Guyana women artists exhibition Arts On Sunday
By Alim A Hosein
Stabroek News
November 11, 2001

The Guyana Women Artists Association's (GWAA) 13th Exhibition showed most of the hallmarks of this annual feature. As in past years, it was a large exhibition, it featured a variety of work and it exhibited well-established women artists while introducing new ones. The women also seem to be making it a habit of pioneering new exhibition space - last year they exhibited at the recently-restored Red House (Dr Cheddi Jagan Research Centre) and this year, they have given the new wing of the National Library its debut as art exhibition space.

The foyer of the new wing of the library served as a fairly good exhibition space. The area allowed 4 'salons' which were used to display paintings, textiles and other work in distinct areas, except in the case of ceramics which was scattered over three areas. Given the usual size of the GWAA shows, however, things were a bit cramped, especially for the textile work. Even with the paintings, which were shown in the largest area, one hardly realised that pieces were mounted behind the screens, which were very close against the walls.

Malcana Verbek's Oasis

Although large, the exhibition was not as abundant as previous ones. This was not totally a bad thing, since it made for a more focused show, and since it meant that a lot of second-rate work was not included. On the other hand, this took away somewhat from the distinctive character of the exhibition which in the past teamed with craftwork of various kinds, and so was quite a different experience from other exhibitions.

This year's exhibition featured some very strong artists: Liz Deane Hughes, Maylene Duncan, Irene Gonsalves, Merlene Ellis, Anna Correia, Margaret Dookhun, Josefa Tamayo, Morag Williams, O'Donna Allsopp. These women are major forces in their respective arts - painting, textiles and ceramics. Indeed, some of them are major artists nationally. Their presence at the exhibition gave it its strength and quality, and indicate the fact that today, women are some of our best artists.

Sheila king's "Mother & child"

The ceramics on display was of very high quality. The pieces by Irene Gonsalves, Normal Woolford and Anna Correia were all of a high level of finish, design, and execution. What made the ceramics displays so interesting also was that each artist displayed a clearly different kind of work from the others. Gonsalves's work was small, neat and elegant, and made good use of metallic glazes, deep, rich colour and contrasts of texture. Correia's work was equally well-done, but many of her pieces were longer and also more functional, being possible for use as kitchen or table ware. But what is striking about her work is her use of colour. Unlike many ceramists who work in red, ochres, browns, etc, Correia uses white, and adds jaunty colours such as red, yellow and blue. This gives her work a distinctive appearance. Woolford's work also matched the others in execution, but its difference lay in the way she varied the basic forms of her vases, etc, to incorporate vegetable and other motifs. In her work, form changes from the standard shapes and becomes more protean.

Sadly, the textile works were mainly lumped together in the smallest area. Although some attempt was made to create some displays - e.g. the bedroom-like area used to display bed linen - the other pieces such as dresses, tops etc, done in a variety of textile decoration media, techniques and styles were all displayed with less inventiveness. This kind of treatment of textile work has long been a failing at many other exhibitions.

Along with the textiles was displayed a sprinkling of craftwork.

The paintings constituted another strong point of the exhibition. Indeed, the artists featured in this section are also strong artists nationally. Maylene Duncan and Josefa Tamayo have both had one-woman shows very recently, and have won top prizes at national exhibitions. Merlene Ellis, also, has exhibited well. In this exhibition, Duncan shows a continuing involvement with domestic themes and focus on women in her Hands of a woman series. She also exhibited a number of forest scenes. Tamayo exhibited work in various media - colour pencil, water colour, pencil - which shows her versatility as an artist (she also displayed pieces of sculpture). Merlene Ellis's work is taking an interesting dimension as she explores real texture through heavy use of paint, and the inclusion of objects (such as a real bicycle bell on a painting of a bicycle) in her paintings.

The work of Margaret Dookhun lent to this strong performance by the women. Her work, which shows good drawing and painterliness, continues the quiet but expressive trend which she has established over the past few years. But perhaps the find among the painters is Maleana VerBeke. Her work shows links to contemporary feminism, allied with a strong sense of self-expression and self-realisation throughout. Her paintings, which feature faces or figures in different backgrounds which suggest some landscape or emotional ground, are accompanied by her poetry.

Along with these painters were others such as Nyota Killikelly, Kathleen Thompson and Sheila King. Also included was a retrospective by O'Donna Allsopp, one of our main painters of hinterland scenery, and someone who has long been a mainstay of the GWAA exhibitions. It was also interesting to see another long-standing member, Hilary Ng, who is better known for her textiles, exhibiting some work in painting.

Outside of the mainstream work, the most notable pieces were Liz Deane-Hughes' (Deane-Hughes Designs Ltd.) fabric wall pieces and silver jewellery. Both types of work featured well-designed, well crafted work which strove for some classiness. The excellent work of Morag Williams was another welcome addition to the exhibition.

The GWAA must be congratulated for managing to sustain an annual exhibition worthwhile of interest every year since 1988. Two points which emerge from this year's show are the low key of the craft component which is always a feature of the GWAA shows, and the strength of women artists in contemporary Guyanese art.

The inclusion of work typically characterised as 'craft' forces acknowledgement that art exists outside the classic areas of painting, drawing and sculpture. Secondly, it puts into the spotlight the numbers of women from various parts of Guyana who are quietly creating work that is beautiful and functional. While top international prizes are being won by persons who display unmade beds and pickled cows, Guyanese women apply long-standing tenets of art to beautify their ordinary world, and take time off from mundane drudgery to create beauty. This must be encouraged. And artists such as Deane-Hughes show that such work does not have to be second-rate or substandard.

It is worthwhile noting that the most active and visible artists in Guyana today are women: Maylene Duncan and Josefa Tamayo have emerged as strong artists. Merlene Ellis, Margaret Dookhun might not be as visible, but are also very good painters. Morag Williams has also quietly entered Guyanese art and has already won an international prize (IDB International Exhibition, 1998). Of course, Bernadette Persaud has long established a reputation nationally and internationally. And ceramics now is excellently carried by Gonsalves & Correia who have been involved in this art for a long time. In fact, in Guyana, outside of the craftshops, the GWAA's exhibitions are the only places where one could see a range of well-crafted, well-executed, top-class ceramics.