What a Carnival that was! My best ever! Living abroad for over three decades meant that I got in very few TT Carnivals, and those visits were fleeting and play mas’ focused. But the secret of a good Carnival has been revealed to me – give yourself at least a month. A few weeks ago I commented on the art in Carnival, questioning whether the festival had sapped too much of our creative talent, distracting us from other forms of cultural expression. I am pleased now to report that TT art, in its broadest sense, is alive. But how well is it when artistic endeavour in this country suffers from an essential lack of public support?
The all-inclusive fete draws thousands of people paying up to $600 per head. Those same people attend several of those expensive parties over a four-week period. Yet, it would be safe to guess that fewer than 10 percent of them would have been prepared to fork out $150 or $300 to attend one, just one, of the various excellent non-fete, cultural events. And it isn’t just a question of money because many of the real delights are absolutely free. It has been a very busy start to the cultural year as artists and musicians pack their shows into this period, in an attempt, I imagine, to benefit from all the buzz that fills the Carnival air, and from the influx of foreign Trinis and other visitors. We have been spoilt for choice and we hardly recognise it.
CCA7, the unique art space run by the redoubtable Charlotte Elias in the Laventille Fernandes Compound, is running an exhibition of extraordinary paintings by Trinidadian, Eddie Bowen. This artist’s work, which is new to me, is in a category all of its own and we are very lucky indeed to have someone doing work of such calibre in our midst. Art teachers should be leading their students in their droves to see his work and the new work of Jackie Hinkson too, on display at Art Creators Gallery in St Ann’s until Saturday. This much-loved artist is emerging as our most important painter of record. His 2006 large black crayon drawings capture the spirit of TT and Carnival, old and new.
As part of this same exhibition you could enjoy more large Eddie Bowen’s canvases and feast your eyes and senses on Sundiata’s unique use of primary colours. You could discover the work of Glen Martin, a New York-based Trini artist whom someone described to me as the new Boscoe Holder (although his style reminds me more of the Impressionists). Boscoe’s own paintings were on show at the Trinidad Art Society until Carnival Saturday, along with that of his brother Geoffrey Holder, but Horizon Gallery in Mucurapo has some of the legend’s later work and Glen Martin’s too. And look out for Rex Dixon’s wonderful paintings from 7th March at Fine Art gallery.
There is much more still to see at other galleries. You will probably have the place to yourself and best of all — it costs nothing. And if literature is more your beat then check out Caribbean writers who are at a conference at UWI this week and giving readings on Saturday lunchtime – for free. The amount of good music has been a joy. For TT$25, last week, I listened to four hours of musicians from all over who came with their instruments to play jazz and latin with Len “Boogsie” Sharp at the Phase II pan yard. A session like that or like June Nathaniel’s evening of romantic songs from the classical repertoire in mid-February would have cost a lot of money abroad. The pure and beautiful operatic voices we have here – Lesley Lewis, Vanessa Bushe, Stephanie Moe — which Ms Nathaniel showcased were a complete treat that not enough of us went to enjoy. Then there has been the theatre that could hold its own in New York or London. Tony Hall and David Rudder’s creative calypso musical “The Brand New Lucky Diamond Club” ran for 2 weeks at Queen’s Hall but to only 50% -60% full houses.
And the powerful 3 Canal show at Little Carib, which in many ways, is the new calypso tent bringing in hot young talent with sharply pointed Rapso commentary tackling our social ills, should have been packed out and the audience profile much younger. The only overcrowded event I attended was the free Lord Relator lunchtime ole’ calypso sessions at CLICO last week. Everyone sang along nostalgically to the witty verses and laughed at Relator’s fond mimicry of the ole’ timers. Bad luck you missed that but rush along to CLICO, 29 St Vincent Street by tomorrow to catch “Calypso Music in Postwar America” the best exhibition I have seen about the history of Calypso, featuring pictures and illustrations 1945-60. It would take half hour and surprise you. Carnival may be over but there is still much to enjoy of “we culture” that is more than jumpin’ an’ wavin’.