Found wood, will carve!
Lone female sculptor explores the wonder of Guyana’s woods By Stacey Bess Guyana Chronicle
November 17, 2002

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HER marriage to a Guyanese, whom she had met at the National School of Art in Havana, Cuba 21 years ago, paved the way for Josefa Tamayo’s journey to the `Land of Many Waters’.

For Josefa, however, Guyana turned out to be the land of many woods.

During her seven years of study to attain the status of Integrated Artist in her homeland, Cuba, she had completed one carving. During her two decades in Guyana, she has fashioned hundreds of forms using the vast array of woods here.

"I had a carving galore! I found so many woods here - Purple Heart, Locust, Taouniro, Green Heart, Cabacalli, Hobavalli, Simarupa, Crabwood, Samaan, Mahagony and other indigenous woods. I had a feast with them until my elbows ached," she gushed.

Josefa is Guyana's lone, known female professional sculptor. By virtue of marriage she became a naturalised Guyanese more than a decade ago.

Although she is now divorced, Josefa says that she prefers to remain in Guyana because the geographic features of the country provide a massive gateway to success in the world of art.

"I find it useful to be here because I can get a lot of wood to carve. There is not much wood in Cuba," she pointed out.

She said that as a child she found joy in painting and drawing. At the insistence of friends, her parents eventually took her to the art school in Camaguey, the Cuban province where she lived.

"I thought that art was only about painting and drawing, but when I went to the art school, I saw so many things. I saw ceramics, visual art and sculpture. The sculpture just reached out to me and I was drawn to it and I said I like this," she recalled.

She was the only female artist who opted to specialise in sculpting in her final phase of art studies.

"I … studied with eight men. Women don't like to do sculpting because it is hard. You have to have skills like sawing, hammering and welding," she said.

Along with her art curriculum, it was compulsory for her to cover a range of education subjects. She graduated as an Integrated Artist and Specialist in Sculpting.

She explained that during the initial years of art studies all aspects of art must be given focus. These include drawing, painting, visual art, textiles, ceramics and sculpting. In the latter part of studies, students specialise in a particular area. But inevitably, very few women choose sculpting.

Josefa spoke of the three techniques used in sculpting, which are carving, modelling and casting.

Carving is used for fashioning hard materials such as wood. Soft materials such as wax and clay are utilised in modelling, and casting involves the preparation of molds in which liquids are poured and later set in the design of those molds.

"In Cuba, the carving technique is not traditional. The traditional things are modelling in clay and casting in iron. The carving technique is not abundant but it is a requirement in sculpting," she added.

After completing her studies, Josefa served Cuba for two years before coming to Guyana. She taught at the Elementary School of Art in Camaguey.

She is now at the local Burrowes School of Art where she lectures to first and second year students in drawing, design and sculpture.

In addition, she is a member of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) and is engaged in the formulation of the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) Art and Design syllabus.

The sculptor lives at Blankenburg, West Coast Demerara. She says that she has the solitude and space to cultivate her art.

The woods that she uses for sculpting are inexpensive.

"I get the indigenous woods from other artists in the interior. And the other woods that I get in Georgetown are mostly from when it rains and trees fall or when people cut down trees," she said.

As a female sculptor, her daily schedule is very hectic.

"To be a female sculptor (a woman) has to be strong mentally, but especially physically. Women tend to complain about menstrual pain and having to do housework and take care of family.

“I have to plan my work or else I would not get anything done. I don't have much time to keep a home. I do the basics and when my daughter was small it was very strenuous. And women are sensitive when they are not relaxed or are bothered emotionally. You can't work…

“You have to be untidy. You sweat and smell bad. You can't grow your nails. You have to do a lot of lifting and you get strong shoulders and muscular biceps like I have and most women don't want to be sturdy," she said.

Josefa said that within the last 10 years, her sculpting ventures have dwindled.

"The market is not as good,” she said, while bemoaning the government’s restrained spending on artwork for presentation to overseas officials.

Now she tailors her sculpting to fill orders and for exhibitions.

”I work to please myself, but I also work to earn and I can't continue to produce sculptures and there is no one to buy them," she said.

Thus, she tends to focus more on drawing and painting these days.

"I do more drawings and paintings because they can easily be stored and kept and I don't have to immediately think commerce when I do them," Josefa said.

She said that there is only one Guyanese-born professional female sculptor she has met during her 21 years here. She is Hazel Shury who now resides in the United States.

She said that the two of them had staged an exhibition in 1996.

Ms. Shury, she said, did mostly welded sculptures, embossed in metal.

At 44, aging is also curtailing her sculpting abilities.

"I'm getting older and I wish there was another female sculptor to replace me. I would not be able to do this all my life.

“I have been doing this for 20 years. Long ago, I did three feet pieces. Now, I have to stick to smaller ones," she said.

The work has also taken a toll on her right elbow, damaging ligaments in this joint area.

"No matter how women try to compete with men, they cannot endure the physical strain," she accepted.

So Josefa has gone high tech, using an electrical chain saw to cut wood and an electrical tool for sanding.

"Doing the work gets like addiction - you see the work done and you want to do another one. The income side makes me feel good," she added.

Josefa has visited Cuba four times in 20 years.

"I don't go many places, but my work goes all around the world. So I feel complete that I have achieved something in life.

“Though here gets hard, I would not get the time and space to work in Cuba. And in Cuba, the government regulates prices for sale of your work and there is heavy taxation.

“Professionally, I much prefer it here than going back. Socially, here is not so good. People still see me as a foreigner. Sometimes I feel lonely and I miss my family and culture. I miss my people because they are not racial," she said.

Josefa's dad died last year and her mother and three siblings are still in Cuba.

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