I am happy to serve on any body to help preserve the paintings of Aubrey Williams
Stabroek News
May 12, 2002

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Dear Editor,

Hesitant as I have been to write, even the expurgated text of Bhim Dinanauth's letter [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] in the May 10 issue of Stabroek News forces me to break my silence. When in March last I was asked via the telephone to help to acquire for the national collection some of the paintings of the late Aubrey Williams which were deteriorating in his London basement since his death in 1990, I readily agreed.

Indeed I was very fortunate to have known this remarkably talented Guyanese artist for many years. I followed his career through his travels in the bush and his experience of living among the Warrau Indians into whose tribe be was initiated - an experience which led later to his deep research on pre-Columbian civilisations - the Aztec, Maya Toltec and Inca - which greatly influenced his thinking and work.

Intensely patriotic but passionate about interchange not only among Caribbean artists and artisans, 'using up', he said, 'endless energy working alone', but between artist and people, he helped to found the Caribbean Artists' Movement, and played a major role in the first and second Black Writers and Artists conferences held in Guyana in 1966 and 1970 paving the way for CARIFESTA in Guyana in 1972.

A prolific producer, he exhibited and lectured not only in the Caribbean, Europe, North and South America, but as far afield as Africa and Asia, and though he lived abroad he often returned to Guyana to retain contact with his roots and to put at its disposal his fantastic talent and abilities.

After his death, at his request, his ashes were scattered over the upper reaches of the Demerara River in a ceremony in which I was privileged to participate.

How could I not agree? I was, however, then quite unaware that I was being asked to be a member of a formal committee appointed by any Board, and I was certainly not aware that the request had been, or had to be, sanctioned by a political directive, nor am I so informed now.

Indeed if this were told to me, I would happily have attributed my 'passing the test' to a possible decision of the examination Board to revise the conditions to be met by the candidates, and an admission that I had fulfilled the requirements and was not likely to succumb to petty politicking by refusing to help to preserve for posterity the work of an artist of Aubrey Williams' calibre.

It was, therefore, very distressing and disturbing to me, especially in the deeply divisive environment of Guyana today, that the writer, Bhim Dinanauth, should seek to denigrate both request and agreement to serve by the partisan sympathies he sank to express. Aubrey Williams who recognised and said of our colonial period that 'character - destruction was synonymous with art - eradication' is no doubt now turning in his grave!

Yours faithfully,

Viola Burnham

Editor's note:

Mr David de Caires held a meeting at his house in January this year at which Mr Stanley Greaves addressed the gathering on the unsold paintings of Aubrey Williams which were in a flat in London occupied by his widow Eve Williams. Mr Greaves had at the request of Mr de Caires visited the widow and identified some ten paintings from the Shostakovich and Olmec-Maya series. The hope was that some of the persons or companies present would purchase some of these paintings. That has not yet happened.

However, that evening a suggestion was made that funds be raised to purchase one or more of the paintings for the national collection at Castellani House. Mr de Caires told Mr Vic Insanally, a member of the board of Castellani House, that he would be willing to serve on a sub-committee to raise such funds. He strongly recommended that Mrs Viola Burnham be asked to serve on that committee in view of her previous connection with Aubrey Williams and his work.

Mr Insanally subsequently informed Mr de Caires that the subcommittee had been approved by the board. Mr de Caires therefore rang Mrs Burnham and asked her to serve which she readily agreed to do. It appears that Mrs Burnham did not realise that this was in fact a sub committee but felt that it was a private group of persons and Mr de Caires regrets any lack of clarity in his conversation with Mrs Burnham.

A news item was subsequently published on the 30th April confirming the appointment of the sub- committee. Mrs Burnham was, however, out of the country at that time and did not see it.

Mr de Caires says that he welcomes Mrs Burnham's willingness to assist in a project designed to preserve the work of an important Guyanese painter.