Michael Thompson (aka Freestylee, Artist Without Borders) is strongly committed to what he calls Creative Activism. His passionate poster art expresses solidarity with visionaries across the globe committed to fighting against social ills such as worldwide poverty and racism. His work helps to spread the “One Love” message. Michael uses his art effectively with social media to stimulate awareness globally, and to spark conversation about many social issues.
Michael also designs posters celebrating and promoting the history and culture of Jamaica. The world of reggae music is a recurring preoccupation. Michael’s art is grounded and inspired by the conscious roots reggae music of the 1970s and 80s. His reggae-fused posters are fundamentally tied to the imagery and messages of that period. Michael believes that the success of the genre is not accidental, but can be traced directly to the hopeful messages that all people can relate to and the feeling of solidarity that the music inspires.
The International Reggae Poster Contest, which Michael conceived in 2011, is a brilliant example of his social activism. The legendary “Third World Band”, the self-styled Reggae ambassadors, proudly remind us of the incredulous question they’re asked everywhere they perform: “How can a big music come from a little island?” It is this perception of reggae as a ‘big music’ that led Michael to launch the International Reggae Poster Contest in December of 2011.
Michael envisions the contest as a global campaign and platform for a catalyst idea. The centerpiece of his vision is reggae. The theme of the poster contest presents the mission clearly: “Toward A Reggae Hall of Fame, Celebrating Great Jamaican Music.” Michael’s ultimate goal is to see the Reggae Hall of Fame housed in an appropriately grand building designed by an architect of the caliber of Frank Gehry.
The Contest, co-organized with Michael’s creative partner Maria Papaefstathiou of Athens, Greece, is intended to help redefine the visual language of reggae, and to shine a creative spotlight on the music’s positive global impact. In its 4th year, the contest has attracted a huge following: more than 3,000 posters from over 100 countries!
The International Reggae Poster Contest has achieved spectacular success through its Art of Reggae Exhibitions. Since 2012, the IRPC has curated 13 major international exhibitions in the following cities: Kingston, Athens, Thessaloniki, Nicosia, Mexico City, Havana, Chetumal, Benicassim, Miami and Washington, D.C.
The International Reggae Poster Contest also raises awareness for a special institution, the Alpha Boys’School. This institution has been instrumental in nurturing several generations of reggae musicians. The contest has raised over US$8,000.00 for the school and has attracted thousands of new friends of Alpha.
The contest has also spearheaded the launch of a new vocational education program at the school in screen-printing. Michael designed a new logo for the institution as part of the rebranding and revitalization of the Alpha Boys School.
The International Reggae Poster Contest designs are also used for fundraising in support of an educational project organized by a German-based NGO, “Help Jamaica.”The project has created a successful afterschool reading program center in the inner-city community of Cassava Piece, in Kingston.
Michael’s own reggae posters have garnered much international attention. They have been published in the premier German reggae/dancehall magazine Riddim. In 2011-2012, a collection of Michael’s posters toured Europe as part of the “Reggae Movement “exhibition, which traced the journey of the reggae sound system from Jamaica to Europe. The first showing was at the YAAM cultural center in Berlin, in October 2011. This was followed by exhibitions in twelve other European cities
Michael’s work has been shown at numerous other exhibitions including: the National Gallery of Jamaica’s Biennale of Graphics; a special “Freestylee, Artist Without Borders “exhibition at the Drum Art Centre, Birmingham, UK, held as part of the Arts activities of the London 2012 Olympic Games and Jamaica 50th celebrations.
Michael’s posters have also been exhibited at the Rototom Sunsplash Festival in Spain. His posters in solidarity with the Haiti earthquake victims were exhibited at the Allentown Art Museum, Pennsylvania. His work was included in the exhibition, “Edna Manley’s Bogle: A Contest of Icons, “held at the National Gallery of Jamaica. In 2015, Michael’s posters were twice exhibited in Mexico: in the Mexico City Metro, and at the Mayan Museum of Culture, Chetumal.
Michael Thompson was born in Kingston, Jamaica studied graphic design at the Jamaica School of Art, now the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, in the early 80s. During this early period of his career, Michael won two successive poster competitions, which gave him the opportunity to participate with the Jamaican delegation in the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students in Havana in 1978, and in Moscow in 1985. Michael describes his visit to Cuba as “a transforming experience and a tremendous opportunity.”
There, he was introduced to the Cuban poster art created by ICAIC (Cuban Film Institute); OSPAAAL (Organization for Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia, and Latin America); and Casa de Las Américas. Michael’s exposure to the posters created by these influential organizations in Cuba greatly inspired his poster design aesthetic.
Michael is fully immersed in trying to capture the extraordinary energy of Bob Marley and others who took the music from Jamaica to the world. The success of reggae artistes like Burning Spear, Culture, U-Roy, Abyssinians, Peter Tosh, Marcia Griffiths, Rita Marley and Judy Mowatt is a persuasive reminder that positive messages do speak to the heart and sell!
Source: Institute of Caribbean Studies