Vaneisa: Inside the Labyrinth; how art can help save lives in T&T

On 16 May, the Central Bank Museum launched an exhibition of the late Glen Roopchand’s art.

Roopchand, whose work is perhaps most publicly visible in his rendition of Carlisle Chang’s The Inherent Nobility of Man, which is on display at the Piarco International Airport, died in July 2022.

Glen Roopchanchand’s rendition of Carlisle Chang’s The Inherent Nobility of Man at the Piarco International Airport.
(via Rubadiri Victor)

The collection is called Repatriation – A New Beginning, and it features completed pieces being shown for the first time. It runs until 14 June.

Curated by his friend of 50 years, Andy Jacob, the pieces are described as “two-dimensional paintings with relief surfaces built up of both traditional and non-traditional objects”. They had been done at his studio in New Jersey in the USA, where he spent most of his time.

Addressing the gathering, Nimah Muwakil-Zakuri, the Museum’s powerhouse of a curator, described the onerous and costly task of bringing his artwork back into the country of his birth.

Central Bank Museum curator Nimah Muwakil-Zakuri.

It sounded so expensive and daunting that it seemed only a large institution could afford such an undertaking—and then only with absolute perseverance.

There was something distressing and sad about her plea for government intervention to do something to make the process more accommodating for artists.

It reminded me of the vexing plight of booksellers and the difficulties they face because of the imposition of VAT on the importation of books. Having recently become aware of the way this tax has affected the livelihood of those in the wilting industry, I am bewildered by why this state of affair continues.

Have we become so alienated from the notion that exposure to the arts, to books, and other expressions of the life of the mind is the foundation of a civilisation?

Are we satisfied that the way we live now represents a society that is recognised for its thoughtful and sensitive acts?

The Central Bank Museum.

The life of the mind—a way of living that enables us to process information through analysis—has become a rare aspect of the way we conduct ourselves in our daily existence.

We can lump it all together in the overworked word, education, but even in the way that tired word is bandied about, it has lost the timbre of its meaning. For what does it mean to be educated?

Many definitions emphasise the process of learning, teaching, training; acquiring knowledge, values, skills and understanding. The word is hefty, and like many similarly abused words (awesome, nice, great), it has been so diluted that it’s lost its resonance.

Image: Another look at education.

Do we see a museum, a library, an archive, a bookshop as a place providing an education? What about a hike, a game, a movie, a conversation? Or do we only connect it with the conventional types of educational institutions (and certification)?

Exposure to events and things that make us think beyond the superficial is what develops the mind, allows us to better understand the complexity of the world we inhabit.

No child comes into this world with evil intent. Yet we are shaped early by our environments and experiences.

Students unwind after taking the 2023 Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exams.
Photo: Ministry of Education

Scratch the surface and you can see the scars that have been etched into the personalities of those who have been neglected, abused and deprived of opportunity to engage the beauty that exists so close, but so painfully out of sight.

In her powerful book, Wishing for Wings, Debbie Jacob shared stories of the lives of inmates at the YTC (the Youth Training Centre, a sort of remand yard). Everyone should read it. Everyone.

She wrote of the impact of exposing the boys to opera at Queen’s Hall, and how the experience was so surreal for them. One wrote about its impact.

The cover of Wishing for Wings.

“Everything amazed me. I was like a lost puppy in the city. I couldn’t even speak. I was just looking around at everyone. They were speaking with accents and wearing expensive jewelry. I felt a little out of place thinking that these people are all rich and I came from jail.”

By the end of the night, he knew he wanted to have more operatic experiences.

Noble Philip wrote in a Sunday Express column on 21 April about a field trip with some young boys (he spends his Saturdays with them).

An art exhibit by Shalini Singh at the Central Bank Museum.

“I was in a maxi-taxi going to Blanchisseuse with some young men, and they were ‘ooh-ing’ and excitedly pointing out the majestic poui trees dotting our hills. Then, the Saut D’eau coastline came into view with its blue waters. An unbelievable sight for them. They had never seen a sea with this colour and could not believe it was in Trinidad.

“[…] The young men and adults from the Saturday field trip form a valuable group. These adults are working to help the young men look up and see the skies and not be burdened by the dirty drains and terrible lives in their neighbourhood.

“These men and women fuel me to continue trying to help our youth not get entangled with crime.”

A stunning image of the Queen’s Park Savannah.
(via Dennis De L:a Rosa)

A man in his forties, loud, brash and a bit of a bad-john, confided in me that he can barely read. He masks his shame by avoiding environments where it might be exposed. You can imagine the company he keeps; he is not proud of it, but he regrets his rough and abusive childhood and wants better for his son.

They say time is longer than twine, I wish I had a twine long enough to tie everything together so we can see how it’s all connected.

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