Cultural diplomacy Arts On Sunday
By Al Creighton

Stabroek News
May 29, 2005

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Activities in the arts and cultural exhibitions in Guyana have benefited for a long time from the contributions of foreign missions stationed in the country. Almost all of them have at one time or another brought in works of art, performing artists, craft and other samples of their home culture to promote their nations and to give Guyanese some exposure to their traditions, customs and achievements. For some it is sporadic, while others make a policy out of periodic performances or exhibitions, some going to the extent of establishing cultural centres in Guyana.

Such permanent centres have been built by India, Venezuela and Brazil, and they are continuously active. The USA closed the JFK Library and cultural outreach facility, but has continued a cultural ambassadors programme, as have the British. The Russians once built a theatrical auditorium as a part of their new embassy building and held a few programmes including some literary readings there while they still operated it. Others like the Chinese, the Cubans and the Surinamese have staged relevant events. In some cases, particular ambassadors have shown a special interest in the arts resulting in extraordinary contributions, such as High Commissioners Edward Glover of Britain and India's Dr Joshi.

Another whose remarkable imagination, energy, interest and initiatives have resulted in a truly outstanding record of contributions to the cultural life of Guyana is His Excellency Ney do Prado Dieguez, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Brazil from June 2001 to May 25, 2005, who was also the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Guyana. He earned special recognition and an award for his contribution to Guyana's national heritage when with expert architectural advice he renovated the Ambassador's residence in Queenstown, restoring every detail of its original colonial design, thus preserving a part of the local cultural landscape.

The efforts of Mr Dieguez were strengthened by the fact that he represented a neighbouring country with a long history of participation in Guyana's cultural life at both formal and informal levels. This participation goes deep, since there have been ancient associations between Amerindian communities who have been crossing at various sections of the very long border between the two countries for centuries. More recently, many others have crossed the border for the purposes of mining and trade, and these economic activities are now quite formalized with growing communities of neighbouring nationals in both countries. Guyanese are no strangers to aspects of the Brazilian culture, which must have assisted Dieguez in bringing so many facets of Brazilian culture to Guyana.

A Centre of Brazilian Studies was established in Georgetown on March 15, 1970, with an official opening by Guyana's then Minister of Information and Culture Shirley Field Ridley, just at the time when Guyana had just become a Republic. This centre was declared "the main instrument for carrying out the Brazilian Government's cultural policy in Guyana" and an instrument through which "Brazilian culture is portrayed" and "to make communication easy between the Brazilian and Guyanese people." As if to reconfirm these aims, the centre was renovated and officially reopened on September 21, 2004.

It is headed by a Director, Elisio Domingues De Souza, who has been directly involved in all the Ambassador's programmes in addition to running the centre's continuing activities. These have included studies in the Portuguese language, facilitating Guyanese students with opportunities for university study in Brazil and assisting the University of Guyana when there was a degree in Portuguese Language and Literature being offered at the institution.

Armed with these instruments and Mr De Souza's assistance, Ambassador Dieguez turned a personal interest and appreciation for the arts and cultural traditions into a gain for the people of Guyana and Brazil. This appreciation was fortified within his own family since his daughter researched and became an academic authority on the African cultural vestiges and traditions in Brazil, including religion and art. He brought some of these to Guyana.

In March, 2003, the centre displayed elements of the world famous Brazilian Carnival, known as Carnival in Rio but with great strengths in Salvador, Bahia and Recife in Pernambuco. Guyanese were also exposed to other exhibitions of the folk culture through the Festa Junina in June, 2003 with traditional dances, music and food. Other types of music and dance with a traditional base were also performed in Georgetown by groups brought in, such as the Boi Bumba in December, 2004.

Of particular interest was the exhibition of engravings and drawings of the Brazilian imperial family shown at Castellani House in March, 2002. These were all done in the 18th and 19th centuries, an extremely valuable collection of historical importance elaborately preserved, framed and mounted. The Ambassador has personal interest and considerable knowledge of the selections, some of which were already on the walls of his residence while others were brought in from Brazil. He was able to tell stories about members of the Brazilian imperial family depicted, and the history and satire which was sometimes involved.

This very regal exhibition marked an important association between Dieguez and the Curator of Castellani House Elfrieda Bissember, who was also instrumental in mounting the show and other art exhibitions organized by Brazil. These did not only involve visiting artists, since opportunities were additionally provided for local painters and sculptors in exhibitions such as Conflict Resolution by the Guyana United Artists in March 2004. Other shows by local artists were held at the centre.

In addition, there were two by important Brazilian artists, water colourist Maria Ines Lukaks and Synergy, an exhibition of gravuras, etchings and engravings by Betty Bettiol at Le Meridien Pegasus as part of the celebration of Brazil's 179th Independence Anniversary on September 7, 2001.

The community involvement continued when festivals of Brazilian films were screened in Linden and in New Amsterdam in November 2004. This followed major film festivals in Georgetown at the Cara Inn and on the Turkeyen Campus of the University of Guyana. These festivals included some of the best films and important documentaries produced by Brazil, Latin America's leading movie producer and the 6th largest film market in the world.

In this varied fashion crossing a wide range of interests, Ambassador Ney do Prado Dieguez has done excellent service for his country in its mission to carry out the government's cultural policy, exposing Guyanese to Brazilian culture and making communication between the two peoples easier. Brazil looms large in contemporary Guyanese society as well as in the popular imagination, in commerce, mining, politics, cuisine and entertainment, which makes Dieguez's intervention even more significant. His next diplomatic posting is in Santiago de Chile, a developed Latin American country where his activites of this nature will, of necessity, be different.