April 2018

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For those interested in a rare display of the wide range of visual art created in Trinidad and Tobago, the ‘Represent’ exhibition was not one to miss. Fitzroy Hoyte, respected artist and mentor, brought together 80 pieces of work from over 35 artists at the THINKARTWORKTT Studio he founded at 63 Carlos St, Woodbrook.

The exhibition featured well-known artists such as Leroy Clarke, Jackie Hinkson, Sundiata, Embah, Che Lovelace, Bunty O’Connor, Martin Superville and Tessa Alexander, alongside newcomers such as UWI students Sabrina Acham and Shanderpaul Ramsey. Featured artists like David Collymore and Lovelace have taught visual arts students in the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at The UWI St. Augustine. It also included work by several UWI alumni, including Sabrina Charran, Candice Sobers, Leona Fabien, Omowale Stewart and Keomi Serrette.

Fitzroy Hoyte, who has been drawing and creating since he was a child at Newtown Boys’ RC, calls the studio “an inclusive space – a place for artists to be seen.” While the life of a creative person is never easy, he learned that “instead of waiting for an opportunity to come my way, I needed to create my own opportunities.”

The ThinkArtWorkTT Studio is a way of extending those opportunities to others. The studio hosts exhibitions, mentorship sessions and art classes, including a ‘Little Picasso’ programme for children aged two and up.

There is also a residency programme for exchanges between local and international artists. The artist exchange was inspired by two residencies Hoyte attended in South Africa. Interacting with a range of South African artists offered him a different perspective on his work. He encountered people who were “grappling with how artists can come together to make change in their society.”

Having had the benefit of mentors such as Pat and Lisa Henry Choo Foon at the John Donaldson Technical Institute, Makemba Kunle of Studio 66 and Leroy Clarke, Hoyte understands the importance of younger artists being able to engage with those who are well established in their field. One example of this is Sabrina Acham, a first-year student in the Visual Arts programme at The UWI. ‘Represent’ is her first major exhibition. She calls the experience of being able to share her work alongside artists of this calibre, “exciting” and “surreal.”

Acham credits her lecturers at The UWI for helping her to think in innovative ways. Her piece, “Behind the Headline,” grew out of a project she began at Holy Name Convent, where her teachers encouraged her to “go big” with her creations. It is a life-sized sculpture of a seated woman, with her head bowed, her hands bound with rope and her body covered with newspaper articles about violent crimes against women. The work was inspired by women like Shannon Banfield, who was found murdered in a store in Port of Spain. Although the sculpture is silent, the body speaks; calling on all who see to bear witness.

Acham’s work stands in conversation with Jackie Hinkson’s “He was a good boy,” a painting in which a young man lies dead on the street surrounded by forensic investigators and an armed police officer. If Acham’s sculpture and Hinkson’s paintings are a call to mourning, response and witness, UWI alumna Sabrina Charran’s painting ‘#Girllovett’ shows women in celebration of each other. Two women with bright pink hair, backs to the viewer, hold hands and walk off into an undelineated space. It is an image that is both open and ambiguous, tender and defiant: an understated gesture of woman – love in all its forms.

Perhaps the power of this exhibition is the opportunity to observe the differences in media, subject matter and style across a wide range of artists, as well as the opportunity to put artists’ work in conversation. There are images of a Caribbean landscape pushed beyond realism in the psychedelic orange of Beverly Fitzwilliam-Harries’ coconut trees in “Avatar.” In Christine Norton’s evocative photograph, “In the season of Poui – Women reflect,” the looming contoured shadow of a tree on leaf-strewn grass conjures the relationship between nature and female power.

There is a more abstract and even surrealist interpretation of place from Shanderpaul Ramsey, a current UWI student. “The Land of the Black” is an oil painting in which the phantasm of an owl or jumbie bird stares out of the night, above three pyramids and a host of eyes and shadowy creatures that seem to offer a sense of warning. Developing the idea of mind/spirit-scapes in a very different way is Leroy Clarke’s intricate work, in which we are drawn into the artist’s cosmology as a space to see, feel and perhaps, heal.

An interesting theme to trace throughout the exhibition might be the body in varying expressions – from the body count of murders and violence in Trinidad, to the freedom and joy of the woman’s body expressed in very different ways in Fitzroy Hoyte’s “Freedom,” Tessa Alexander’s “Dance like no one’s watching” and Martin Superville’s bele and flamenco dancers.

In Che Lovelace’s “The Glint,” pan and panman are flanked by Jouvay masqueraders or guardians who regard the viewer with question, challenge and threat. In the next room, Rayhaan Traboulay’s photographs of traditional Mas characters, such as “Moko Jumbie – The Crow,” also unsettle the viewers’ gaze. A man plays Moko Jumbie against a black background, dressed in black with a sheen of gold and silver, with spread wings; his face daubed with bright yellow paint. In the photograph, the Moko Jumbie is tilted as though slightly off-balance, about to walk or dance, fall or fly.

As in Lovelace’s painting, Traboulay’s subjects resist being simply consumed by the nostalgic or voyeuristic gaze. Instead they steadily watch the viewer, as creators shaping their own images, whose intense craftsmanship, like the artists at ThinkArtWorkTT, challenges us to see differently.

The exhibition ran from March 8, 2018. Learn more at www.thinkartworktt.com.