BY Stephen Nartey, 2:00pm March 13, 2023,

From dentistry to sculpting: the remarkable story of Jamaican artist, Ronald Moody

Ronald Moody/Photo credit: Tate

Serendipitously stumbling into the world of sculpting, Jamaican artist, Ronald Moody’s creative quest to make an impact with his carvings has stood the test of time. Initially trained as a dentist, a trip to the British Museum’s Egyptian galleries in the late 1920s changed his career path. The impression the still Egyptian sculptures left on his creative mind grew into a burning passion that eventually inspired his sculpting career.

Ronald perhaps might have unknowingly left traces of his passion for art while in school. As a dental student, he often found himself in the company of artists who engaged him in discussions of philosophy centering on Indian and Chinese philosophy, a theme that became the basis of his art and spiritual life, and one that inspired many global contemporary sculptors who learned from his imposing works, according to the University College of London.

The Jamaican artist began carving wood in the 1930s, carving his first work, “Wohin,” which he completed in 1934. Though he produced many works including “Johanaan” in 1936 and “Midonz” in 1937, his prized work was the Midonz. The Midonz was work that embodied pre-Columbian and ancient Egyptian cultures, but to a large extent, it helps to explain Ronald’s first experience with the afro comb.

 In his writings after the Second World War, he lamented over his inability to retrieve the Midonz, which was trapped in the United States after the war. He escaped with his wife to Paris before the German invasion and had to spend months in Marseilles before safely relocating to England. The lasting impact of the war did not take much more of a toll on him than his attempts to retrieve his artworks. He managed to retrieve 11 out of 12 artworks that were trapped in the United States, except for the Midonz.

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1900, Ronald migrated to Britain in 1923. It was during this period he decided to study to become a dentist at the Royal Dental Hospital, King’s College, London. He later became a dentist in 1930, but as his writings explained, it was the world of sculpting that got the best of him. His passion for ancient Egypt influenced his writings and art. He recalled in a 1950 BBC radio interview on Egyptian Art where he opened up about how his visit to the British Museum struck an unwavering bond between him and the wooden comb; one he thought was a signature of perfect craftsmanship. This comb, it was learned, helped explain the origins of the Afro comb by researchers.

His distinct works earned him opportunities to participate in several exhibitions. Ronald showcased his work in the 1935 exhibition on Negro Art which was organized at the Adams Gallery in Pall Mall, as well as in the United States in the Harmon Foundation’s 1939 exhibition ‘Contemporary Negro Art’ at the Baltimore Museum of Art. He also participated in a solo exhibition in Paris in 1937 and Amsterdam in 1938.

His niece, Cynthia Moody, who has been undertaking a series of research about Ronald’s work, learned how the Midonz was important to him. As a trustee of his archive, she managed to trace the whereabouts of the art at the Hampton University Museum in Virginia and helped in its retrieval in 1994.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 13, 2023


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