April 28, 2017

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“I am currently living in France and have access to European historical documents.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)


The surreal world of Kyle Rahaman

Intricate painting of a heart

Intricate painting of a heart

Guyanese “surreal” artist Kyle Rahaman always had an“interest in creative things”. He views art as a medium of dealing with anxiety and deterrence from “interesting vices”.

“Art is partly an expression of subconscious thought that otherwise would never come out. For me, having access to an art room in high school was inspiration enough. I also had a great art teacher, Ravi Doodnaugth, who encouraged me.I have always been drawn to things that arouse emotions – which I find ironic since I have been told I have the emotional capacity of a rock,” Kyle revealed in an interview with Sunday Times Magazine.

In 2006, Kyle studied visual arts for CXC through Marian Academy. Since then, he was not involved in any art related activities until last year when he entered the Tenth National Biennial Drawing Competition. His pieces from the competition were displayed at Castellani House (National Art Gallery), located on Vlissengen Road. Some of his artworks were also displayed at past events held at Umana Yana.

Artist Kyle Rahaman

Artist Kyle Rahaman

“I had to re-teach myself some things and figure out mediums I have never used, like water colour. Since I was never very good at painting, it took more than a little brushing up upon my painting to get the hang of it – though I am still not satisfied with my skill with it,” he admitted.

Kyle pointed out that he draws inspiration from people he meets or just seeing something interesting on the road or reading books. Recently, he read a few of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s (an American author who achieved posthumous fame through his influential works of horror) fiction stories and plans on painting“something creepy soon”.

“Often times, just sitting and doing a bit of introspection I can grab an idea from whatever I dredge up from my subconscious. Depending on the piece, I communicate something in my mind that is dark, maybe depressing and a bit too blurry to explain in words. Sometimes it is just something random and I am not trying to communicate a darn thing, but people will find their own meaning,” he disclosed.

The artist has done sculpting with clay and metal in the past, but due to his work space being “too cluttered”, Kyle is hesitant to resume using those art media. His preferred medium at the moment is charcoal.

One of his thought-provoking paintings

One of his thought-provoking paintings

“I have done portraits and landscapes for practice. But what I enjoy doing the most is weird, surreal art. I am also a fan of gothic, geometric and dark illustrations. Art is just a hobby right now. I have considered making a fulltime commitment, but for now I am splitting my energies between a few different things. However, as more people get to know I paint they will make requests to recreate a piece they like or do something entirely different or the usual portrait requests, so I will be back to my canvas,” Kyle explained.

Encouraging young artists, Kyle recommends “knowing some theory, how to use warm/cold colours, gradients, knowing your materials, and experimenting with different things”.

“There is a lot of info online on techniques and tools.Being frustrated and overly critical of yourself is natural I think. Get used to not liking your own work sometimes – or a lot of times. There’s a window of opportunity between inspiration and motivation – find it and live there,” Kyle expressed.


Reflections on a great Guyanese artist

“Homage to Denis Williams”, an exhibition of artworks by indigenous artists, currently ongoing at Castellani House, is the most appropriate title to celebrate Indigenous Heritage Month (September) for several reasons.
Dr. Denis Williams (1923 – 1998) was a pioneer archaeologist and anthropologist who in 1974, nearly 50 years ago, founded the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, which was the precursor for several prominent cultural institutions in Guyana, such as the E.R. Burrowes School of Art (1975), the Museum of African Heritage (1985), and the National Gallery of Art, Castellani House (1993). Dr. Williams himself was a distinguished artist and writer who studied, lived and worked in London in the late 1940s to late 1950s. From 1957 to 1967 he was teaching Art and Art History at several universities in Africa, during which time he penned and published numerous articles on the classical art of West Africa and a book “Icon and Image: A Study of Sacred and Secular Forms of African Classical Art” (1974, New York University Press).

Untitled by Guy Marco. Acrylic on canvas

Untitled by Guy Marco. Acrylic on canvas

While teaching in Africa, in Sudan, Williams discovered archaeology, but it was not until his return to Guyana, circa 1968, to live and work in the Mazaruni District, that his interest was reawakened upon discovering artefacts of the indigenous peoples in the area.
In 1973, by letter, he engaged the Smithsonian Institution and stated his interest and optimism in investigating and chronicling, in a structured way, the “antiquities” and the “arts” of the indigenous peoples to put things into historical perspective. In 1974 he was appointed the Director of the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology, which he founded in the same year. This new appointment fuelled his drive to commence intense archaeological activities and excavations in the various regions of Guyana, which resulted in countless findings, revelations and documentation for the next 24 years of his life, until his death in 1998.
This year’s exhibition, in celebration of Amerindian Heritage Month, and exhibitors led by the artist and archaeologist George Simon, an understudy of Dr. Denis Williams, continues a trend where the sacred and secular art forms of the indigenous peoples, bound in a wide variety of media, are summoned for expression and interpretation. The artists remained true and steadfast to their creations, and for this reason the exhibition continues to flourish, as in past years, with numerous creations where motif, form and subject matter competes and jostles for dominance, but collectively and subtly creates its own aesthetics and harmony.
In these times of uncertainty, where the threats of de-culturation are great, these exhibitions are a constant reminder of who we are and the vision that we have. Should our culture and cultural institutions be de-emphasized by whatever powers may be then, we as a people may be left rootless.
“Homage to Denis Williams” art exhibition continues until October 15, 2016 at Castellani House, located on Vlissengen Road, Georgetown. Admission is free. For more information, call 225-0579. (Text by Ohene Koama, Curator: Castellani House)

"Broken" by Devina Deputron. Acrylic on canvas

“Broken” by Devina Deputron. Acrylic on canvas

"Shaman" by Victor Captain. Acrylic on canvas

“Shaman” by Victor Captain. Acrylic on canvas

Claude Stevens’ Art for the People

By Celeste Hamilton Dennis

You can find him every day on the corner of the market entrance sandwiched between the currency exchange men. Women are on their way to the market to sell pink flip-flops or to buy freshly butchered chicken. Chutney music blares from dilapidated rum shops.

Claude Stevens. “Canje Bridge.” Acrylic on Canvas. 23 x 17 in.

Claude Stevens. “Canje Bridge.” Acrylic on Canvas. 23 x 17 in.

Claude Stevens stands on a crowded and dirty corner looking for the man who said he’d come back on Tuesday to buy his coconut tree painting. Stevens waits in the midst of the raucous hustling and transient bustling—quiet, patient, stolid.

You can find him every night on the corner by Demico Quik Serve, the fast food place that specializes in soggy fries, cheap ice cream cones, and service with a scowl. The hustling on this street corner is for a different commodity: Sex. Boys wearing Sean John jerseys and sideways hats walk with a swagger and talk of dirty romance in hopes of securing a date for the next bootyfest party. The latest dub music blares from the trunks of cars in front of Chinese restaurants. Women with huge gold hoop earrings that read “SEXY” sell cigarettes. Little children scream with joy as they swing in the playground next door. In the midst of this menagerie of New Amsterdam residents and lively chatter, a bittersweet smell of rum and ice cream wafts over the spot where Stevens leans against the wall. He makes no movement except to adjust the painting he is holding with both hands.

Stevens has been standing in these same two spots for nine years, struggling to sell his artwork. The name he shares with Claude Monet has not proven to be a source of luck. But still he stands. And waits.

Claude Stevens was born in New Amsterdam, Guyana in 1948 and has lived there his entire life. His mom, a housewife, and his dad, a mechanic, both disapproved of his interest in art while he was growing up. But his older brother was an artist, and he encouraged Stevens to pick up a paintbrush. Stevens entered numerous art competitions in school and won medals and money. But he needed to make the money last. He started painting signs and advertisements—much like V.S. Naipaul’s character Mr. Biswas in the 1961 novel A House for Mr. Biswas—for various commercial businesses such as Pepsi, XM Rum and Banks Beer. Soon, however, the fledgling art community in Guyana became an issue for him.

His native land leaves very little room for the art world and others like him. (In the entire country, in fact, there are only a handful of dedicated arts supplies stores.) “Art” in New Amsterdam is limited to replicas of Hindu goddesses and waterfall clocks.  Now, at age 65, Stevens is trying his best to expand the consciousness of the Guyanese people, while also making a few dollars.

There is one problem. Stevens is almost blind.

“I was very interested in selling my own work when I started looking around and seeing that a lot of walls here were very empty. I started building an interest in people by moving from place to place and having discussions about art,” he says. “I found that people started developing an interest in art in Berbice.” Three decades earlier, he was more likely to find people in Berbice, a region in the eastern part of Guyana and includes New Amsterdam, talking about the then declining sugar production than about surrealism.

At 40, Stevens gave up commercial art for art that was his own. Walk into an internet café, private home, or Chinese restaurant in New Amsterdam and it’s likely you will see one of his paintings. They are quaint and evoke feelings of calm complacency. Filled with bright colours and thick, broad brushstrokes, the people and landscape of Guyana come alive through his work. Scenes of a single car traveling over the Canje Bridge, or the Essequibo River shimmering as if its waters were made of El Dorado gold, or a lone man carrying his cane down a coconut-tree-lined dirt road, or the majestic Kaieteur Falls—they all recall the rustic feel of 18th century artists. His paintings highlight the natural beauty of Guyana as well as pay tribute to the struggles and successes of its people.

Claude Stevens. “Essequibo River.” Acrylic on Canvas. 24 x 18 in.

Claude Stevens. “Essequibo River.” Acrylic on Canvas. 24 x 18 in.

Stevens’ art has also become his bartering tool for his eyesight. He has advanced cataracts. It costs [US] $800 to fix his eyes, a hefty price for Guyanese standards. He diligently works during the day and fastidiously sells at night to save money for an operation. Although New Amsterdam’s interest in art is minimal, he describes the community’s response as “reasonable.” Many people would like to buy more of his work, but because of Guyana’s troubled economic state, they are concerned about providing food on the table more than a painting on the wall.

As a result, Stevens has not been very successful at distributing his work and gaining greater acceptance in the small Guyanese art community. “I should say it’s very challenging. Because some of those things that I expect to achieve I haven’t achieved yet, I did a lot of art earlier that I found not a lot of people were ready for. Society was not ready or prepared to accept it.”

One of those pieces, “True and False,” depicts reproductive organs and alludes to the harmony of sexual intercourse. In Guyana, Muslims, Hindus, and Christians peacefully co-exist yet hesitate to speak of sex. They found the piece controversial. It was mysteriously stolen after an exhibition and Stevens never found the culprit. Another two pieces, “Cooperation” and “Separation,” caused dissention due to the political content. Painted in 1973, just seven years after Guyana gained independence, “Cooperation” shows six links joined together; each link represents one of the six races in Guyana. “Separation,” painted a year later, shows divided links that resemble weaponry such as part of a gun or part of a blade to illustrate the post-colonial violent and divisive political climate. This one was rejected as well; it was too in their face, too truthful. Stevens was forced to hide it in his home.

Most of his work is now sold to foreigners who are in Guyana temporarily, like Peace Corps volunteers or missionaries who are fascinated that a man his age with advanced cataracts can produce beautiful pieces of art.

When in 2000 Stevens was finally able to save enough money ($400 to be exact) to get an operation for one eye, the result on the canvas was work that showed a finer detail and more defined brushstrokes. Yet, Stevens still feels limited. He doesn’t have access to many tools such as easels, different canvas mediums, art books, facilities, even paintbrushes and paint. The one store in Guyana that has these materials is in the capital city of Georgetown, too far for Stevens to travel, and very expensive.

“I’m not happy right now,” he admits. “I’m hoping to go into my area of art which I have more pleasure in doing. I like to do a lot of symbolic and abstract art but it’s not lucrative. I have to cater now for the people.”

Poverty traps Claude. He has a strong desire to use his talent and open an art studio for children to teach them art techniques. But he has little money. He doesn’t have an art space. He is without books.

“Someday,” he says. (From: Of Note (digital)Magazine. Guyana Issue, Spring, 2012. Celeste Hamilton Dennis is an editor, essayist, and fiction writer living in Portland, Oregon. She lived in New Amsterdam, Guyana as part of the Peace Corps from 2003-2005.)

The art of embroidery

Genevieve Cox

Genevieve Cox

For indigenous Guyanese Genevieve Cox, whose hand- embroidered artwork depicts her indigenous cultures, her embroidery is being used as art to showcase what she calls, “the natural world, stories and customs of the Atorad (Atorai), Wapishana and Arawak” nations.

According to Cox, “Embroidery is not a native craft but it is the medium closest to weaving, and has its roots in basket making, mat making and sewing.” Embroidery was introduced by Guyana’s British colonial rule.

While hand-made embroidery has a rich history dating back to the 5th century BC, over the years,following its European enforcement in the 19th – early 20th century as a “feminine”, “civilized” activity for “proper young ladies”, it had become synonymous with female restrictions, social class,and colonialism.

However, the feminine revolution of the mid-20th century has since seen hand-made embroidery as a voice for women in contemporary society, though as a craft it still struggles for its right to be an art form.

“The slow ritual of creation is very important, as is texture, as the work slowly emerges.  The works are hand stitched using the satin stitch technique.  One piece of work may take 200 hours to complete.  The making of the embroidery is as important as the final result,” Cox states of her work.

Genevieve Cox was born with a rich Atorad, Wapishana and Arawak cultural heritage: her mother was Arawak and her father Atorad and Wapishana. Her embroidery depicts her celebration of and concerns for her heritage in today’s world. It also illustrates traditional stories.

“Stories have been passed orally down through the generations, she notes, “I feel the need to document these stories or they could be lost.  Customs are changing as the Amerindians move into the contemporary western culture, and they too will be lost and forgotten if we do not preserve them.”

Cox has exhibited in the Caribbean and internationally, and she has also been the recipient of numerous awards over her more than 30 years of embroidery experience. Her work can also be found on book covers, including the 1996 edition of “The Penguin Book of Caribbean Short Stories” by Penguin Books.

According to Angie Kordic in “Embroidery Art: More and more common in contemporary expression”, today, we can talk about embroidery as a full-on method of expression, involving skills and strong social and political messages.

Cox is one of those women who finds expression through her embroidery. “I have a fundamental concern for the destruction of the rain forest, through logging, mining and road building.  I would like people to see the beauty and fragility of the eco system and the need to preserve it,” she states of her work, which blends tradition, history and contemporary expression into painstaking and beautiful embroidery that can only be considered works of art.

"Reflection in a raindrop"

“Reflection in a raindrop”



"Fishing party"

“Fishing party”

Local, overseas Guyanese artists for US art exhibition

Part of the "Not all who wander are lost" series.

Part of the “Not all who wander are lost” series.

A group of notable Guyanese artists, residing here and abroad, will be part of a memorable exhibition to be held in the USA.

‘Un | Fixed Homeland’ brings together an inter-generational roster of 13 emerging and established Guyanese artists who, via photography and photography-based art, examine the complex relationship to “homeland.” These artists explore how a “homeland” can be both fixed and unfixed, a constantly shifting idea and memory, and a physical place and a psychic space. The exhibition’s title reflects the emergence of the Caribbean diaspora in metropolitan cities around the world and speaks to what has become the defining global movement of the 21st century – migration.

Guyana, the only English-speaking South American country and former British colony, celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence this year. The past five decades have been marked by an incredible exodus of its citizens – the country has a population of approximately 750,000 living within its borders and over one million living in the diaspora. In other words, more Guyanese citizens live outside the nation than within it. To reflect this reality, featured in the exhibition are artists living and working in Guyana as well as in major diasporic cities throughout Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In New York, in particular, Guyanese are the city’s fifth largest immigrant population.

'Mother’s House with Beware of the Dog' by Frank Bowling

‘Mother’s House with Beware of the Dog’ by Frank Bowling

Among the works included is “Amalivaca”, a self-portraiture piece by Khadija Benn who lives and works in Guyana. She exploits the exotic by inserting her body in a painterly landscape as acts of agency and ownership of place. Hew Locke, who was raised in Guyana and now lives and works in London, has painted photographs of houses, titled “Rose Hall” and “Mt. Sinai”, which are reminiscent of the ones familiar to his childhood. In his rendition, they are falling apart and symbolically flooded.

Keisha Scarville, a New York City-based artist born to Guyanese immigrants, reinterprets her father’s passport photo as a young boy in British Guiana in the mixed-media “Passport” series.

The Toronto-based artist Erika DeFreitas elicits her Guyana-born mother in a series of documented performative actions where the two hand-fashion face masks out of green, yellow, and purple icing in the portraiture piece, “The Impossible Speech Act”.

Frank Bowling, who was born in British Guiana in 1934 and now lives and works in London and New York City, screen printed an archival 1953 photograph of his mother’s house onto his canvas “Mother’s House with Beware of the Dog” – an artistic gesture charged with the memory of homeland.

'Rose Hall' by Hew Locke

‘Rose Hall’ by Hew Locke

While specifically focused on the visual culture and new modes of viewing Guyana, the exhibition also frames Guyana, “fixed or unfixed homeland,” as symbolic of larger pressing global concerns of our 21st century — the tensions between place and placeless-ness, nationality and belonging, immigrant and citizen.

“This project is deeply personal,” says curator Grace Aneiza Ali, who is Guyanese-born and currently lives in New York City. As an Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Curatorial Fellow, Ali has spent her fellowship researching the canon of contemporary Guyanese artists, which still remains largely unknown on the world stage. Instead, what the global public often sees of the visual culture of Guyana centres on the exotic, the tropical, the colonial, and the touristic.

Exhibition curator, Grace Aneiza Ali

Exhibition curator, Grace Aneiza Ali

“In Un|Fixed Homeland we’ve brought together artists who share a collective agenda to counter this historic malpractice by challenging, disrupting, manipulating, and, at times intentionally exploiting, the ‘picturing paradise’ motif often associated with the region,” says Ali.

Grace Aneiza Ali is a faculty member in the Department of Art & Public Policy, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University and the Editorial Director of OF NOTE —an award-winning online magazine on art and activism. Her essays on contemporary art and photography have been published in Nueva Luz Journal, Small Axe Journal, among others. Highlights of her curatorial work include Guest Curator for the 2014 Addis Foto Fest; Guest Curator of the Fall 2013 Nueva Luz Photographic Journal; and Host of the ‘Visually Speaking’ photojournalism series at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center. Ali is a World Economic Forum ‘Global Shaper’ and Fulbright Scholar. She holds an M.A. in Africana Studies from New York University and a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park.

In an interview with Sunday Times Magazine, one of the exhibiting photographers, Michael C. Lam said: “It is an honour to have some of my photographs selected by Grace Aneiza Ali as part of her curated exhibition, Un | Fixed Homeland.  The list of artists involved is quite intimidating to someone having their first international exhibit. When I first saw my name in the same sentence as Hew Locke, I was dumbstruck.  I think that most of the artists were educated and exposed to the arts abroad; their works are inspiring and truly amazing to see.  Khadija Benn’s work has always left me in awe, and I am proud to join her and Karran Sahadeo as the representative artists from the ‘homeland’, as our work joins those of the artists in the diaspora in this exhibition of photography and photography-based art by Guyanese at Aljira.”

Guyanese photographer Michael C. Lam

Guyanese photographer Michael C. Lam

The exhibition is slated for July 17 to September 17, 2016 at the Aljira: A Center for Contemporary Art located at 591 Broad Street, Newark, New Jersey. Information on exhibition from aljira.org/exhibitions)

The Guyana Women Artists’ Association exhibits artistic pieces

Gibson showcasing a hand painted pillowcase

Gibson showcasing a hand painted pillowcase

The Association is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation that seeks to encourage and support women’s participation in the field of visual arts.

Formed in September of 1987, GWAA had Marjorie Broodhagen A.A. (1912 – 2000) as its first president and an executive committee, which included Stephanie Correia A.A. (d.2000), Agnes Jones A.A. (d. 2008), and other prominent artists and art educators of that time. In April of the following year, the Association mounted its first exhibition, in retrospect.

In 1989 a travelling GWAA exhibition was mounted at the National Museum in Barbados, sponsored by the Guyana/Barbados Association. This exhibition later travelled to England to be part of the St. Albans Annual Caribbean Festival and finally on to the Commonwealth Institute in London.

In 2002 GWAA facilitated an artist’s workshop, which resulted in a mural painting “Pride Of My Ancestors” by 22 participants. This workshop was funded by the IADB, and the mural is now on display at the Guyana Red Cross.

GWAA’s current president is Guyanese artist Aiesha Scotland.

Artistic work done on textile

Artistic work done on textile

Presently, the members of GWAA have an exceptional display of creative pieces, including hand painted textile; ‘upcycled’ accessories (made from bottles, plastic bags, beads, among other materials); paintings; handmade jewellery; and artistic postcards, in the compound of the Sacred Heart Church.

Some pieces on display were done by Guyanese artist, Anna Correia-Bevaun. Anna attended Sacred Heart Primary School and later St. Rose’s High School. After finishing school in 1980, she went on to work at St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital, the New Building Society and Customs House.

She was influenced by the art that was always around her, done by her mother Stephanie Correia, a renowned Guyanese artist, and her brothers. Even though she did not pursue art in high school at the GCE level, she learned about colour mixing from her mother. After her second child was born in 1987, Anna decided to stay home to focus on raising her family.

Decorative upcycled pieces

Decorative upcycled pieces

In 1988, the Anna began her art career as a ceramist under the tutelage of her mother. She began by exploring Amerindian designs she had researched.

Clay was the principle medium of expression for young Correia until she began taking short courses in Design, Batik and Discharge, Vedic Art and Watercolour Painting (2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006 respectively).

As her artistic range grew, so did her confidence, and in 2007, Correia copped both second and third place at the Biennial National Watercolour Competition. Correia would once again perform remarkably, this time winning first and second place at the same competition two years later. The extensive list of exhibitions which she has participated in spans an incredible 16-year period.

Since becoming a member of GWAA, Correia has held several posts on the Association’s executive body, including secretary (1996-1999), president (2004-2008) and vice president (2003-2010).

Treasures made from 'trash'

Treasures made from ‘trash’

She continues to explore the challenging watercolour medium and her signature pen and ink drawings.

Another artist featured at the art sale is Jennifer Gibson, a Barbadian-born Textile Artist/Designer who has made Guyana her home. The artist specialises in the Tulus batik technique, which she has been working with for over three decades.

Jennifer has taught textile decorating extensively in Barbados, Suriname and Guyana. She has participated in several fashion and craft shows, exhibitions and expositions across the Caribbean, including Barbados Investment Development Corporation (BIDC) National exhibitions in 1984; 1985 (where she won the Most Outstanding Award and Blue Ribbon); 1987 (bronze medal); and 1989 (first prize).

Additionally, she has participated in a number of regional exhibitions in countries such as Antigua, St Lucia, Jamaica and Suriname (early 90s to mid 2000). Gibson has exhibited in GWAA’s Annual Exhibitions in 2008, 2010, 2011-15, and the Feminition Exhibition at the Guyana National Stadium in 2011. She was awarded best in the area of Textile (Art Guyana) by UNESCO in 2012.

'Two Faced' - a thought-provoking piece

‘Two Faced’ – a thought-provoking piece

“My inspiration and motivation is drawn mainly from nature and experiences. I see art as a personal appreciation of God’s creation, and elevation for my life in general. I hope to showcase the diversity, and variations of the batik art form through my work,” expressed Jennifer.

Textile pieces by Tara Bentinck are also astonishing. In 2002, Tara graduated from the E. R. Burrowes School of Art and was awarded Best Student. Though her areas of specialty were Ceramics and Textile Designs, Tara is a competent painter, and also has experience using leather as an artistic medium.

She has worked in collaboration with the E. R. Burrowes School of Art and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport for eight years (2001-2009) conducting art workshops during the August holidays for both adults and children.

The artist’s creations have been showcased at the Side Walk Café, the Sophia Exhibition Complex and several GWAA exhibitions between 2003 and 2007.

The years following her graduation from the art school have heralded a new fascination with fabric, and this has been her main medium of artistic expression since. Tara’s constant exploration of the use of synthetic and natural dyes has produced some impressive functional and decorative fabrics.

A beautiful painting on textile

A beautiful painting on textile

“As a fabric designer I enjoy taking a plain fabric and creating an attractive piece. Whether it is design using the method of tie-dye, batik, stenciling, hand painting or printing, my aspiration is to become like the great Chinese fabric designers,” Tara declared.

GWAA continues to seek opportunities that allow participation of its members in the form of exhibitions and other activities, aimed at raising the association’s profile and enhancing the quality of local art production.

The sale starts at 10am to 5pm and will conclude on Monday, May 30. It will be closed today (Sunday, May 29), so visit the Sacred Heart Church on Main Street, Georgetown,tomorrow and support our local women artists.

For more information on the artists, visit https://gwaa1987.wordpress.com (Guyana Times Sunday Magazine)