Artists are often seen as superfluous, questioned for their influence and relevance, often ignored for their ability to mirror the society and reveal, almost prophetically, uncomfortable socio-economic truths. In Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean we have an unusually high concentration of artists per capita, per island even. These three artists have been featured at a new and exciting space in Woodbrook, Port of Spain, the Medulla Art Gallery. As we celebrate our “Independence”, we see our reality mirrored in the work of these artists, (current and former) members of the UWI community, Brianna Mc Carthy, Luis Vasquez La Roche and Wendy Nanan.
Brianna McCarthy is a mixed media artist who lives and works in Trinidad and Tobago. Her work takes on the intricacies and dynamics of representing Afro-Caribbean women who are portrayed as being strong, long-suffering, exoticised and picturesque beings against a backdrop of poverty, hardship, abuse and/or scorn. McCarthy’s constructions and representations revolt against and subvert the stereotypical trends of representing the black body. Through various media: collage, drawing, illustration, and painting she constructs and manipulates a range of deeply personal and emotional experiences within the constructions. Her work exposes a new range of depth of expressions and emotions, which for the most part, are non-existent in the recorded cultures of the Caribbean landscape.
Working in beauty and repetition, the faces and beings she assembles will add to, and possibly change perceptions and allow for a societal awakening of the ways in which relations and relationships are communicated and changing in an increasingly small world. McCarthy takes pencil to paper, ink to vellum and knife to cloth, to mend the parts of her experience, to fill in its gaps with beauty, questions and expressions of the social and relational.
Her latest exhibition, “After Colour” (15th-29th March) takes a look at the contemporary dynamic of complexion defining beauty in diasporan women. It examines the representation of women of different shades of skin, by themselves and by others, and the idea of ‘shadism’, both in Trinidad and within a wider, global discussion that’s happening right now. Exploring the levels of value and beauty associated with skin colour and hair texture, the show, comprised of five separate bodies of work and mining inspiration from local classified ads, youth culture, anonymous online statuses from all over the internet and the artist’s personal experiences, presents a new work as its focal point – McCarthy’s” Colour(ed)s” – imagined representations of women in a possible future, after racial markers and shade have lost their status as such greatly defining characteristics.
– Geoffrey MacLean
Luis Vasquez La Roche
THE SEARCH - LA BUSQUEDA
“My drawings are different representations of my personal experiences in this newly adopted space and culture. I question my nationality, origins and race in search of an answer that could explain who I am - taking into consideration that I was raised in Venezuela by a Chilean father and a Trinidadian mother. I have always been exposed to these three cultures. At times one was more predominant in my life than others. Growing up, I was not conscious of the Trinidadian influence and I only recognised it when I moved here. Trinidad and its culture has made me question myself in many different ways, traits that I thought were part of my core personality have probably transformed over time. In the past ten years spent in Trinidad and Tobago I have lost track of the person I once was. The older I become the blurrier the lines of the mass called “I” seems. Are we one person or are we many different persons in one? A description of ourselves would always be open to another’s judgment. What we are, probably goes beyond what we can explain. We have a tendency of changing.
The use of different drawing mediums, from charcoal to graphite, reflects a transition in my concepts. The charcoal drawings explore a more emotional and confusing beginning of my search. The drawings with graphite on paper are more contained and logical, almost mathematical. Even though the figures seem to be geometrically accurate and proportioned, slight variations and adjustments have been made to make the drawing imperfect. These drawings explore more in depth questions like: which nationality represents me? which race do I feel more identified with? which culture I am most influenced by? And what are the traits of this new culture that I wish to adopt?”
– Luis Vasquez La Roche 2012
Luis Vasquez La Roche was born in 1983 in Caracas, Venezuela. He moved to Trinidad and Tobago in 2002. He later studied Visual Arts at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. He has participated in a several group shows including Erotic Art Week in Trinidad, (2010); Mensajes Positivos in Chile, (2011); PFC (pon una foto en la calle) in Venezuela, (2012); and special guest as P&E (Pinky and Emgrante) at Woma in Grenada, (2012). He has also been part of urban art projects including P&E, (2011); Who Am I?, (2012); and Urban Heartbeat, (2012).
– Geoffrey MacLean
In 2003, Turner prize-winning artist Steve Mc Queen published Queen and Country as a tribute to Britain’s war dead. The artist/film director had been commissioned by the Imperial War Museum’s Art Commissions Committee. The result was the impressive, weighty publication of 155 sheets filled with stamps featuring portraits of soldiers who had lost their lives for their country. They replaced the traditional portrait of HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Pure genius.
While Mc Queen looked back in remembrance, Wendy Nanan’s latest exhibition looks towards Independence. As Trinidad and Tobago celebrated its fiftieth anniversary of Independence from Great Britain in August 2012, Nanan’s exhibit was on-point, being both endemic and innovative. Four works comprise the show: Queens; The Baby Krishna; The Nation Morphs; and A Buddhist Meditation Work – Enlightenment Is.
The Queens collection is outstanding. Like Mc Queen, she has sought to re-interpret seemingly inane symbols of colonialism that have pervaded our consciousness and affected our perception. The result is a brilliant, three-dimensional interpretation that uses British and colonial stamps as the flesh, covering well-defined, deftly sculpted papier-mâché moulds of male and female busts. The portraits are of post-colonial peoples from across the Commonwealth. The stamps used in the collage are painted pink, blue, green and purple. The Queen is present in almost all, with one exception being the Trinidad and Tobago head. These have local stamps that spiral up the cornucopia of an elegant, island-like horn. The faces of the Queens are touchingly familiar, filled with gravitas, each feature echoing the mix of cultures and ethnicities that make the Commonwealth so unique. Atop several of the heads is the homeland – be it continent or island.
“The making of Queens, papier-mâché heads collaged with stamps, was first inspired by the hosting of CHOGM (The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) here in Trinidad and Tobago, and then by the celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The work raises questions of British Colonial Imperialism and that colonial brainwashing has formulated the thinking patterns of the now ‘independent’ peoples,” Nanan explained recently.
“In the year of the Golden Jubilee, black faces are absent from the crowds celebrating the royal pomp and splendour, the faces from the empire on which that pageantry has thrived and survived…We are not truly independent until we divest ourselves of the bowing and scraping to others whom we are told are better than us because of religion, race and class. Instead we seem to have adopted these same prejudices in the quest for power and control.”
The Baby Krishna consists of four parts also: Food and Oil; Agony and Ecstasy; Fauna and Flora; and Sugar and Salt. The Krishnas combine ideologies and imagery, the Renaissance-like postures of the cherubs are combined with the Eastern religious icons, and painted in powder-blue hues that are echoed in so many of our national festivals, from the heavily pigmented Blue Devils to Phagwa’s abeer. Again Nanan has tapped into our diverse iconography.
“The Baby Krishna appears as an angel or cherub to succour our impoverished states. In Food and Oil he appears to show that when the last drop of oil has run out of our once overflowing enamel cups, when we have stopped relying on external vagaries for wealth and growth, we can turn (to) native inventions born from local needs, created by a people of rich cultural juxtapositions. We can learn to rely on ourselves.”
Nanan explained in July 2012.
Independence is the second show this year by Nanan and follows her Books and Stupas exhibition at Medulla Art Gallery in March. Born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1955, Nanan studied at Manchester Polytechnic and Wolverhampton Polytechnic. She has exhibited in France; England; Canada and Dominican Republic and is perhaps best known for her popular series Idyllic Marriage in 1997.
Art critic/writer, Anne Walmsley in July wrote that, “I hold Nanan’s work in high regard, prizing in particular its embrace of artisan traditions of the past, including those of Mas; its attentiveness to the properties of different materials; its rootedness in her inherited, creolised cultural practices; its wit and wisdom, concerns and integrity.”
The symbolism of Independence is inyour-face and the wit heaviest in The Nation Morphs. Here the island literally transforms into a banana (republic); this may be the least original of the lot, but for many, the most apt. As for the arresting Enlightenment Is stopanimation-like piece of the seven golden suns awakening, wickedly blazing bright and then beginning to drowse again, the cycle of life, politics, nature… is superbly painted and imagined.
Trinidad and Tobago is truly a juxtaposition, as Nanan states, and her layered work underscores this point. The sculpture is crafted from temporal material, there is no marble, no bronze, but more traditional materials and processes. There is a Minshallesque embrace of “artisan traditions of the past”. In fact one can safely state that in our country some of the best sculptures are those that highlight the temporal, like the monumental effigies that are burnt at Ramleela, the ornate tadjahs that are set adrift in the sea for Hosay, the intricately wire-crafted Carnival Kings and Queens, Fancy Sailor and Bat costumes that are built to last just for the Festival. With a message steeped in renewal and longevity, contrasted with one of mortality and the ephemeral, Independence is truly a state of mind. This exhibit is a must see for all students. Nanan remains like the up-andcoming artists she has inspired at UWI, a master sculptor, and interpreter of truths.
– Review by Anna Walcott-Hardy