Caribbean roots

Posted in Opinion by Adele Todd on September 21, 2007

This afternoon I looked at a couple of blogs and one caught my eye because of its name, it began with the word chenette. The word chenette is distinctly Trini. I opened the blog just to have my suspicions explained, a Trini living in Guyana was posting. Earlier in the evening my cousin mentioned that on Facebook, a group of Trini’s have coined, Maco Book.
When I was in college, a fellow Trini told me that if she was going to make it in New York, she knew that it would make sense to truely embrace her caribbean roots.
I found that it made alot of sense at the time and I still do.
Does this mean that the Trini artist should work in ways that are percieved as caribbean? Or does it mean that the nature of things caribbean should encompass the titleing of our works? Should there be some residual sense that what you look at should say, caribbean?

Of cause not. That would greatly stunt one’s work.
But what about the question that our being is caught up naturally with who we are? That is perhaps closer to the truth.

In Art Now, Volume II, the Edinburough born, once Canadian artist, living in Trinidad, Peter Doig, paints Lapeyrouse Wall. A known cemetery that was so prestigious for so many decades that certain classes and even races were not allowed to be buried there.
Peter Doig’ sfilm poster

Mr. Doig paints a lone walker, a man I recognise because I have actually spoken to him a number of years ago. He is not just a man with an umbrella, casually walking around. This man caught my eye because he hand drew and sewed his t-shirts with slogans and images, and I found that very interesting. So one day I approached him, only to discover that he was unaware of anything I asked him. He was in his own world. Whether an in and out patient of our mental hospital or just an eccentric, I have never forgotten him, so I was quite moved to see him depicted by Mr. Doig, and I shook my head with a private understanding as to why he would choose to immortalize this man, of all people.

Let me go back to what is caribbean, or Trini as we say.
I have always believed that the greatest value that Trinidad and Tobago brings to itself is its people.

To be indelicate, one day I discussed with students the homeless in Port-of-Spain. Together, we were able to tell at least fifteen to twenty of them apart. Everyone had a story about the way they dressed, acted or lived. This struck me as it did the students themselves, and we came up with a campaign concept right then and there for the plight of the homeless. What we saw were human beings in distress, not a mass of ugliness or a problem with ‘those people.’

I began to look at what Trinidadian is, as well as what Tobagonian means.
I find in our Art, a difficulty to place exactly what the collective body is trying to express.
There is a push and pull to describe what we are through colour and materials. carnival further muddles the argument.
But perhaps that too is the point, just as our homeless are so individual, so to our artists. Everyone has their space and place. I would have ended there and that would have sounded good if only it were really true. But the problem floats up right away. Too many people working in too much of the same way, yet there are a few artists who are engaging what are present day themes. There are also traditional artists trying to explore beyond their limiting ranges, but you must really search and score the galleries and the studios to find it.


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