket and our cricket personnel at the time were very vocal against racism in South Africa," Williams says.
The most persistent recent examples of that are the conversations that Michael Holding has been stirring over the last year or so. Holding is one of the cricketers on that wall, and whilst his work on that front isn't directly reflected here, the municipality hopes that his presence will prompt the public to find out more.
"While we didn't get to speak to the cricketers directly on the topic of racism, we did do a bit of research on what they would have experienced," says Anglin, the muralist who contributed six cricketers to the wall. "I think that's why, also, the use of Adinkra symbols would have been important, to show the strength of our culture and our history. And I think that in itself is a silent protest against the whole act and what they would have gone through."
The larger art project in downtown Kingston, with interactive art spaces containing murals of musicians like Desmond Dekker, Millie Small, Jimmy Cliff, and Bunny Wailer, has already shown signs of success - there has been an uptick in business investors downtown, says Williams.
In a cricket-specific context, the ongoing West Indies-Pakistan series should be a start in terms of visibility for this particular project. In the making of the mural, though, there is already a story of one of those legends resonating with the younger people of Jamaica. When the 24-year-old Anthony painted Collie Smith on the wall, he was painting one of his heroes.
"He's my father's namesake and he also has my surname," Anthony says. "But not only that, [it's] what he represented - the community he came from was an area that, at the time, would have been seen as a 'bad area'. He represented that something bigger can happen, something big, something fantastic to look forward to. And he did it all at a very young age, so he just showed that the youth can stand up to something monumental, and represent the area, and show that something good can come from that space. That's one thing he did that I found quite heroic.
"One thing I realised was that a sense of ownership was created in the people, primarily the passersby. They saw themselves in the work, their behaviour reflected that the work was theirs. It was energising to see that the community is that involved in what is happening in their country."
The immediate next step for the project will be to introduce plaques to provide more information on the cricketers who form a list that spans nearly 80 years of Jamaican cricket. That will form a crucial part in educating younger people in the region, who are likely to know the likes of Gayle, Samuels, and Walsh, but not so much about the rest. Chung hopes this will be the start of a longer project "speaking of other moments of cricket".
"Hopefully with the feedback locally and abroad, we can continue the project. Because there's so much more to say about cricket, and we are learning at the same time.
"The artists will firmly agree that it was a wonderful project and they too needed time to just look at the work. Most of the time, we don't get to look at the work. We want everyone to come and experience it. It's a different thing to when you experience it online, because they're huge, you know? They're amazing, really amazing," Chung says.
A look at the schedule says that Kingston might have to wait until England's tour in January next year to become a destination city in the cricketing context. On all other fronts, things seem to be going to plan.