June 27, 2017

Capturing the Essence of Fatherhood

A heart-warming painting by Griffith

Through their art, Shimuel Jones and Michael Griffith capture the meaning of fatherhood, saying that fathers should not only be financial providers, but also nurturers.

Shimuel Jones is a Guyanese artist noted for possessing immense skill in painting, drawing or sculpting. His thought-provoking piece “Father and Son” depicts a son embraced by his father.

“What is most significant about this painting is the book that the child is holding.  As a father, it is important to not only be a monetary provider, but someone who nurtures the mind of his children. Reading is one of the many ways a father can educate and nurture the minds of his children,” Joel explained in an interview with Sunday Times Magazine.

Being the third of his siblings, he described his childhood as “pretty interesting” since he safely enjoyed it. Jones’ father is an artist, so one can say he was born with this special talent, which was also nurtured by his father.

This ‘nurturing’ eventually helped Jones become a notable artist. His accomplishments include working for a number of charities in Guyana and showcasing his works at many art shows, including performing art shows.

Jones’ exhibitions and awards include Marriott Hotel Guyana exhibition (2016); Inter- Guiana Cultural Festival (IGCF) Georgetown, Guyana Competitions 2016; Wine and Art Competition 2015; Jazz and Art Exhibition 2013 – Carifesta XI – Paramaribo, Suriname; Nola Hatterman Art Exhibition – Paramaribo, Suriname 2013; Tenth Biennial Republic Bank Drawing Competition 2013; Guyana Visual Arts Competition, receiving the Promising Artist Award 2013; Inter- Guiana Cultural Festival (IGCF) Cayenne French Guiana; University of Guyana Graduating Class Exhibition 2012; Ninth Biennial Republic Bank Drawing Competition receiving the Bronze Medal and Honourable Award 2012; Folklore Exhibition – In commemoration of African Heritage Month in Guyana 2011; Guyana Visual Arts Competition – shortlisted 2009; Seventh Biennial Republic Bank Sponsored Drawing Competition receiving first prize.

Explaining his artworks capturing the essence of fatherhood, Michael Griffith said: “My piece with the family more or less depicts the father’s willingness to care for his family. The gentle kiss on the forehead is a sign of respect and patience. His outstretched arms enclosing them signify him being a protector. This union between mom and dad serves as an example to the observing child. My other drawing with the father and daughter captures the bond between a young girl and her dad. Her adoration for him is mirrored in the way she kisses him, as if she’s saying, ‘Thank you for being my dad.”

In an interview with this publication, Griffith mentioned that he grew up in a humble home in South Georgetown. He revealed that he had to drop out of school at 16 to contribute to his family.

“In order to accommodate my desire to draw I had to find a flexible job without supervision so I sold watches on the pave. I practiced my art, improving my skills with experience alone. In September 2009, I joined the Burrowes’ School of Art’s evening one-year certificate programme. This was significant in polishing my drawing skills. After that my life changed and I took art as a profession more seriously,” he recalled.

Knowing the importance of a father figure, due to his personal experiences, Griffith dedicatedly cares for his own family, especially his two daughters.

His dedication to his work, in order to provide for his family, has helped him to receive many accolades. For his outstanding portraits, the artist copped first prize in the Guyana Visual Arts Competition and Exhibition 2012 and first prize in the Guyana Visual Arts Competition and Exhibition 2014.

 

An artistic legacy

R. G. Sharples as a young man

Richard Gui Pennington Sharples, better known as R. G. Sharples, was a man of extraordinary ability who demonstrated a wealth of talents.  Alongside his legal career, Sharples is recognised equally for his artistic legacy and his contribution to the development of a ‘local style’ in the history of fine art in Guyana.

Sharples was born in Georgetown on May 1, 1906. He was the youngest son of Mary Johanna (née Scott) and John Bradshaw Sharples, the famous architect and builder.

He began his early education at the Ursuline Convent and Queen’s College. He later studied law in London.

On his return to Guyana, he practised as a solicitor. He became Treasurer of the British Guiana Law Society in 1943. Sharples’ career as a Magistrate became inextricably linked with Guyana’s political history.

Cattle and two trees in a field at Enmore by Gui Sharples c. 1951

Sharples became president of the British Guiana Arts & Crafts Society, formed in 1931, which later became the Guyanese Art Group in 1945. He was actively involved in the main current of art in those decades. His art circle included a nucleus of talented local artists like Vivian Antrobus, Reginald Phang, E. R. Burrowes, Basil Hinds, Denis Williams and Hubert Moshett, who worked primarily in landscape and portraiture.

The art group set out to foster the appreciation of art and set goals for assisting the young upcoming generation of artists who later pursued their art studies in Europe: Aubrey Williams, Stanley Greaves, and Marjorie Broodhagen, along with Burrowes.

Sharples was also a member of the RA&CS Exhibition Committee up to 1956.

From an early age, Sharples displayed a flair for painting and continued his hobby when he returned to Guyana after law studies in England. His sheer spontaneity is expressed in his pencil sketching done in situ to produce a finished watercolour painting. This technique became his preferred medium of expression.

Buxton foreshore at sunset by Gui Sharples c. 1951
© C W McWatt

His subject matter was primarily scenery with trees and human figures. Trees became an important feature in all his watercolour landscapes – sturdy gnarled trunks crowned with feathery foliage and lithe abstract figures conveying a sense of belonging to the landscapes in which they appear.

Some of Sharples’ earliest work appeared in the “Centenary History and Handbook of British Guiana 1831-1931” by A. R. F. Webber published in 1931. The watercolour plates he produced for the book brought Sharples’ name to prominence.  The six watercolour plates vividly portray local themes and locations which are evocative of Guyana’s coastal topography – the wonderful opalescent atmosphere of the tropical landscape is captured in scenes with ordinary men and women working amidst lush green foliage and scarlet blooms; reflected light from azure skies on waterways and rivers.

Besides his watercolour painting, Sharples readily turned his creative skills to other design activities included hand-painted dresses for his wife and daughters.

 In the mid-1940s he painted the scenery on the pivoting panels of the stage wings in the auditorium at the Ursuline Convent; he also made and painted the large ‘SERVIAM’ shield (the emblem and motto of St Rose’s High School) which hung at the back of the auditorium.

Rev. Richard Lester Guilly, S.J. was appointed Catholic Bishop of Georgetown in February 1956; Sharples was asked to design a coat of arms for the newly enthroned Bishop.

In the early 1950s, Sharples won a stamp design competition. One of the chosen designs was the 72 cents stamp in a carmine and emerald illustration of the Arapaima fish. This 1954 stamp set, released on December 1, 1954 was the first British Guiana stamp to carry the profile of Queen Elizabeth II.

Although Sharples remained an amateur artist, he secured sales for his paintings at local exhibitions. In the 1950s, Alcan Aluminium of Canada put on a travelling exhibition of West Indian art and several of his watercolours were chosen for this.

In 1953, his work was exhibited at the Guyanese Art Group exhibition. In June 1957, a posthumous exhibition of his paintings was held in the RA&CS Reading Rooms in Georgetown.

The Joint Art Committee of the RA&CS (1944 – 1948), which was set up for the purpose of forming a nucleus of the British Guiana National Art Collection, purchased three of Sharples’ paintings for the Nation – “The Quarry” (1947), “Bartica Afternoon” (1946), a backyard scene in soft pastel watercolours of muted greens and browns, which are in the National Gallery, Castellani House; and “The Tamarind” (1947), housed in the Guyana National Museum, a landscape in warm russet tones in which relaxed figures rest beneath the shade of a tamarind tree.

Sharples’ untimely death on August 26, 1956 at the age of 50 was a shock to his family and friends. Besides his legal career and love of painting, he had the capacity to enjoy the good life to the full – even as the Bohemian artist. He is to be remembered for his charismatic personality and outstanding quality as a magistrate, artist and citizen. (Information by Clive W. McWatt)

Art in Pre-independence Guyana ‘Artist had already shown Independence of thought ‘

“Gulf Watch” (1992) by Ernest Van Dyke

Guyana became an independent nation in 1966, but its artists had already, from a generation before, begun to show independence of thought, action and vision. The artistic ferment in Georgetown in the decades between 1930 and 1960 is a yet largely-unrecognised intellectual and philosophical development in Guyana.  The early part of this period laid the foundation for an art which lacks nothing in richness, complexity and ideation.

Samuel Horace Broodhagen (1883-1950) is identified as the earliest-known local artist. He was a painter of landscapes and portraits, but not much is known about his work. So was Cedric Winter (1902-1974), a sculptor, who created the altar screen for St James-the-Less Church in 1945. But the first decades of the 20th century were lean years for art in Guyana. One expatriate, Golde White, wrote to a friend that “[t]here has been no Art Exhibition for some time in this colony, and very little is done to encourage artistic talent”.

“Backyard Pere Street” (1970) by Leila Locke

From the end of the 1920’s, White and other expatriates, along with the British Council, encouraged and supported the local men and women of talent.  The colonials helped to found the British Guiana Arts and Crafts Society in 1931, and the British Council sponsored lectures and gave scholarships. This impetus produced our first formal artists such as Vivian Antrobus, R. G. Sharples, E.R. Burrowes, Reggie Phang and Sam Cummings.

On the other hand, Evelyn Williams argues that the colonial establishment “contextualised and controlled the models of cultural expression in the perpetuation of the systematic self-interest…imposing the imprints of a European consciousness”.

Here is where the pioneering local artists began asserting their independence: they soon broke away from the official influence, and began organising their own art groups and art classes. They formed the Guianese Art Group in 1945 and the Working People’s Art Class in 1948, which existed up to as late as 1961.

They attracted young people such as Denis Williams, Hubert Moshett, Marjorie Broodhagen, Enda Harte, Basil Hinds, and later on, Stanley Greaves, Ron Savory, Aubrey Williams, Donald Locke, Emerson Samuels and many others. The pioneers started a great line of artists who would take Guyana’s art into the next three decades and beyond.

On the surface, it seems that Guyanese art copies western art. But this is only superficially true. While our artists draw from the wide range of art approaches, styles and techniques, what they create is truly Guyanese. The pioneer artists broke away from the influence of the British School of landscape painting and used more investigative styles and techniques to delve into, rather than depict, Guyanese life.

They explored a broader range of themes and subjects. Apart from the landscape, they painted our people, pass-times and activities.  Artists such as  George Bowen (Jorge Bowen-Forbes), Alvin Bowman, Patrick Barrington, David Singh picked up this tradition from the pioneers and it continued in the works of Eddie Fredericks (our first indigenous painter), Basil and Angold Thompson, Cletus Henriques, Maylene Duncan, Winston Strick, Seunarine Munisar, Merlene Ellis, and a host of other artists right down to the present day.

Our art is a nationally-cohesive influence because of its democratic nature:  it is not an elitist art; it takes an unprejudiced look at our life; it is a humanely-progressive art which propounds the richness and dignity of life. Even in the conflict-ridden 1960’s, Guyanese artists quietly asserted the common humanity, struggle, and worthiness of the Guyanese people through their landscapes and depictions of the life of the country in scenes of life and landscape.

In another discordant period, the 1990’s, artists such as Ohene Koama, Betsy Karim and Desmond Ali banded together as “The Guyana United Artists”; they and various other artists made a call through their many exhibitions for unity and peace. But our artists are not just parochial: they have responded to international conflicts such as the Gulf War, and champion international movements for global peace and liberation from oppression.

Our art is one of innate concern and responsibility. Right from the beginning, our artists showed a responsibility to the development of the nation through their social commentary. In 1961, Burrowes presciently offered his “Land of the Dolorous Guard” as a warning about developments in the country.

Stanley Greaves became famous for his “People of the Pavement” series in the 1950’s, and he continued his trenchant examination of our politics and culture in his “There’s a Meeting Here Tonight” (1990’s) and other artwork.

Just after the elation of independence, Cyril Kanhai’s sarcastic “Green Land of Guyana” pointed to the disjunction between political promises and reality.  Bernadette Persaud bravely confronted authority with her “Gentleman in the Garden” series as economic and political pressures developed in the 1980’s.

From the 1990’s, Desmond Ali in his innovative, massive sculpture enlarged our thinking about Guyana’s political condition by expounding on the history of colonialism and the struggle for independence in the wider American region.

Our art gives Guyana root and substance: a hallmark of our art is how it draws from the well of our intrinsic cultures and experiences. By doing this, our artists give recognition to the inherence of the ancestral in the construction and existence of the Guyanese identity.

From the 1960’s, Stephanie Correia brought the forms and spirit of the first peoples of the country into formal art in her ceramic work. Eddie Fredericks depicted the rhythms of indigenous life; George Simon delved into his indigenous heritage to produce powerful art.

He also tutored Lokono artists – Oswald Hussein, Lynus Clenkien, Telford Taylor, Roland Taylor and others – who from the 1990’s revealed a hidden dimension of the Guyanese imagination with their shape-shifting works in wood. Philip Moore had, from the 1940’s, been intuitively drawing from his native African ancestry, but also recognising and utilising the iconography of the East Indian world-views.

Later, in the 1970’s, the Village Movement artists brought the African ancestry further into the limelight through the medium and style of their intuitive wood sculpture. Gary Thomas, Compton Parris, Omowale Lumumba, and Colin Warde were some of the main exponents of this movement, which still live on in the works of the Main Street Artists Brian Clarke, Ras Iah, Marvyn Phillips, Francis Ferreira and others.

In the 1980’s, Bernadette Persaud showed the power and relevance of East Indian religions and imagery in interpreting and understanding Guyana. Dudley Charles gave serious consideration to the beliefs of the folk, starting in the 1980’s with his “Old House” series and continuing this engagement in his subsequent works.

As in any other genuine art, in the particularity of Guyanese art, there is a connection to the universal. Aubrey William’s abstract paintings turn the Guyana landscape into the ground of examination of cosmic matters; Denis William’s Human World addresses all of modern industrial life; Philip Moore’s metaphysics apply to all; Winslow Craig’s themes touch universal chords.

Artists such as Terence Roberts, Carl Anderson and Derrick Callendar contemplate Guyana’s identity within the widest international context; Philbert Gajadhar celebrates East Indian ancestry, but also recognises its relatedness to other cultures as well, and so on. Our artists explore formal technical issues, tackle great questions of being, engage in metaphysics, comment on the world, and are alive to global efforts for freedom, justice, development  and the best possibilities of human life.

Notably, art will continue to lead, support and inspire our development.Presently at Castellani House, Vlissengen Road, an art exhibition, titled “In Retrospect”, by Jorge Bowen-Forbes is being held to celebrate the artist’s 80th birth anniversary as well as Guyana’s 51st independence anniversary.

It was opened on May 16, 2017 and will continue until June 3, 2017. Admission is free. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and 2 to 6 p.m. on Saturday; the gallery is closed Sundays and holidays. (Artists’ information excerpted from notes by Alim Hosein)

 

Spreading love through art

Courtney and Annie with their son

Matt & Annie Arts – Turning Ideas into Reality is a business started by Courtney and Aneeza Douglas, both of whom graduated from E. R. Burrowes School of Arts with diplomas in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Together, they have won five National Arts Awards and numerous art competitions. They were married in August 2013 and have a son, Lucas Myles. Courtney is currently working at Tinninben Animation Studio, and Aneeza does commissioned artworks at home.

Art plays a significant role in the lives of the Douglases. Courtney states that their “gift is from God” and they believe that “whatever they do with it is their gift back to God”.  Courtney and Aneeza love what they do and, through their creations, want to share that love with their clients.

“When someone purchases a piece of art, we want them to take the love from our home to their home. We want to leave a legacy. Part of it is, ‘Don’t try to be better than anyone, try to be better than the person you were yesterday.’ Only then we can see changes in all aspects of life,” expressed Courtney.

Colouring Book illustrated by Courtney

Courtney Matt Douglas graduated from Burrowes with a diploma in Fine Arts and was awarded “Best Student in Painting, Drawing and Graphic Designs”.  He is the winner of the National Coin Design Competition, which was held to commemorate the 175th anniversary of Indian immigration. Additionally, he won the National Drawing Competition 2013 with the piece of Guyana’s master batsman, Shivnarine Chanderpaul.

Matt and Annie’s artworks are showcased at Dis Is De Place exhibitions held at the end of each month at the Courtyard Mall, Robb Street, Georgetown.  Their craft includes leather jewellery of the finest quality.

The artist mentioned that his daily Facebook sketches (Sketch A Day) are for the benefit of his fans and to demonstrate his ingenuity and dexterity with the pen and to further develop his technique.

Courtney’s “Inspirational Arts Series” feature famous persons who inspire the rest of the world, including poets (such as Maya Angelou), sportsmen and women (such as Muhammed Ali, Lionel Messi and others), humanitarians (Mother Theresa), civic leaders (Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King), and literary geniuses (Derek Walcott and others).

For more information, visit Matt & Annie Arts – Turning Ideas into Reality on Facebook.

‘Parrot’

‘Rooster’

‘Canje pheasant’

Artistic works portray themes of ‘family, love, beauty’

The spirit of family, love and beauty is portrayed in soap stone, wood and paper by an extraordinary collection of artists and crafters.

The family theme is displayed on the exhibit stands of the artists and craftsmen of the Main Street Artist Association on a daily basis obliquely to Tower Hotel.

Sculptors such as Lewis, Ferreira, Sealey and Wilson carve “Mother & Child” and “Family Unity and Love” wooden sculptures giving meaning to “motherly love” and “tender care”.

Award-winning artist Colin Nedd’s portrait of his grandson taking a bath in a plastic tub shows “everyday life” in Guyana.

Artistic designer Crystal Baptiste’s ‘Papel’ (paper) jewellery collection was designed with mothers in mind. These chic jewellery pieces can be worn casually or for elegant occasions. They are lightweight and vary in style.

Check out Dis Is De Place on Facebook for more information.

Using art to tell stories

Artist Darshani Kistama is “honoured” to be among veteran Guyanese artists exhibiting their artwork at Castellani House. This is Darshani’s inaugural exhibition at the art gallery.

Darshani has on display artistic paintings, drawings, saris and beautifully hand-painted bottles.

The on-going exhibition, themed “Ganga Ship 1917: The Long Journey”, is being held to commemorate the centenary of the abolition of the Indian indentureship.

Speaking to Sunday Times Magazine, Darshani said she is inspired by nature and her “commitment” to her religion, which is a central theme in most of her art.

“Nature is my number one inspiration.  I am influenced and inspired by the magnificence and splendour of the natural environment. However, due to my commitment to my religion, I am often driven to produce works that are closely related to my culture, that is Hinduism,” the artist expressed.

Darshani is a graduate of E.R.Burrowes School of Art. Her minor at the institution was art and major was in textile designs.

She recollected that since childhood she “always loved looking at the different forms of artwork and the various techniques used in creating those masterpieces”.

“For as long as I can remember, I have always loved to draw and paint. I cannot remember a time when I did  not have a pencil or pen in my hand. I guess my love and appreciation for art also stems from my late grandfather who has always been a big fan of paintings,” Darshani recalled.

For the artist, music always sets a mood in helping her be creative. Whether it is soft slow songs or fast rhythmic tunes, Darshani gets inspired.

According to Darshani, art challenges her to better herself. For her, it is not just about paint and canvas, but a connection to her feelings and dreams. She would ask herself, “How do I bring those things to life on a canvas?”, and then challenge herself to be better every time she picks up a brush/pallet knife.

She also pointed out that she enjoys painting still life objects. Otherwise, she would often find herself painting landscapes or art inspired by her religion.

“I want to raise awareness that life is a beautiful, colourful dance of revealing and concealing what we think, feel, say and do in any given moment. While some artists prefer displaying works that are intellectual and mysterious, you would find that only a few in an audience would actually understand what they are looking at.

“What I try to do is to not only help my audience understand what they ‘see’, but to effectively communicate a story to them that would touch them in one way or the other. I believe painting becomes just another way of telling a story or expressing your feelings, there is no need to read a book or caption, just walk into a gallery and phase through different feelings, different moods and different stories. The beauty of painting is that it is immediate to an audience,” the artist explained.

Darshani displayed her works at Umana Yana in 2016 as a graduate of Burrowes; at Night Cap in September 2016, when it launched its first art exhibition; at the inaugural Guyana Coconut Festival, where she placed in the top ten for a painting she displayed at the event; and at the National Library, where the “Ganga Ship 1917: The Long Journey” exhibition was being housed from March 28 to April 1, 2017.

Currently, Darshani is working on making her small business, Touch of Art, successful. She also intends to further her studies by pursuing a degree in art at a foreign university.

“I think art should be encouraged in more primary and secondary schools, as well as setting up more art exhibitions and workshops to expose children to the different types of art there is. I think it is a good way for kids to show their true potential and a way for them to learn to be creative in their own way, as well as to look at something with a different perspective,” she declared.

Darshani encourages young and aspiring artists to “paint what you feel; everyone may have their own different techniques and skills, which makes them unique at what they do, but stay true to yours; donot give in to discouragement and always try to excel yourself in whatever form of art you wish to pursue”.

In addition to painting, the artist enjoys recycling wine and liquor bottles by hand-painting beautiful designs on them, transforming them into functional, artistic pieces for homes. She also does henna designs for weddings and other occasions.

“Ganga Ship 1917: The Long Journey” at Castellani House, Vlissengen Road, was opened on April 11 and will continue until May 9, 2017. Admission is free.

For more information on the artist, visit Touch of Art on Facebook or her website at darshanikistama.tk.

Art as a ‘path of expression’

'Surface tension' (2016). Mixed-media on vinyl

‘Surface tension’ (2016). Mixed-media on vinyl

Overseas-based Guyanese artist Suchitra Mattai’s artwork examines the general themes of identity and globalization through landscape.

Mattai was born in Guyana and also grew up here, but migrated to the US as a child. She now lives and works in France.

The artist received an MFA in painting and drawing, and an MA in South Asian art, both from the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. She has exhibited her work in Philadelphia, New York, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, Denver, Austin, Berlin, Germany, and Wales, United Kingdom.  Her paintings have appeared in the publication “New American Paintings”. Additionally, she just completed a residency at RedLine Contemporary Art Centre, Denver.

'Clearing' (2017). Gouache and watercolour on contact paper

‘Clearing’ (2017). Gouache and watercolour on contact paper

Suchitra often appropriates found objects to create mixed-media drawings, paintings, sculpture and installations.  Her disconnected landscapes are created from history, memory, travel and pop-culture, and invert the familiar in order to complicate assumptions about race and gender.

Currently, the artist is working on a series, “El Dorado”, thinking of her homeland, Guyana, as the idealized ‘El Dorado’. Her new mixed-media work is “all about re-imagining the past”. She is presently working on creating two bodies of work.

“I am currently living in France and have access to European historical documents. I am particularly interested in the period of European colonialism.  The ‘Untitled’ piece with the ‘colonized’ woman bound by threads comments on the struggles of colonized peoples.  The woman melds into the background pattern.  This body of work investigates the position of women during this period,” Suchitra explained in an interview with Sunday Times Magazine.

Her second body of work “references landscape, particularly bodies of water and idealized places”. Suchitra pointed out that she has always been interested in the relationship of the natural world to the built environment. Hence, her artwork “Surface tension” depicts reflections of nature in a pool.  Lately, she has become “obsessed with the idea of El Dorado and the search for an idealized place or home”. Having left as a child, Guyana is now her “remote idealized homeland”.

“Art has always been a way of living for me. My father wrote in my baby journal that I only wanted to draw since I could pick up a pencil.  I have always made art. Painting and drawing have always been close to my heart.  I spent a lot of time by myself, as my sisters are much younger than me.  This time led me to internalize experiences in a peculiar way and art has proven to be the best path for me to express my thoughts and attitudes.  I also had one artist role model as a child – our family friend and a fellow Guyanese, Suresh Hanuman, was a source of inspiration,” Suchitra recalled.

Artist Suchitra Mattai

Artist Suchitra Mattai

The artist mentioned that she is the happiest when using her hands to create.  Creating not only brings her joy, but also allows her to communicate the ideas she wants to voice.

For 13 years Suchitra has taught art to university students, but chose to resign from teaching “in order to focus on making art”.  She plans to continue to pursue exhibiting her work across the globe so that she can continue to be part of “this worldwide art conversation”.

Her advice to young artists is to “follow your dreams in any way that you can, but realize that every life experience contributes to your success as an artist. Develop your technical skills, but really think about what it is that you need to say through your art. It is the marriage of form and content that produces the most amazing artwork. It took me many years to be a ‘professional artist’, but I always created art.  Initially, I studied statistics and mathematics in an effort to be practical, and then art history, but in the end I have pursued my passions. Being an artist comes with struggles and sacrifice, but the path is entirely worth it!”

 

A Treaty on Rights

Remembering the achievements of our African ancestors and their journey to emancipation from slavery gives us a sense of identity and helps us to appreciate our roots. This is the aim of celebrations that would be held throughout the month of February, designated Black History Month worldwide.

A Catalan Atlas showing the Western Sahara. Mansa Musa is seen seated holding a gold coin. Attributed to Abraham Cresques, Wikimedia Commons

A Catalan Atlas showing the Western Sahara. Mansa Musa is seen seated holding a gold coin. Attributed to Abraham Cresques, Wikimedia Commons

The Mali Empire and the Mande Charter
Most social studies and history programs teach little about the kingdoms of Africa. Not much is said about the great kingdoms of sub-Saharan Africa such as the Kingdom of Kush, the Kingdom of Axum, the Land of Punt, the Mali Empire, the Songhai Empire, and the mysterious Zimbabwe Kingdom.
This week, we take a look into the Mali Empire and the founding of the Mande Charter.
Many know the Magna Carta, which is regarded as the first document to encapsulate any sort of human rights. It is a charter agreed to by King John of England on June 15, 1215. It is one of the most important documents in history as it established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and guarantees the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial.
However, according to French anthropologist and ethnographer Jean-Loup Amselle, who has studied and written about African society, culture and art, particularly how outside influences are adopted by cultures, the “Kurukan Fuga Charter” also known as the “Mande Charter”, is said to predate the Magna Carta.
The Mande Charter was born at the founding of the Mali Empire. Sometime in the 1200s, a great warrior named Sundiata Keita pronounced it. Though Disney takes credit for the moniker, Keita was the original “Lion King.” After calling for a rebellion, he raised an army and squashed his sovereign’s forces, consolidating the empire, and eliminating the state of Old Ghana.
At the site of Kurukan Fuga, meaning “clearing on a hard rock,” situated between what is now Guinea and Mali, the resplendent Keita assembled a group of wise men, the chiefs of the various clans. These included Sumanworo Kanté, Emperor of Sosso, whom he had just defeated at the battle of Krina.
After the Charter’s declaration, it was passed down through griots or bards, the famed storytellers of the region, and keepers of the culture. This is a family affair, and stories and other items are passed down still today from father to son.
The spoken document, which has also been called a “Constitution”, contains a preamble and seven chapters. It speaks on social peace, the sanctity of human life, women’s rights, the right to an education, food security, and even to self-expression. The charter gave equal rights to citizens including women and slaves. The aim was to provide peace and social stability. It advocated diversity and spoke of abolishing slavery, in this case the razzia or raid.
Since the Mande Charter was derived from an oral tradition, it isn’t easy to date. Historians as near as they can piece together have put it at 1236. Amselle contends that the Mande Charter actually predates the Magna Carta, adding that that most scholars familiar with the subject agree that Mande Charter is either contemporary to or predates the English document.
Black History Month was started by Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson, who also founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). In 1925, Woodson conceived and announced Negro History Week. The event was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Kouroukan Fouga or Kurukan Fuga was the constitution of the Mali Empire

Kouroukan Fouga or Kurukan Fuga was the constitution of the Mali Empire

Woodson and others like him believed that truth could not be denied and that reason would prevail over prejudice. The goal of started Black History Month was to help raise awareness of African American’s contributions to civilization.
This paved the way opening the door to many events, clubs and teachers demanding materials to instruct their pupils as well as scholars and philanthropists stepping forward to endorse the effort.
Carter G. Woodson first coined Negro History Week in 1925 and it was introduced as a full month by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976. Upon Woodson’s death in 1950, it continued to grow into a central part of African American life and substantial progress had been made in bringing more Americans to appreciate the celebration.
At mid–century, mayors of cities nationwide issued proclamations noting Negro History Week. The Black Awakening of the 1960s dramatically expanded the consciousness of African Americans about the importance of black history, and the civil rights movement focused Americans of all colour on the subject of the contributions of African Americans to history and culture.
Throughout this month, Sunday Times Magazine will feature notable achievements by our African ancestors and present-day individuals. (Guyana Times Sunday Magazine)

R. G. Sharples

By Clive W. McWatt

R. G. Sharples as a young man

R. G. Sharples as a young man

Richard Gui Pennington Sharples, better known as R. G. Sharples, was a man of extraordinary ability who demonstrated a wealth of talents.  Alongside his legal career, Sharples is recognised equally for his artistic legacy and his contribution to the development of a ‘local style’ in the history of fine art in Guyana.

Sharples was born in Georgetown on May 1, 1906. He was the youngest son of Mary Johanna (née Scott) and John Bradshaw Sharples, the famous architect and builder.

He began his early education at the Ursuline Convent and Queen’s College. He later studied law in London.

On his return to Guyana, he practised as a solicitor. He became Treasurer of the British Guiana Law Society in 1943. Sharples’ career as a Magistrate became inextricably linked with Guyana’s political history.

“Camp Street” circa 1950

“Camp Street” circa 1950

Sharples became president of the British Guiana Arts & Crafts Society, formed in 1931, which later becamethe Guyanese Art Group in 1945. He was actively involved in the main current of art in those decades. His art circle included a nucleus of talented local artists like Vivian Antrobus, Reginald Phang, E. R. Burrowes, Basil Hinds, Denis Williams and Hubert Moshett, who worked primarily in landscape and portraiture.

The art group set out to foster the appreciation of art and set goals for assisting the young upcoming generation of artists who later pursued their art studies in Europe: Aubrey Williams, Stanley Greaves, and Marjorie Broodhagen, along with Burrowes.

Sharples was also a member of the RA&CS Exhibition Committee up to 1956.

Buxton foreshore at sunset  by Gui Sharples c. 1951 © C W McWatt

Buxton foreshore at sunset by Gui Sharples c. 1951
© C W McWatt

From an early age, Sharples displayed a flair for painting and continued his hobby when he returned to Guyana after law studies in England. His sheer spontaneity is expressed in his pencil sketching done in situto producea finished watercolour painting.This technique became his preferred medium of expression.

His subject matter was primarily scenery with trees and human figures. Trees became an important feature in all his watercolour landscapes – sturdy gnarled trunks crowned with feathery foliage and lithe abstract figures conveying a sense of belonging to the landscapes in which they appear.

Some of Sharples’ earliest work appeared in the “Centenary History and Handbook of British Guiana 1831-1931” by A.R.F. Webber published in 1931. The watercolour plates he produced for the book brought Sharples’ name to prominence.  The six watercolour plates vividly portray local themes and locations which are evocative of Guyana’s coastal topography – the wonderful opalescent atmosphere of the tropical landscape is captured in scenes with ordinary men and women working amidst lush green foliage and scarlet blooms; reflected light from azure skies on waterways and rivers.

Morning at the bridge, scene on East Coast , Demerara.  Watercolour by R.G. Sharples

Morning at the bridge, scene on East Coast , Demerara. Watercolour by R.G. Sharples

Besides his watercolour painting, Sharples readily turned his creative skills to other design activities included hand-painted dresses for his wife and daughters.

 In the mid-1940s he paintedthe scenery on the pivoting panels of the stage wings in the auditorium at the Ursuline Convent; he also made and painted the large ‘SERVIAM’ shield (the emblem and motto of St Rose’s High School) which hung at the back of the auditorium.

Rev. Richard Lester Guilly, S.J. was appointed Catholic Bishop of Georgetown in February 1956; Sharples wasasked to design a coat of arms for the newly enthroned Bishop.

In the early 1950s, Sharples won astamp design competition. One of the chosendesigns was the 72 cents stamp in a carmine and emerald illustration of the Arapaima fish. This 1954 stamp set, released on December 1, 1954 was the first British Guiana stamp to carry the profile of Queen Elizabeth II.

“Buxton East Coast” circa 1950

“Buxton East Coast” circa 1950

Although Sharples remained an amateur artist, he secured sales for his paintings at local exhibitions. In the 1950s, Alcan Aluminium of Canada put on a travelling exhibition of West Indian art and several of his watercolours were chosen for this.

In 1953, his work was exhibited at the Guyanese Art Group exhibition. In June 1957, a posthumous exhibition of his paintings was held in the RA&CS Reading Rooms in Georgetown.

The Joint Art Committee of the RA&CS (1944-1948), which was set up for the purpose of forming a nucleus of the British Guiana National Art Collection, purchased three of Sharples’ paintings for the Nation – “The Quarry”(1947), “Bartica Afternoon”(1946), a backyard scene in soft pastel watercolours of muted greens and browns, whichare in the National Gallery, Castellani House; and “The Tamarind”(1947), housed in the Guyana National Museum, a landscape in warm russet tones in which relaxed figures rest beneath the shade of a tamarind tree.

Sharples’ untimely death on August 26, 1956 at the age of 50 was a shock to his family and friends.Besides his legal career and love of painting, he had the capacity to enjoy the good life to the full – even as the Bohemian artist. He is to be remembered for his charismatic personality and outstanding quality as a magistrate, artist and citizen. Guyana Times Sunday Magazine)

An artistic response

Overseas-based Guyanese artist C. Aubrey McWatt is moved by an earnest, creative response to the human experience

'Alternate Reality I'. Acrylic on pressboard

‘Alternate Reality I’. Acrylic on pressboard

Aubrey McWatt’s work is influenced by a belief that the universe and everything in it, including nature, thought and emotion, are inherently connected. Aubrey’s response to the human condition is influenced by visits to more than 70 countries during an international business career of over 30 years.

The fine artist’s education includes general studies at Queen’s College, British Guiana and undergraduate studies in business, with a concentration in marketing at Columbia University, New York. His graduate education is from the Wharton School of Business in Executive Management and Finance.  Aubrey also studied at the Seattle Academy of Fine Art and is fluent in Spanish and French.

He served on the boards of various art organizations, including the Seattle Academy of Fine Art and the Camano Arts Association. Additionally, he served as President of the Board of Trustees for a non-profit organization in Warrington, PA. Aubrey has lived and worked in England, North and South America and the Caribbean.

Artist C Aubrey McWatt

Artist C Aubrey McWatt

Aubreyhas taught art history and painting to both youths and adults and has presented his illustrated essays, including “The Artist’s Search for Reality”, “Art and Social Change” and “Postmodern Ideas on the Function of Art” to diverse groups in the U.S.A. and abroad.

The artist has organized and participated in various activities supporting the arts across the U.S. and Canada. He is also a poet and songwriter. His songs include “Where the Roses Grow” and “A Song of Life”. Aubrey produced and acted in the play “Love Letters” and co-wrote his first play “A Place by the River”. He also penned his first book, “Painting and Poetry – Creating Connections”.

“Early in life I experienced a freedom that came from the process of creating art, and from expressing an idea or emotion in a way that transcends traditional communication. My creative process is triggered by the stimulus of a visual experience, a concept, an idea that urges me to make an artistic response, or simply following the direction in which the medium leads. Much of my art reflects nature in one form or another, and sometimes tells a story of one of the aspects of the lifecycle of humankind.

'Kyoto Mist II'. Oil

‘Kyoto Mist II’. Oil

“The art I create is influenced by the belief that all elements in existence, tangible and intangible, are interconnected in an essential manner. This influence manifests itself as a desire to capture the spirit within every object, animate or inanimate, that is portrayed in my drawings, paintings, and sculptures. The end product represents my interpretation of what the object ‘is’, not what it ‘appears to be’. My artistic goal is to reflect my inner reality, aesthetic relationships of form and color, and simplicity of composition. My continuing challenge is to harmonize these elements,” he said on his website www.mcwattfineart.net

Aubrey recognizes the artists who were foremost influences in his artistic development as a painter, such as ER (Ted) Burrowes, Vincent Van Gogh, Piet Mondrian and Charles Emerson, his mentor and professor in color theory and practice at the Seattle Academy of Fine Art. These influencers pointed the direction in which Aubrey’s own painting has flowed.

'Lifecycle IV'. Oil

‘Lifecycle IV’. Oil

For more information on the artist, visit www.mcwattfineart.net (Guyana Times Sunday Magazine)