A number of artists gathered to support Agostini yesterday at Queen’s Park Savannah at the site where his wood furniture and sculptures had been for almost two years. Two weeks ago, 15 of his pieces were dumped by the police after they reportedly received complaints. On Friday, Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez met with Agostini and apologised, telling the media he did not know how the situation had been dealt with.
He said that art is culture and development and artists should be entitled to a space though he did not know what the process is.
Martinez, in a telephone interview yesterday, said he has publicly asked the police to look at such issues from a more humane perspective but for repeat violations from vendors “police will exercise a different duty.” Yesterday Agostini reported the mayor invited him to call on him to discuss the issue further.
He was able to recover four furniture pieces out of the 15 that were dumped which broke his heart.
He reported receiving “tremendous support” from strangers and from his friends in the local art community. He said he has received a number of offers, two business people in St James who have offered their stores as store fronts, and an art gallery in Tunapuna and Maraval interested in carrying in pieces.
He said if he was doing something wrong the police could have let him know and he would have removed his work in 10 minutes.
He reported a law firm said they will work on his behalf at no cost to him to pursue any legal action “because they really think I have been treated unjust(ly).” He expressed hope that he can work out something with the mayor for a space for every artist to benefit just as market vendors have a space.
“Where the artists can come and show their stuff and sell their wares without being paranoid of getting your stuff confiscated.” He believes that it is a blessing in disguise.
“I leave it in God’s hands, said my prayers and hope for the best.” Among those showing support for Agostini yesterday was filmmaker Carver Bacchus who said they were discussing a space for artists in Port-of-Spain and engaging artists to bring art into the city in a more meaningful way.
“This incident is an expression as far I concerned...(of) something resembling contempt for art in the society. It is not seen as important, it is not seen as something that can uplift a people when we all know that is not the case.” Visual artist Andy Venture said art is part of the solution to the country’s problems and youths can be involved in this.
“The reason a lot of crap happening in the country is because we real single minded and myopic.” He said that in progressive societies “art all over the place”.
Bacchus said the creative sector is one that successive administrations said they want to expand upon but we are yet to see any realisation of these ideas.
“What happened with Damian is an example of how unimportant it is viewed within the context of this system. It’s garbage as far as these people concerned.” He said there are several organisations that represent artists and artisans and hoped this will be a catalyst for these groups to come together and rally around this issue.
Visual artist Samantha Rochard said there are no public places for artists to go and create and sell their work. She also said there is also a lack of respect and understanding for artwork.
“It comes from our whole country’s approach to art or the governing administration, it don’t matter which one, but the approach to art is always something as a sideline that is just there when it is something that could solve most of the problems that you all complaining about.
Take some of the funding out of crime and throw it in art.” She said the State wants to diversify the economy but art is “thrown one side” and pointed out many artists leave the country and do very well.
Activist and one of Agostini’s clients, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, said she was appalled when she heard his work had been thrown away. She described it as a star attraction and tourists on buses would stop and take photographs.
She said with all the violence and economic difficulties “when we get a bright spot like this that makes people happy and somebody wants to destroy it?” Mahabir-Wyatt said, like weekends at Hyde Park in London, local painters would be encouraged to come and paint and have their work for sale by the mayor’s office.