Art > The Art of Trinidad & Tobago

Era of Political Independence

Written by Geoffrey MacLean

Carlisle Chang’s Inherent Nobility of Man, designed for Trinidad’s new Piarco International Airport in 1962, his mural Conquerabia for the new Port of Spain City Hall and Cosmic Event for the facade for the new Textel building in Port of Spain, established him as Trinidad and Tobago’s leading national artist of the time. The later destruction of Inherent Nobility of Man to make way for the extension of the Airport buildings in 1977, coincided with the end of Chang’s painting career.

The Inherent Nobility of Man | 1962 | Carlisle Chang

Ou (Edwin) Hing Wan (b.1932 d.1976) was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair from the age of 19. Yet, with only the partial use of his right hand he was able to produce some of Trinidad and Tobago’s finest watercolours. Hing Wan, encouraged by Sybil Atteck and Noel Vaucrosson (b.1935 d.1996), first exhibited at the Trinidad Art Society’s exhibition of 1951. In 1975 he mounted his only one man exhibition at the National Museum and Art Gallery.

River Scene | 1975 | Edwin “Ou” Hing Wan | Watercolour

Membership to the Trinidad Art Society, up until the late 1950’s, had been considered to be exclusive, due in part to the support and patronage of those who represented the colonial administration. In 1960 however, after the Backyard Exhibition in Argyll Lane in Lower Laventille, showing the work of, among others, Pat Chu Foon.

The introduction of monumental sculpture into mainstream art in Trinidad and Tobago was the work of Pat Chu Foon. He executed several public sculptures, among them Gandhi in Kew Place (1969); Spirit of Hope (1971); Tribute to the Steelband Movement in Tamarind Square, Port of Spain (1972) and Mother and Child at the Mount Hope Hospital (1980).

The 1960’s continued to show the influences of Europe through the work of Isaiah James Boodhoo (b.1932 d.2004) and Ralph Baney (b.1929).

Although the Trinidad Art Society had conducted courses in sculpture in the 1950’s by Sybil Atteck and Carl Broodhagen of Barbados, the medium does not appear to have appealed to many artists. Joan St. Louis, Pat Chu Foon and later Ralph Baney, were perhaps the exceptions. Ralph Baney and his wife Vera exhibited their work in Trinidad on a regular basis between 1966 and 1971. Pursuing sculpture and ceramics, the Baneys pioneered the use of local materials for clay and glazes.

By 1968 Boodhoo felt that his art had become too predictable and he left for the United States where he was exposed to the contemporary art scene of America: the action painters and abstract expressionists, Willem De Kooning (b.1904 d.1997) and Richard Diebenkorn (b.1922 d.1993). This was the time of Richard Nixon’s campaign for the Presidency, of the disillusionment over the war in Vietnam and the student protests. Boodhoo brought the idea of social and political commentary with him when he returned to Trinidad and Tobago, later expressed in his commentaries on the Black Power Revolution of 1970.

Hosay | (c.1965) | James Isaiah Boodhoo

The late 1960’s witnessed a period of relative indifference in the arts. However, following the Black Power disturbances of 1970, a new beginning emerged, symbolized in the work of Boodhoo.

1970’s

In Trinidad and Tobago, there was a new awareness of  African heritage. This awareness is best represented through the paintings and poetry of LeRoy Clarke (b.1938) and Carlisle Harris. Fuelled by the philosophy of the Black Power Movement, with which he was familiar from his frequent visits to New York and the politics of Black America in the early 1970’s, Clarke sought to provide a validity and integrity to the strong cultural, political and social associations between Trinidad and Tobago and Africa, through his strong images.

The Light Bringer | (c.1975) | LeRoy Clarke

The unrest of the early seventies also reawakened the traditions of landscape painting, especially in watercolours. Jackie Hinkson (b.1942) perhaps best represents this period. He was trained at the Academie Julien in Paris and later in Edmonton, Canada. He describes his style as objective, but he remains conscious of the abstract elements which make up his over-all composition.

Mount Pleasant, Tobago | (c.1992) | Donald “Jackie” Hinkson

In 1974, Peter Minshall (b.1941) presented an individual costume that marked the start of a revolution in Carnival design. Land of the Hummingbird stunned viewers at a Carnival costume competition in the Savannah. Elegantly proportioned, made to extend the fluid movement of the masquerader, the portrayal of the hummingbird with wings that lifted and folded, captivated audiences beyond thekiddies carnival category. Later, Minshall’s robotic ManCrab, from his band River in 1983, disturbed his audience by creating the effect of bleeding from the extremities of the crab’s claws, onto a pristine white canopy. In his presentation, ManCrab was the symbol of the destructive technological aspect of our society in conflict with the traditional purity of Washerwoman.

In 1991 Minshall brought Trinidad’s Carnival to the Champs Elysees interwoven with Jean-Michel Jarre’s presentation for the 200thAnniversary of the French Revolution. Minshall’s designs have also been featured in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996 for which he received an Emmy award.

1980’s

Alongside the development of painting and sculpture is the work of the illustrative artists, best represented by Stuart Hahn, Steve Ouditt (b.1961), Lisa Mendes and Eloise Ballah. Influenced by the style of art nouveau and initially by the work of Aubrey Beardsley, Hahn’s favourite medium is crayon. His drawings, of which the most important element is the human form, are mainly erotic or religious-erotic in content, the latter subtly and inextricably combined. Ouditt uses erotic symbolism for his black and white poster designs and eye catching distortions to attract attention. Single colours are used only to titillate intended interpretations. Ouditt is also one of the few artists from this period who experimented with the design of household objects and furniture.

The Bollom “Let a mother touch you for the sake of her kind” cried the old mother in pity From Derek Walcott’s “Ti-Jean and His Brothers” | 1983 | Stuart Hahn | Coloured Pencil

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