2009—a Good Year For Art

Artists, Galleries Prove Their Resilience

By DAVID CAVE

To say that 2009 was a challenging year for the arts would be an understatement. Within our relatively small art community, the goal of achieving some degree of progress continues to elude those involved in the visual arts. Recession conditions have not helped either. Despite promises of rosier days to come after the collapse of fourth quarter 2008, belts and purse strings seems only to have grown tighter in 2009.
Notwithstanding all of this, however,, the quality of art and art exhibitions did not suffer.  Good artwork still carried the day throughout 2009 and the initiative taken by galleries to not only display and sell art, but to guide their patrons towards charitable and humanitarian causes is a noble gesture that cannot go unacknowledged.
The year opened with a spectacular display of photography by Japanese photographer Shizuka Minami at Soft Box Studios.  Minami’s keen eye for composition combined with contrasting images of visual austerity and opulence presented a unique and welcome addition to the photographic record of Trinidad and Tobago’s recent Carnival scene. Her images went beyond the typical wine and jam that we witness ad infinitum every year, and her images offered a wider perspective, allowing us to contemplate what takes place before and after the Carnival season and to wonder how this festive dimension might be embedded within the psyche of our lives on an everyday basis.
The Carnival focus did not stop with Minami.  Throughout February and March, Carnival-themed art continued to occupy centre stage.  Trinidadian photographer Jenny Baboolal offered an interesting exhibition at the National Museum that focused specifically on Kiddies’ Carnival.  Again, Baboolal’s dominant focus of a portraiture style engaged the viewer with the subject of the photograph, creating a connection between spectator and art.
This year’s Carnival was also addressed by the more traditional medium of painting. 
In2Art’s “Celebration” exhibition featured a wide gamut of work  on the Carnival theme. The exhibition also sought to combine the work of neophyte and veteran artists into a single exhibition space that was centred upon a specific theme.  It was a refreshing sight to see the vibrancy and dynamism of Jackie Hinkson juxtaposed with the newer graphic pieces of Warren LaPlatte, Tessa Alexander and Makemba Kunle.  Such diversity of work really exemplified the notion that Carnival is about participation and experience, and that every interpretation is equally valid once there is immersion into this dimension of our culture.
Speaking of culture, Pat Bishop’s “Pan is a Star” exhibition proved to be appropriately timed. The exhibition, which ran throughout March 2009 followed the euphoria of Carnival, but also offered a sobering treatment of the evolution and cultural significance of the steel pan of Trinidad and Tobago.  There is no doubt that the steel pan is one of Bishop’s most passionate pursuits, but her ability to convert this ardent and amorous relationship into a series of paintings and sculpture proved to be a spectacular accomplishment on her part.  Bishop’s exhibition offers a deep an emotional requiem for the pan of the past while provoking us to contemplate the future of the steel pan as well as Trinidad and Tobago’s cultural identity.
The issue of culture was further pursued during the months of April and May with Kwynn Johnson’s “Red Appropriated” exhibition that was in part fulfilment of her M.A. degree in Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine.  Johnson’s exhibition, also held at Soft Box Studios, was a thorough vista into the many aspects of Trinidad and Tobago culture and how the symbolism of the colour red fits into our cultural diversity.  In late June, Soft Box Studios really took the spotlight with its “Erotic Art “ exhibition.  The show offered an impressive display of local erotic art of the past fifty years.  The work was more cerebral than provocative, and offered a tasteful glimpse into this genre of local art.
The more traditional landscape and portraiture pieces that followed this arousing exhibition, were not forced out of the limelight in 2009.  Horizons Gallery featured the work of novice painters Karen Hale-Jackson and Heather Sabga-Mckenna during August, and also went on to display the masterful works of Harry Bryden and Ramon Navarro in November.  Master Artist Leroy Clarke also made his presence felt in September of 2009 with his “Voice of a Smouldering Coal” exhibition at the Y Gallery.  Although Clarke is seen as one of our more seasoned painters, the increased diversity of his abstraction never ceases to impress the art collectors and aficionados who continue to flock to his exhibitions.
Rounding off the year (Nov 22-Dec5) at the Y Gallery was Jasmine Girvan’s Enduring Bounty, a spectacular exhibition of new work that combined this artist’s all too rare Caribbean sensibility, intelligence and craftsmanship to deliver yet another highly successful showing. Girvan rarely, if ever, discusses her work in public; but no problem, her pieces speak for themselves- and they do so loudly.
 Few have so mastered the physique and expression of the Caribbean body as Girvan has.
In Enduring Bounty, she was at her best when she succeeded in combining a fine  jeweller’s eye with the power of the  blacksmith’s backbone and the cheekiness of a personal ideology to deliver art that was multi-layered, multi-purpose and differently accessible to the eye of any given beholder.
This review cannot end without  saluting the altruism displayed by art galleries this past year.  In October the In2Art Gallery held the “Building Bridges” photography exhibition that was devoted to assisting the Tallman Foundation, an organisation established with the aim of  nurturing the creative talent, especially the visual arts, within the economically depressed communities of East Port of Spain.  In November Horizons Gallery held  its “Silent Art” auction in aid of Carmen Abdelnor, who is in desperate need of a kidney transplant.
It is a truism that some of the best art comes out of times that are tough—emotionally, financially and otherwise. When the good times roll, art often tends to roll the way of the money.   Artistic integrity and economic viability are the sides of the double-edged sword that artists have had to straddle throughout the ages.

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