The Year in Art 2000

Arts On Sunday With Al Creighton
By Alim Hosein
Stabroek News
January 28, 2001

Unlike previous years during which activities in the fine arts were slow to get underway, 2000 began with a bang. Unfortunately, however, this good beginning did not presage a good year for art in Guyana. Not only did 2000 see fewer exhibitions than in previous years, but in fact, activities seemed to have been reduced to the bare minimum. There was not much doing in art, and there was hardly any innovation. Even worse, we lost two outstanding and long-serving artists of great value.

The business contribution
The year began with an exhibition of balata sculpture at Castellani House in January. The collection of 133 pieces which artist George Tancredo titled "A Dream of My Ancestors and My Past" were donated to the National collection by businessman Inderjeet Beharry. This collection adds to what would be a growing body of work by Amerindian artists in the National Collection.

Early in the year, also, the National Bank of Industry and Commerce Ltd. (NBIC) announced its Millennium Exhibition. The Bank, which has a major collection of Guyanese art, second only to the National Collection in size - has been acquiring and displaying local art for a number of years. Recently, it engaged the services of artist Bernadette Persaud to put the collection in order and to improve its display. The fruits of this effort were displayed in the Millennium Exhibition.

Also caught in the millennium spirit, the Main Street firm Courts staged a National Millennium Painting and Sculpture competition which resulted in an exhibition at the Umana Yana. The prize money offered was attractive, and the competition netted a large number of entries of varying degrees of quality. This was the first main competitive Exhibition for the year. Unfortunately, the exhibition was much too brief, lasting only one week. With more proprietary thoughts in mind, also early in the year Banks DIH invited artists to submit entries in a competition to design a mural to commemorate the Company's growth since 1848. The successful mural would be housed in the Company's boardroom in Thirst Park.

In fact, one of the good aspects of 2000 was the involvement of the business community in fine art. Given the shortened economic circumstances and the seeming lack of confidence displayed by our artists, the efforts of the business community were significant.

The NBIC also sponsored the National Drawing Competition. In fact, the Bank has been doing so since this competition was launched in association with Castellani House in 1997. The 2000 competition was not notably strong, but it did include, as in the past, entries from a number of young artists. Castellani House
The other main player in Guyanese art for 2000 was, as it should be, the Natural Art gallery, Castellani House. The gallery hosted a number of exhibitions, but it also paid tribute to past artists, was a forum for public lectures and literary events, and continued its efforts to preserve the National Collection. In doing these, the gallery continued to identify itself as a centre of culture. On the other hand, some of its exhibitions were low-key affairs.

The usually vibrant exhibition of work by Amerindian artists, which is a feature of Amerindian Heritage Month (September each year) was a very quiet show at Castellani. Entitled "Sunset Birds", the exhibition featured the work of one of the strongest of these artists - Oswald Hussein - with Ronald Taylor as guest artist. This was a marked difference from previous years, in which many other Amerindian artists would display their work, thus giving notice of the depth of talent resident in Guyana's interior. In the 2000 exhibition, along with his sculpture which included some of his well-known, award-winning pieces, Hussein exhibited some of his paintings for the first time. These however, did not come close to matching the strength and inventiveness of his sculpture.

The Independence Exhibi-tion was also a quiet one, and again was reduced to a one-man show. The artist featured was the talented sculptor, Winslow Craig. The pieces on show were some of his new work, which show him working on a smaller scale, experimenting with metal, and trying out different compositions.

Apart from these annual features, Castellani also hosted 2 artists in separate one-person exhibitions. The first - The Thompson Collection - featured Angold Thompson with his father Basil as guest artist, and was held in September. While Angold Thompson is a well-known participant in many group exhibitions and has won numerous prizes, including the National Award, he is not well-known for solo shows. The exhibition, which appears to be mis-named, included his contemporary work which exemplified his artful, picturesque style, but also included work which showed experimentation. The second solo exhibition took place over the turn of the year, and featured Josefa Tamayo in her first solo show. Tamayo, who is another well-established artist, is well-known for her sculpture. However, in her solo-entitled "Journey through Form and Colour" - she also exhibits a number of well-done paintings and drawings which help considerably to strengthen her image.

But Castellani also mounted the next exhibition for 2000 - the Exhibition of Recently-Conserved Work. This displayed the pieces from the National Collection which have been recently restored and conserved by U.K. based conservators Hugo Platt and Caroline Glover, with assistance from Castellani's Leon Howard. The exhibition was a stunning, stimulating show of a cross-section of Guyana's art. It included some of the oldest pieces, one piece dating from 1888. It was a splendid, uplifting exhibition.

Two other key institutions in Guyanese art - the Burrowes School of Art and the Guyana Women Artists Association - also maintained their feature annual exhibitions. The GWAA broke new ground by holding its exhibition at Red House. As usual, the Association displayed a wide range of work including painting, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, floral arrangements, etc. While the exhibition featured some fine work by established women artists, it continued its excellent tradition of providing an opportunity for younger, yet fledgling female artists to introduce themselves to the public.

The Burrowes School of Art has established itself in its new premises in the former Department of Culture building in the National Park. Although it experienced a change in administration recently, the School continues to work on improving its programme and re-establishing its Board of Studies. Its exhibition in 2000 saw the usual offering of paintings and drawings. Once again, sculpture was not a strong point, but there was notable strength in the textile work on display.

But sadly, 2000 might be most remembered in art as being the year in which Guyana lost two of its most valuable artists. Marjorie Broodhagen and Stephanie Correia, who had dedicated their lives to art and its development in Guyana, and who had worked long and hard to establish themselves as top-flight artists, both died within a short space of time. It was a very heavy double blow for local art to sustain, and it came at the very time when the skill and commitment they displayed were sorely needed to see our art through difficult times.

Stabroek Arts Salute

In the difficult times of 2000, no single artist stood out. However, a salute must be given to those artists who continued to produce work. A salute must also be given to the business community, who, facing difficulties of their own, managed to assist the fine arts.

Castellani House, the Burrowes School of Art and the other institutions such as the Women Artists Association must also be given their share of commendation for their consistent efforts.

Follow the goings-on in Guyana
in Guyana Today