Island Beat (January/February 1996)

Events people in the news around the islands

A new look for the Por of Spain waterfront. Photograph courtesy Urban Development CorporationAmerindian artefacts, some more than 4,000 years old, on display at the Tobago Museum. Photograph by Kenneth LeeAt the Dougaldston processing house, rails are used to roll out the nutmeg drying rocks. Photograph by Edward Barrow.Frank Taylor: Mummy, one of the eggs drop an’ brek (1985, Barbados Gallery of Art). Photograph courtesy Norma TalmaGrenada spices. Photograph by Edward BarrowJoscelyn Gardener: Lambis Arthritica (1984, Barbados Gallery of Art). Photograph courtesy Norma TalmaKarl Broodhager: Hartley (1975, National Art Collection, Barbados Gallery of Art). Photograph courtesy Norma TalmaLawerence Edwards: Jacon and the Angel (1972-4, guango wood, 7 ft.; courtesy Chelsea Galleries). Photograph courtesy Tina SpiroPart of the Eastern Caribbean’s newest and biggest shopping complex in TrinidadSorting nutmegs at Grenville. Photograph by Edward BarrowThe Tobago Museum is part of the Fort King George complex high above Scarborough. Photograph by Kenneth Lee

BARBADOS AIMS FOR A NATIONAL GALLERY

A major new art gallery opens in Barbados this year, and could become the centre of a national art collection.

There are already three major art collections in the island. The Barbados Museum and Historical Society, established in 1933, is housed in part of the old Garrison complex on the edge of Bridgetown; its major holdings are prints, dating from the 16th century onwards, and reflecting the landscape, buildings and social life of Barbados. (Interestingly, in the age before spy planes and satellites, military officers produced both prints and water-colours of the Barbados landscape for military use.)

There are important 19th century works by Brunias, depicting in detail the social life of a cross-section of Barbados. The Museum also holds mid-20th century paintings by such pioneers of Barbadian art as Robert McLeod, Briggs Clarke, Ivan Payne and Aileen Hamilton.

The National Cultural Foundation is also a major collector. Created in 1984 largely to collect national art, it quickly completed an inventory of the work owned by the Barbados government in parliament, government offices, schools and libraries. The Foundation’s own collection includes a wide range of painting and sculpture. So valuable parts of the potential National Collection are held at the Foundation’s headquarters, and at the official residences of the Governor-General and the Prime Minister.

The new gallery due to open early this year — the Barbados Gallery of Art — is housed in a beautiful building within the historic Garrison area, not far from the Museum, and made available by the Barbados Turf Club. It aims to become the Barbadian equivalent of Jamaica’s National Gallery.

The project evolved out of the Art Collection Foundation, which was established in 1985 as a private entity (and is now also known as the Barbados Gallery of Art). Work proceeded rapidly, with annual exhibitions juried by an international panel and acquisitions funded by the business community. The major concern has been to acquire contemporary Barbadian art — the collection already represents nearly 40 artists and more than 130 works, and includes extensive documentation.

For visitors who know that a country’s art offers a glimpse of its real personality, this is going to be a major new attraction.

– Stanley Greaves


SIFTING THROUGH THE SAND

“We collect everything,” says Edward Hernandez. “We don’t throw away anything.”

One look around Tobago’s small museum — where Hernandez is curator — confirms this policy. Amerindian, colonial and military artefacts, historic maps, charts and paintings run shoulders with rocks, fossils, shells, stamps, coins, domestic objects, colonial documents, and relics from plantation and slave days in Tobago and Africa.

Upstairs are maps and display boards, and a cleverly housed (but depressing) indenture document which the visitor can scroll through. An Amerindian canoe dominates the ground floor; in one display case a small African carving nestles between an emblem of the 1st Demerara Militia and a Shako badge of the 89th Regiment, 2nd Battalion of Royal Fuliliers, stationed in Tobago from 1836 to 1839. All three objects were found at the same site.
I’m not surpised when Hernandez recalls the advice given to him by Surinamese historian Lou Lichtveld: collect every grain of sand into a heap, then sort it through with great care. This is what Hernandez is doing.

The museum delves back into Amerindian settlement as far back as 2,500 B.C., and carefully traces the many people who succeeded them, including the early European settlers — among them the Dutch and Courlanders from today’s Latvia — and the Africans who accompanied them.

The Tobago Museum is on an attractive hilltop site above Scarborough, part of the Fort King George complex; it’s a lovely spot, lush with exora, hibiscus and oleander. The Atlantic breeze whistles through the Museum windows; you can see for miles along the Tobago coast, right across the town of Scarborough at the foot of the hill, and inland to Signal Hill and French Fort. Outside the curator’s office, a schoolboy in uniform stands in the shade sucking a mango; his school trip today may seem routine, but one day he will remember this idyllic spot with nostalgia.

Hernandez calls the Museum a learning institution, not just a collection of artefacts; it caters for researchers, especially archeologists. Nearly 8,000 people, including 1,800 children, visited it in 1994. This year Hernandez hopes to add extra space to house the offices plus a lecture room and library.
When I found him, Hernandez — himself a well-known artist — was carefully lettering large labels for a banquet table to be used at the launching of Tobago’s annual Heritage Festival. He and his tiny staff do everything themselves to keep the Museum running smoothly — and it shows: the place is spotless and orderly.

The Museum began at the Mount Irvine hotel on Tobago’s west coast after pre-Columbian artefacts were discovered there during construction of a championship golf course. In 1992 the Museum was inaugurated under the Tobago Trust. Its present hilltop site is so rich in history itself that it seems the perfect place for a museum. The British started building a military barracks on Scarborough Hill, above the island’s little capital, in 1777, at a time of great Anglo-French rivalry. The French seized Tobago four years later and in 1784 started building a fort which they named Fort Castries — it was later called Fort République and Fort Liberté after a military revolt. The British snatched it back in 1793, lost it to the French in 1801, and finally regained it in 1803. They called the installation Fort Scarborough, and in 1804 renamed it after King George. They kept a garrison there until 1854.

Today, Fort King George is one of the loveliest spots in Tobago, and the Museum nestles beside it: this is one trip not to miss when you’re in Tobago.

Margaret Watts


Trinidad’s Grand Bazaar

They don’t call it a shopping mall or even a shopping centre. They call it a city. And the Grand Bazaar promises to be the biggest shopping complex – sorry, city – in the Eastern Caribbean when it opens around now.

You’ll find it outside Port of Spain, at the point where the east-west highway from the airport to the capital crosses the north-south highway to San Fernando. It takes its name from the huge shopping complexes you can find in certain Middle Eastern cities, designed as large bazaars. The man behind the TT$90 million project – Anthony Sabga, chairman of Trinidad and Tobago’s Ansa McAI group – saw how the idea could be adapted to the Caribbean, and the site has been taking shape with a Middle Eastern look interwoven with a neo-Spanish Colonial theme.

The buildings are low-rise, not more than two storeys high, with graceful arches and tile roofs. Apart from shopping, the project includes a range of entertainment and leisure facilities, restaurants, a bandstand, a viewing tower, an elegant central piazza, and even tour guides to help you find your way around. Next time in Trinidad, check it out.


ON THE WATERFRONT

One of the small eccentricities of Trinidad and Tobago’s capital, Port of Spain, has always been the way it has turned its back on the sea, putting barriers of buildings and dockfront between the city and the water which is its natural frontier.

But much is changing in Port of Spain these days. For one thing, the whole of Independence Square — the city’s natural centre, which for many years had been a bazaar of traders’ booths, derelict sheds, parking lots and competing maxi-taxis — has been transformed into a cool, shady, tree-lined boulevard named after the nation’s cricketing hero Brian Lara, and has immediately and proudly been taken to the nation’s heart.

For another, Trinidad and Tobago’s new Director of Tourism — Bahamas-born Cliff Hamilton — has decided to sing the praises of Port of Spain as the Caribbean’s most cosmopolitan city, the region’s arts and entertainment capital, and the main focus for visitors to Trinidad (as distinct from Tobago).

After some initial bemusement, Port of Spain has warmed to the idea: after all, this is a city is spilling over with music of all sorts, with steelbandsmen and calypsonians and song-writers, with dub and rap artists and binghi experts, parang groups and chutney singers, panyards and calypso tents, not to mention poets and playwrights, dancers and fashion designers, art exhibitions, ingenious restaurants and heaven knows what else.

A new construction boom is under way in Port of Spain too, which is going to transform the face of the city in the next few years. One of the most ambitious projects is an International Conference Complex which will include the headquarters of the newly-formed Association of Caribbean States. Complete with helipad, five-star hotel, restaurants and shopping mall, and integrated into the Cruise Ship Terminal, this complex is going to make the Port of Spain waterfront area unrecognisable.

And, apart from anything else, it will at last open the city to the sea.


COLLECTORS’ KINGSTON

One of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean is the thriving Jamaican art scene centered in the island’s capital, Kingston. There, a cadre of talented and sophisticated artists, Jamaican by birth or adoption, is supported by an enthusiastic public; collectors arrive at art galleries hours or even days early to have their pick of paintings, sculptures and ceramics which are noted for their high quality, spiritual content and reasonable prices.

The arrival in Jamaica in 1922 of Edna Manley, wife of future premier Norman Manley, marked the beginning of a contemporary Jamaican art movement. As a young artist from England, she found inspiration in the people and land of Jamaica, and encouraged young artists to develop their talents. She founded the Jamaica School of Art, now named the Edna Manley School for the Visual Arts, which trains artists from the Caribbean and occasionally other parts of the world. The school is part of Kingston’s Cultural Training Centre, a complex devoted to the visual and performing arts.

The National Gallery of Jamaica was established in 1974 by Prime Minister Michael Manley, Edna’s son, and hosts local, regional and international exhibitions in downtown Kingston. Corporate and private collectors attend frequent openings in private galleries, which maintain high professional standards.

Uptown, Bolivar Gallery, Chelsea Galleries, the Frame Centre Gallery, Grosvenor Gallery and the Mutual Life Gallery offer exciting schedules of Jamaican, Caribbean and Latin American art. Chelsea Galleries, with SuperClubs Resorts, maintains galleries at Grand Lido (Negril) and Jamaica, Jamaica (Runaway Bay), to expose and promote Jamaican fine art in the resort areas. Jamaica has also become an important venue for the acclaimed Contemporary Art of Cuba, and is a frequent venue for artists’ workshops. The Xaymaca Workshop is an international artists’ retreat held outside Kingston (where the resulting exhibition is mounted).

There are over 300 professional Jamaican artists, at least 30 of whom have international recognition — a very high ratio for a small Caribbean country of less than three million people. Individual styles are varied, with each artist pursuing fiercely independent visions. Some young artists have embraced expressionism, while others follow more traditional trends in academic realism, surrealism, magical realism, abstraction, matter painting, mixed media adventures, photography, native wood sculpture and intuitive art (no Jamaican artist would agree to being called “primitive”). An exciting array of ceramics is also available in the galleries.

Women artists equal in number or exceed the male mainstream artists in Jamaica, and traditionally have a strong voice and influence on younger artists. The Dean of Visual Arts and the Director of Studies at Edna Manley College are both women artists.

Among Jamaica’s major contemporary artists are Carl Abrahams, David Boxer, Hope Brooks, Margaret Chen, Albert Chong, Karl “Jerry” Craig, Milton George, Amy Laskin, Bryan McFarlane, Seya Parboosingh, George Rodney, Tina Spiro, Samere Tansley, Lloyd van Pitterson (now deceased) and Barry Watson. Woody Joseph, Ervin Nichol, Everald Brown and Alan Zion are among the most popular intuitives.

Ceramics proliferate, with Cecil Baugh, Norma Harrack, Jag Mehta and Gene Pearson firing the spirits of a younger generation. Sculpture is enjoying something of a renaissance with the internationally acclaimed Lawrence Edwards, Christopher Gonzales, the late Alvin Marriot, Petrona Morrison, Basil Watson and Raymond Watson as major exponents.

Tina Spiro with Sandra Moodie      


SPICY

You sometimes hear Grenada called “the Spice Isle”. But spices are historically an industry of the East: what are they doing in the Caribbean?

Grenada is the one Caribbean island with a significant spice industry, mainly nutmeg. The story is that the plant was introduced about 150 years ago by a doctor who had lived in the East and had developed a taste for grated nutmeg sprinkled on his Sunday-morning Planter’s Punch; he had called his estate Penang, and saw no reason why it shouldn’t produce the spice he needed. Grenada at the time was a sugar island like its neighbours: but nutmeg thrived in its well-watered, dark volcanic soil and quickly became an important crop.

Other spices came to the Caribbean as botanical samples, or with African slaves or Indian indentured labourers. They were not used simply to add flavour to food: before refrigeration and canning, their primary use was to preserve meat. They were also prized for medicinal properties — many older people in the West Indies used to keep a nutmeg close to the skin in the belief that it helped ward off illness.

Today, nutmeg accounts for about half of Grenada’s agricultural export earnings. The only other substantial producer is Indonesia: the two countries control the market between them through supply and pricing agreements.

You cannot miss the nutmeg trees growing on Grenada’s steep slopes, their fruit hanging down like peaches. The mature fruit splits in half to reveal a brown nut covered with a fragile orange lace-like membrane: the membrane produces another spice called mace, while the nut yields the nutmeg. The ripe fruit are collected from the ground, and the nutmeg and mace are separated and dried. After about eight weeks the seed has shrunk and rattles inside the outer shell; it is ground to produce powdered nutmeg.

One of Grenada’s biggest nutmeg processing stations is in the coastal town of Grenville, a wooden structure like a dimly-lit aircraft hangar and filled with the heady aromatic smell of spice. At the front of the building a small army of women sorters sift and grade the nutmegs, while at the back of the building, on raised platforms in the rafters, wooden drying racks are packed with shiny seeds which are regularly turned to ensure even drying. Sacks of drying spice are piled up to the ceiling, while large wooden boxes contain the drying mace.

At smaller processing plants, like the one at Dougaldston Estate near Gouyave, the nutmegs dry out on racks mounted on rails, which can be pulled into the sun or stored below the building in bad weather. There is an antique still which is used to extract nutmeg oil.

Nutmeg is not Grenada’s only spice: cinnamon and cloves are processed too, and oil from the leaves of the bay tree, which is found in many of the islands, is the basis of Bay Rum, which is definitely not for drinking but is used as a balm or antiseptic (some claim it makes the hair grow) as well as a kitchen spice.

Spices make really unusual gifts; if you’re visiting Grenada, you’ll have no trouble finding samples to surprise the folks back home.

– Edward Barrow