Roots of Modern Guyanese Art Movement
Date: Friday, November 14 @ 12:38:58 UTC
by Clairmont M. Chung
The roots of the modern art movement in Guyana etched its beginning in the rock paintings of its first children, the native Arawak, Carib and related peoples. This movement lives today and embodies the entire history. All the influences of all the migrant cultures appear in Guyanese art. The period from 1972, Carifesta, to the beginning of the 90's, is viewed as the heyday of Guyanese Art with the unveiling of the 1763 Monument in 1976 as a point of departure. The 1763 Monument by Sculptor, Philip Moore, commemorates the successful revolution of slaves against the Dutch planter class of Berbice, Guyana. Out of that culture milieu grew the Roots and Culture Movement.
Originally conceived as a repository of Art by Guyana's artists, Roots and Culture Gallery grew from a local art collective to worldwide recognition. Roots and Culture exhibited in Washington DC, on the invitation of the Inter-American Development Bank, and its members lectured and gave workshops at Jackson State University and Delta State University in Mississippi. Exhibitions have traveled to Jamaica, Cuba, Barbados and Japan. Pieces lie in places as remote as South Africa's Constitutional Court overlooking Robben Island.
Uniquely functioning as an art collective, sharing earnings for supplies and related needs of the artist, the collection grew from a few sculptures and paintings to over three hundred pieces by the 'Who is who' of artists at home and abroad. Members included giants like Philip Moore, Dudley Charles, Gary Thomas, Omowale Lumumba and Winston Strick. Winston Strick led the modernism thrust. Prior to working on the 1763 Monument Philip Moore had just completed a stint as Artist in Residence at Princeton University, New Jersey. Many more made their names as a result of coming to Roots and Culture.
Roots and Culture Gallery provided the space and the freedom to create. This freedom drew more and more artists and grew the concept of free art along with the collection. This moved Denis Williams, Curator, Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology and a local legend himself, to write, "Today, the holdings of the Roots and Culture gallery are unrivalled as a repository of the modern Guyanese painting and sculpture. It is also the country's primary resource for the study of the modern movement in Guyanese art."
The local art scene in Guyana grew concurrent with the expatriate Guyanese art scene. Around the world, Guyanese artists Frank Bowling, Donald Locke, Denis Williams, Aubrey Williams and others continued to create and exhibit. All continued to draw from the unique experience, Guyana. The passing of both Williamses dealt a severe set back to the movement in content and on critique.
On the local scene, a unique style seemed to emerge with an eclectic blend of mythology, religion, expressionism, and modernism. Phillip Moore said, in a recent interview, "when I hold a piece of wood in my hand to carve, I feel as if I am holding the whole world and can influence things outside of Guyana." Rastafarianism, other concepts of collective work and cooperative economics influenced the art and formed the philosophical framework for the movement. However, the mid 90s marked a decline.
More recently, a cash and carry art market opened to target tourist. But this too owed its genesis to the Roots and Culture Movement. Many saw an opportunity to support themselves through carving for local craft shops and street sales. At the same time, Fine artists continued to lament the treatment received from the local galleries and the lack of appreciation at the highest levels. However, art appears to be enjoying a rebirth with the Hadfield Group and the Roots and Culture Gallery. Many who visited the Roots and Culture Gallery in Guyana paid glowing tribute. Visitors included Reggae stars Luciano and Freddie McGregor. Moeletsi Mbeki, the brother of South Africa's President, Thabo Mbeki wrote," It's great to see so much commonality after so many years of separation." The Indian High Commissioner to Guyana, in 1987, described the gallery as, "A unique place, where serious Guyanese Arts are exhibited. A praiseworthy project…." The Late Viola Burnham, former Vice President of Guyana, wrote "A very interesting collection-congratulations on your efforts to provide an opportunity for artists to exhibit, and for viewers to enjoy the pieces. Keep going."
Roots and Culture Gallery intends to do just that 'keep going'. The internet presents a unique opportunity to share this art with the rest of the world. Roots and Culture Gallery (NA) is accessible at www.rootsandcult.com. A one day Art Show is Planned for Sunday, December 14, 2003 at the JRG Fashion Café, 177 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11217.