The caribArt Exhibition Feature Address by Tricia Trotman-Maraj
June 27, 2018
Exactly two years and ten months ago I boarded the last Caribbean airlines direct flight to the great city of London. A place that I had only heard of and perhaps read about but never thought that I would one day reside. I was born in a little sugar cane village to unwed parents which back in those days was absolutely scandalous. My early years were greatly influenced by nationalism and patriotism as I observed the journey of my country from colonial rule to independence and even becoming a Republic. Discipline, tolerance and production were what we were taught but most of all the importance of education and the fact that the 'future of the nation lay in the school bags of its children' – this according to our country’s first Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams. Those days are long gone now and the simple island I grew up on has changed dramatically and in such a short period of time with the invasion of sub-cultures through the mass media and the advent of technology that has placed information – the world’s number one resource – at the fingertips of babes and sucklings. Despite the touch-screen devices and instant messengers that now go by various names too numerous to mention one thing remains constant and that is the soul of the people. People who are aware of their history, cognizant of the changes in the world around them but still desire to retain that which makes them distinct from all others – their cultural heritage.
When I was a child I remember hearing the old people talk about the old time days and would grasp at every opportunity to hear a story about the ‘good old days’. But as I grew the good old days drifted further and further away as older family members passed on and their counsel replaced by modern foreign philosophies and teachings that dazzled the eyes of the youth. Foreign was always better, local was considered backward and certainly not as valuable as the trinkets that were shipped to the island in cardboard barrels from families who lived and worked abroad. Today as I look back on those ‘old time days’ from a tiny flat in a cold grey city I certainly wish that I could bring them back; that I could return to a time when life was simpler, where the grass was greener, and everything was just bright.
A pleasant good evening Honourable High Commissioners, Ambassadors of various Caribbean islands, Culture Representative for the Mayor of London, Her Worship the Worshipful Mayor of the London
Borough of Croydon, Her Royal Highness Princess Moradeun Adedoyin-Solarin, Her Royal Highness Princess Toyin Onagoruwa, President and Chairman of the Croydon Art Society, Grenada Tourism Authority, Guyana Tourism Authority, Business Development Officers of Barbados and the British Virgin Islands, Stakeholders and societies from the UK, Europe, North America and Africa, company representatives from Angostura UK and Grace Foods UK, Chairwoman of Ms. T&T UK Pageant, Representatives from the Nottinghill Carnival, representatives of the Media, Artists, Artistes, art lovers , art collectors and specially invited guests.
My name is Tricia Trotman-Maraj and I am the creator of the caribArt Project - a Caribbean regional platform created to immortalise Caribbean cultural heritage and support Caribbean artists who produce authentic work that tell the lived stories of their ancestral island homes. It is a platform solely dedicated to showcasing the work of Caribbean artists to premium audiences globally as many of our artists who produce Caribbean themed work continue to be excluded from major art networks and societies. This platform was created simply because it was required. The caribArt platform celebrates everything Caribbean through the medium of art but most importantly it assigns value to the art, brings dignity, respect and ethical policies that ensure the artist receives his/her just reward for their contribution. The caribArt platform recognizes the contributions of Caribbean artists to cultural preservation and lauds them for showing us a new perspective for those things that we have for too long taken for granted and under-valued. Marcel Proust, a French novelist (1871-1922) said that “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes… but in having new eyes.” The caribArt Project intends to help you discover familiar landscapes but with new eyes - Eyes of Caribbean artists who see past the social and political issues and look toward the magnificent beauty of our homeland. It is a beauty that remains within us despite where we may live or travel to in this world.
The story of how this project started can be simply put: I came to London; I missed my home and wanted to be surrounded by those things that were familiar to me. Unfortunately they were things that I could not find in stores and so had to create them myself and started painting again after 27 years. I am not an artist by trade, I actually taught geography for 21 years, later on decided to switch careers to something more challenging so I completed a Master’s degree in Management and recently became internationally certified as a project management professional. Even though this might sound impressive my intention is certainly not to appear boastful but to emphasize that anything art –related was the furthest thing from my field of training or career goals. However there is an old saying that goes, ‘man does plan and God does laugh’.
My intention was to use the skills I had acquired from my University training, many years of experience on the job and take London by storm. I had it all mapped out in my head. After all I was well educated by the region’s most prestigious university ( the U.W.I.), I was a researcher, published author, and my work had even been included in a global academic study by the University of Munster, Germany in collaboration with The University of the West Indies. I was young, vibrant and focused, and certainly there was no hurdle I could not overcome. In short I had proved my capacity to maximize both left and right brain capabilities and was the perfect candidate for any employer but after 2 years and almost 4000 unsuccessful job applications for permanent work I realised that something was probably amiss. As a researcher I understood that a 0% positive return on 4000+ job applications from a candidate of my calibre was a statistical improbability. This invisible mountain in my path that confronted me every day brought me to the understanding that if I wanted to succeed in my new environment I would have to do something that was out of the ordinary in order to achieve the seemingly extraordinary. The famous Greek scholar Plato first coined the phrase, “Necessity is the mother of invention” and although these words were first said centuries ago they remain true today because when the need for something becomes essential you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it and thus the caribArt Project was birthed.
The journey to this day has been long and even tedious at times. It involved knocking on hundreds of doors and being refused entry thousands of times. I recall beating the pavements and knocking on the doors of galleries to exhibit this lovely work surrounding you and being told time and time again, ‘I’m sorry but it’s not our type of art’. Eventually I was pointed to a tiny gallery in an area of South of Norwood that was marked for regeneration. The people there were from various ethnic backgrounds and showed their appreciation for this project by coming out to support my ‘live art’ sessions where they could see me paint and have their children participate in the caribArt Folklore Storytelling and Art Workshops for kids and teens.
The project was officially launched on 24th October, 2017 in the presence of H.E. Orville London High Commissioner of Trinidad & Tobago and received visitors from 24 different countries including members of the local council and Councillor Representatives. The caribArt Kids workshops actually earned a tiny space in the Croydon Advertiser as they announced our activity as one of the things to do in Croydon. To take it a step further I decided to announce our community presence with a schools art competition titled - ‘My Sugar Island‘ which happens to be the theme of this exhibition. The title of it sounded sweet, inviting and interesting and I thought it would be perfect for children in my borough to have the opportunity to learn more about the Caribbean in a fun way. So, I painstakingly wrote to 116 schools in my borough inviting them to participate. After all I had taught in several schools and knew that there were many children with Caribbean ancestry who were longing to learn more about where they came from. To my surprise less than one returned a positive response and 5 blocked my email address.
I believe it is possible for anyone to appreciate that trying to run a project like this is certainly not an easy job for an assigned team of people with a budget but it is even more difficult especially when your team is one and there are no tangible resources to carry you through save for time and an indelible spirit that refused to give up. It takes co-ordination, strategic planning, human resources, networking and most of all funding. So I did my research and applied for funding to the most suitable organisations but was refused each time and each time I studied the grounds on which I was refused and progressively improved my application. The last unsuccessful application I made was just March of this year and the reason given for denying my application was that this project was considered ‘too ambitious’. But anyone who knows Caribbean people would understand that although we come from small places we are people with spirits of excellence and ambition. Our ineffaceable spirits have been forged in environments where failure was not an option. The Caribbean has given the world the fastest man who grew up on ackee and salt fish, cassava, dasheen, yams, and other root crops back home in Jamaica - I believe you may have heard of Usain Bolt, Olympic gold medalist Kishorn Walcott whose boot camp for throwing a javelin was shooting down coconuts from high trees with lengths of bamboo, literary laureates such as St Lucia’s Derek Walcott and Trinidad & Tobago’s Sir VS Naipaul whose backgrounds were from humble beginnings are now canons of Caribbean literature, the first ever woman of colour who was crowned Miss Universe in 1975 –Janelle Penny Commission came from the Caribbean. The most sought after doctors and medical staff come from Cuba, The first Black King in the Western hemisphere – Henri Christoph comes from Haiti, Cricket Legends Sir Garfield Sobers (Born in Barbados), Sir Vivian Richards (born in Antigua), Letitia Wright Film star from the Black Panther Movie (Born in Guyana) and I can go on but time does not permit. There is no doubt the positive impact Caribbean people have made on the shaping of the world and it is time that we appreciate the cultural heritage that has and continues to positively shape the identity and consciousness of millions at home and abroad. Tonight we appreciate the Caribbean through art and the caribArt Project.
The journey to this night involved networking, partnering and strategically using the human resource effectively not only in the UK but Europe, Canada, USA, the Caribbean and other parts of the world considering times differences which meant receive calls even at 2:00 in the morning. There were times required materials were short, access to space was denied, schedules clashed, and sometimes even personalities but the eyes always remained focused on the goal. However in the midst of the challenges there were rays of sunshine that pierced the darkness and guided the way forward. They came in the form of people who showed up at just the right time with exactly what was needed to press forward. People with the right skills, resources and platforms rallied around this project to achieve what you are a part of this very evening. That could only be God and I am certain that once He has His hand in this it shall not fail.
I would like to recognize the High Commissioner of the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago H.E. Orville London for supporting this project from inception, the Mayor of London The Worshipful Saddiq Khan who despite his busy schedule responded promptly to my call and although he was unable to make it this evening has assigned his Culture representative to be present here. I would like to recognise the newly installed Mayor of my Borough The Worshipful the Mayor of Croydon, Councillor Bernadette Khan for agreeing to come out this evening and lend her support to this notable project aimed at supporting policies of diversity and inclusion here in the UK. I look forward to working with you in the near future. I would also like to recognise in our midst the Croydon Art Society whose Chairman and President are both present this evening. I sincerely hope that we can work together to ensure a distinct Caribbean presence in art in the London Borough of Croydon.
This evening you will see the work of Caribbean artists such as Nasha Bradshaw who does stuff on canvas that seems almost impossible, Morris Thompson the portrait king, both of (Jamaica), Salina Jane illustrator extraordinaire of Guyana who takes us through the East Indian Indenture-ship experience of her forefathers, Multi award winning artist Jean Taylor of the Turks and Caicos Islands whose appearance at this premier event has been the talk of the Turks and Caicos Islands Parliament, Thalia-Mae Nero of T&T whose artistic talent is expressed on bespoke fabric and into amazing signature jewellery that you can actually wear, and yours truly Tricia, Trotman-Maraj, former teacher now PMP suffering from nostalgia and painting colour into the grey. You will also see via the large screen videos of some of the work produced by participants of caribArt Folklore and Storytelling Art Workshops and Carnival Art Workshops, and also some ideas of the of the products that we have to offer. All of our caribArt artist’s work in various mediums as you would see in order to capture numerous aspects of their Islands of origin. Some are self-taught whilst others have received formal training. But one thing we all have in common is our love for our cultural heritage and the islands that have birthed us. We are, after all, artists for One Caribbean.
The caribArt Project aims to:
Immortalise Caribbean cultural heritage on the canvas through the works of Caribbean artists who know the story behind the pictures they paint best.
Create a bridge between Caribbean producers and global consumers whereby Caribbean artists are given fair opportunity to gain access to global markets for the sale of their work thus generating income for themselves, their families and respective countries. This would be done through the sale of original art, prints and other products.
Generate employment in communities through social entrepreneurship as artists will be in need of suppliers of raw material, labour, and can also train apprentices as they create.
Increase the flow of foreign currency back to the region.
Reduce the ‘brain drain’ of talented nationals to other developed countries that offer a menagerie of alternative opportunities.
Rebrand the Caribbean positively by shattering stereotypes and providing positive images of our region that are distinct and authentic.
Instill pride once again of our cultural heritage so that the youth of our countries would develop a clear sense of identity and be proud of what is theirs as opposed to replacing it with foreign sub-cultures that fuel social decay. This will include a publication titled - An Anthology of Caribbean Stories – a book that will incorporate pictures of fine art from the caribArt collection and corresponding pieces of prose and poetry originating from each Caribbean island. We propose this book for use in the teaching of Language and Literature in schools throughout the Caribbean and even in the United Kingdom.
Work with partners to produce a Caribbean animation series that accurately and positively represents Caribbean characters who have made their mark on world history and individual islands.
Work with all Caribbean nations to produce bespoke travel art packages for tourists who are interested in art tourism where they can travel to a chosen island, become immersed in the culture of that island and transfer their experiences to the canvas.
Establish our own physical space where art work from all Caribbean islands can be displayed 365 days per year. It would facilitate artists in residence and expose the rest of the world to the warmth of authentic Caribbean cultural heritage in an international space. It would be a space for our voice, telling our stories ourselves. It would be called the caribArt International Centre for Caribbean Art. This would be a hub for Caribbean artists from all over the world.
This project is not a one man job, it is not a one island job but it is a job for the entire region. It’s about opening doors and pathways for our youth and leaving a legacy that they will be proud of. I urge you to join the caribArt Project as we make a way where there seems to be no way. Every piece of work that your purchase here tonight, or in the days and years to come, will filter back into strengthening and expanding this platform. The caribArt Platform is the first one of its kind in the history of the Caribbean region and needs your support. Please visit our website where you can learn more about the exhibiting artists and the activities of the project.Please feel free to contact me via the information on your flyer or the business cards that are available. I thank you for coming out tonight and look forward to partnering with you toward a good end.