Driving around Jamaica you’ll begin to notice cardboard signs along the roads advertising upcoming concerts. They are colorful, often hand-painted and include quips like “yardie” or “foreigner link up.” These signs have personality: They aren’t just telling you about the latest party, or “bashment,” as Jamaicans like to say. They are expressing the rich cultural heritage of the Jamaican people. For decades, these dancehall signs have been everywhere but largely taken for granted, more a part of a scenery than an art form.
One person takes dancehall signs very seriously. Maxine Walters began collecting the signs in 2001; her first was yellow with big red letters presenting Fire 2001 at the Golden Grove Community Center in St. Ann’s, after which she began collecting them relentlessly. “Some days I would travel the island just to collect signs. It became a passion,” she says, before admitting that she once broke up with a boyfriend over the art. “He said you prefer the signs over me, and I said yes!”
The film and television producer started her career as an Air Jamaica flight attendant, and in that role she befriended island regulars Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, partying with Grace Jones and Keith Richards, and any number of stars who just love Jamaica. In addition to films, commercials and documentaries, Walters has produced music festivals, as well as written and performed a hit on the Jamaican charts, One Light Four Wheel. But nothing has captured her passion like dancehall signs.
Walters has collected more than 3,500, storing the signs in a shed at her cottage in Runaway Bay. She’s trotted them out for exhibits at Miss Lily’s in New York City, the Havana Biennial in Cuba, the Real Artways Gallery in Connecticut, and a monster show at Harmony Hall St. Mary, Jamaica . Next, Walters plans to bring her signs to galleries and museums around the world, throwing parties with reggae music and dancers along the way. Consider this tour of her Jamaica home a sneak peek.
You can purchase the book Serious Things A Go Happen, a collection of Jamaican dancehall signs from Maxine Walters, at any of the Island Outpost gift shops.