Now on in Speightstown: Gallery of Caribbean Art – “BELLES CREOLES” By Artist Catherine Forter Chee-a-Tow
- Defining myself as a Caribbean Artist:
Preeminent Bajan author George Lamming, in his book “Caribbean Reasonings”, examines the history of the Caribbean and the factors which shape and influence Caribbean identity in our contemporary world. I have profound admiration for George Lamming as a true Caribbean intellectual, extraordinary orator and of course writer. In a very humble way, I would like to make reference to his mention and definition of a Caribbean sensibility which he describes as being carved and perpetuated by the imagination, itself influenced by our sense of belonging and historical context.
“Whether you move from Barbados or Jamaica to West Indies or Caribbean there has been created within the historical context of this archipelago a particular kind of sensibility that links you to place in a very special kind of way …we have to undertake that, that sense of belonging is not erased …is not lost, especially at a time when they are saying that the world has no boundaries any longer. If the world has no boundaries in terms of power structures we will make sure that the boundaries of sensibility are not destroyed. It is the imagination which maintains the boundaries of sensibility.”
Although George Lamming in his book refers in many instances to the literary arts, I do believe in the role of visual arts as a vehicle of the Caribbean sensibility to and throughout generations of Caribbean people but also as a sensibility transcending in its own right the geographical and cultural borders of the Caribbean.
French by birth, I nevertheless define my artist identity, sensibility as Caribbean. The history of my family nucleus is an intricate reflection of the extraordinary diversity which makes the adaptability and strength of our Caribbean society. The realization and understanding of my work as truly Caribbean, presented itself several years ago as I was offered the opportunity through the BIDC and The Barbados High Commission in London, under the wing of Mrs. Yearwood, to participate in The Independence Art Show, held yearly in London UK. My work was largely bought then by the Caribbean diaspora, undeniable testimony and appreciation of an intrinsic Caribbean sensibility.
One collector in particular retained my attention at the time, in the name of Rosemary Mallet, first woman ordained by the Anglican Church in Britain, Barbadian by birth, “from” Chelsea Road, precisely, where, we, as a family have set up home. Among others, I would like to mention Mrs. Petra Roach, BTA representative in Europe, as she has collected several of my early depiction of Caribbean women.
I am pleased to express my profound gratitude to all my early collectors, only to name a few, Mr. and Mrs Adrian Elcock, Lady Simmons, Mrs. Amor Motley, B’dos Ambassador to Brazil – Orlando Galveas, Miss Yvette Goddard, Mr. Irving Burgie, Dr. Lorne Clarke and Dr. Caroline Tull, Mrs. Regina Sixt, B’dos Honorary Consul to Germany and an avid collector of Caribbean art …
It is evident and at the same time essential to me that beyond the decorative value of the art, the imaginary of the artist, these collectors have been touched by the Caribbean sensibility of the work.
- Defining the Essence of my Caribbean Artistic Identity:
Prompted on the “various oxygens” of the Caribbean intellectual traditions Mr. Lamming comments “The generating forces that lead to thinking have been the history of the region…”
I subsequently and naturally draw a parallel between artists, whether visual , literary or other forms of art and intellectuals and the creative forces that fuel our minds and our work consciously or circumstantially. Sometime ago, I tumbled upon a TV interview of Peter Minshall, gigantic artist, a wealth of knowledge on Caribbean folk culture and I jotted down a few notes, or rather put a few of his words on paper. And here it goes “they say I’m a Portuguese, they say I’m a white, they say I’m a Indian, they say I’m a Chinese, they say I’m a African but I’m all of that, I am a Caribbean!”
I loved of course the way it was said, very theatrical, but of sure historical and political content.
Having lived a substantial part of my adult life in the Caribbean and founded a Caribbean family, I have encompassed the history of the Caribbean, I have reflected on the process of creolisation of this region and fathomed its importance and relevance on the physical, cultural, religious aspects of the Caribbean people today. Mr. Lamming writes in Caribbean Reasonings: “The Caribbean is shaped and given meaning by the peculiarities of its historical formula. We in the Caribbean have this very extraordinary situation that there is a point in time, roughly 15th century where we are going to find the most extraordinary enterprise leads to the peopling of this region in a way which was not perhaps intended at all.”
I have also found solace in the writing of Caribbean writers such as Rafael Confiant from Martinique who in “le Negre et l’Amiral” states that the lack of recognition of creolisation is an ailment of our Caribbean societies.
In that respect, and along the lines of the building of our Barbadian society and people , I praise the work of Ms. Alissandra Cummins in Barbados’ initiative of presentation to UNESCO of The Historic Garrison. Beyond the historical, cultural and potentially economic value, I view it as a maturing of our nation, the understanding that the Garrison architectural remains constitute the testimony of an era, precisely for Barbados, the sugar era, which drove at some point in history and under very different circumstances all continents to meet in this part of the world. Furthermore, centuries later, the Caribbean people also contribute to this testimony.
- About the Show – Words on the Belles Creoles:
My art somehow derives from a personal interest in Caribbean history and in the understanding of the components of the Caribbean people, I particularly look at the process of creolisation. Ultimately, however, my work is decorative by intention and without political claim or content.
It is festive in the vibrancy of its colors, celebration of a certain Caribbean art de vivre, tropical voluptuousness and languor accentuated by the lively, graceful and majestic presence of foliage ! The bright, vivid oranges are a synthesis of colors around us, in the foliage, the flowers, the fruits, the highlights of a cheek bone, the rim of a straw hat, a ribbon or simply the rays of the sun. They are evocative of the bubbly, personalities of my characters rich in antics and apparels.
The historical component is, omnipresent in my depiction of Belles Creoles: the Chinese fan, the oriental parasol, the hammock, the straw hats, the jewelry, the combinations of facial features, the incredible palette of skin tones. I am also very keen on blue not only as the reminiscence of our skies and sea but as the color of serenity, well-being I feel in my characters.
Caribbean women are a forever rich source of inspiration.
The markets are also very vibrant in their own right, vibrant with movement and rhythm. They are a symbol of Caribbean entrepreneurship and adaptability inherent to our historical components. I also like the fact that women are the main protagonists of these market scenes, they exert the secular fact of intrinsic providing responsibility that we have towards our family.
Markets are an extensive part of my body of work. Whether, I am in Barbados, St Lucia or Grenada, markets never loose their magic. I paint markets for their rhythm and movements. I paint generosity of nature, colors and shape. I actually have difficulty restricting my brushes and extend the enthusiasm to very spontaneous and generous brush strokes. Having spent the last 20 years of my life in the Caribbean and a fair part of it in Barbados, my markets depict subtleties of the Barbadian market in the trays, the hats…