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Work / Publication

Serious Things a Go Happen: exploring Jamaican dancehall through graphic design

The graphic design influence of Jamaican Dance Hall signs is plentiful, illustrating a narrative of music, dancing and community through hand-painted typography.

Seeing these signs is often quite a rarity, but they can now be explored in detail in Serious Things a Go Happen, an unofficial history of dancehall signs published by Hat & Beard Press. Collating signs from the 1980s through to today, the publication dives into the poster archive of Maxine Walters, a Jamaican film and television producer and director.

Known as “the queen of Jamaican dancehall signs,” Maxine’s collection has grown over the past 30 years to 4,000 posters “advertising local ‘bashments’ held at bars, on beaches and in primary schools,” says Hat & Beard Press. “Treated by most Jamaicans as simply a fact of life, the dancehall poster has until recently received little careful, critical attention; this volume begins to rectify that with essays by Vivien Goldman, Carolyn Cooper and others, alongside the posters themselves.”

Within Serious Things Go a Happen, each poster has its own personality, with rough edges where you can imagine Maxine carefully peeing it off the wall to add to her collection. With chaotic but brilliant colour palettes, mixed fonts that display paint brush marks or stencilled graffiti, or faint guide mark lines still visible so the type isn’t wonky, every dancehall sign has its own character.

An exhibition of Jamaican Dance Hall signs, curated by Maxine, is currently on display at the Ace Hotel, New Orleans.

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