THE ARTS JOURNAL
I am pleased to introduce the first issue of The Arts Journal. Within recent times, the absence of a critical tradition has become keenly felt in Guyana, a society long renowned for its outstanding literary and artistic output and scholarship. The need becomes even greater when we note that Visual Art Competitions and Exhibitions are regularly held in Guyana, that a Guyana Prize for Literature is awarded every two years, and that while artists, writers, and winners are publicized in journalistic efforts at the times of these events, critical attantion in the academic press is virtually non-existent.
The first International Conference to be held at the Tain Campus of the University of Guyana (May 2002) -- "The Indian Diaspora: The Global Village"--brought home this delemma forcefully. In addition to the scholarly presentations at that Conference, a Visual Arts Exhibition in keeping with the Conference theme was mounted. It was recognised that the subtle nuances of art and expressive writing coming from distinctive racial strands in the West Indian archipelago were either lost or neglected in what is broadly deemed "mainstream" criticism. Consequently, the subjective experiences of significant portions of our societies remain submerged. When the idea was mooted to a few persons at that Conference that the time was right for an Arts Journal to become a reality, the response was instantly encouraging. It was agreed that more permanent photographic records should be made of the visual arts exhibits and that the research papers should be made accessible to the university community and to the public. We felt that this could only lead to us becoming more conscious of each other and more compassionate and understanding towards each other as we stand at a rich meeting place of diverse cultures to negotiate the crucial questions of identity and belonging. We recognise that other islands of the West Indian archipelago share similar concerns and, also, that a significant portion of the populations of Guyana and the wider Caribbean continue to live, work and produce art in foreign countries; some of the finest works of art have sprung out of exile and displacement. We hope that this Journal would help to bridge the gap.
Readers would not be surprised to find that this first issue gathers at least two of its pieces from that Conference. The Call for Papers did not specify an Indian theme but several papers addressing pertinent issues surrounding Indian-Caribbean experience were received, hence the Indian-Caribbean theme in this first issue. What is of interest is that there would seem to be a dialogue taking place across the presentations, cutting across the disciplines, even though for convenience we attempted to group the papers into literary, history and art sections. Professor Kenneth Ramchand's article speaks to the emergence of a literary consciousness and the evolution of creative writing among Indians in Trinidad and Tobago. His paper foregrounds two seminal figures on the literary landscape - Seepersaud Naipaul, and his son, V.S. Naipaul, now Sir Vidia, and winner of the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature 2001 - who together embody the movement of the Indian from a poorly regarded "primitive pagan" who knew no English upon his arrival in the West Indies, to an acclaimed 'Master of the Novel' within the space of roughly one hundred years. In the 1940s, planter interests in Trinidad and Tobago sought to deprive the Indian population of the franchise on the ground of illiteracy, a move stoutly defended by the educated Indians of the twin island, but it was in this atmosphere that the elder Naipaul's Gurudeva and Other Indian Tales (perhaps defiantly) appeared in 1943 in Trinidad. Selvon was to publish three ground breaking novels within the next decade (A Brighter Sun, 1952; An Island is a World, 1955; and The Lonely Londoners, 1956) before Vidiahar S. Naipaul, fresh out of Oxford, burst on the scene with The Mystic Masseur (1957).
But it was V. S. Naipaul who fired the imagination of the next generation. In spite of the cultural uncertainties and psychic insecurities of V.S. Naipaul detected by Professor Clem Seecharan in his article, it is Naipaul who remains the single most profound influence on Seecharan, who stirred him to the power, beauty, and the truths contained in the arts. In his paper, Seecharan seeks correspondences between himself and Naipaul and admires the latter, above all, for "his intelligence and insight, and for the clarity and elegance of his style."
At least three of the papers speak directly to Indian Caribbean female experience. While Alim Hosein explores sexual identity as it impinges on the struggle for independence and self-definition in two novels, Rooplall Monar's Janjhat and Oonya Kempadoo's Buxton Spice, both set in a society struggling to break out of the stranglehold of the "brutal paternalism of the estate culture" in Guyana, my own paper analyses the growth to awareness of the Indian adolescent female in Jan Shinebourne's The Last English Plantation. This work presents a heroine who openly rebels against colonialism and its "civilizing" agents and who struggles to reclaim the devalued cutural forms of the Indian. These two papers illuminate the symbiotic struggle the inner and outer turmoil taking place at the levels of the individual and society. Professor Verene Shepherd, whose paper, "Indian Indentured WOmen in the Caribbean: Ethnicity, Class and Gender", appears in the history section, marshals detailed documentary evidence to support her potent argument that of all the ethnicities imported from the three continents (Africa, China, India) to provide bonded labour for the region's sugar plantation, Indian women appear to have been the most exploited.
Dr. Brinsley Samaroo's article, "The 1862 'Mutiny' aboard the Guyana-bound Clasmerden", delves into a grey area of Indian experience; accounts of the voyage on board a ship transporting indentured workers from India to their workplace in the Caribbean. Very few of the ships' captains kept diaries, their reports mainly confined to the statistics of their "human cargo" whilst eye-witness accounts of these youages are very rare indeed. Dr Samaroo was no doubt encouraged to the research and reconstruction of events abord the Clasmerden following the publication of The Clipper Ship Sheila (1995), eds. Kenneth Ramchand and Brinsley Samaroo, which offers a poignant account of one such voyage to Trinidad in 1877. This paper enriches our knowledge and understanding of the nature and condition of Indian survival and existence since the exodus from India.
After the arrival of the Clasmerden, allegedly bearing sepoys from the 1857 Indian Mutiny, a marked increase of disturbances, strikes, and violence was felt and sustained on some plantations in the then British Guiana. Tota Mangar's monograph offers a fairly graphic account of the social evolution of Indian Guianese society two decades after the arrival of the militant men of the Clasmerden. Perhaps due to a combination of Indian militancy and the humane approach of Governor Henry Turner Irving (1882-1887), several reforms were introduced; among the chief victories were: an innovative land settlement scheme, a more reliable system of interpretation in the Courts, and registration of indentured marriages. Mangar explains: "The late 1880s and 1890s witnessed a gradual movement from the estates as immigrants began to buy, rent, or even squat on land along the coastal plain. These settlements became inextricably bound to the emerging rice industry as well as cash crops cultivation, cattle rearing and milk selling", all of which signaled the emergence of an Indian Guianese peasantry.
The Curatorial Statement to the May 2002 Visual Arts Exhibition entitled Under The Seventh Sun, and my own Overview of the Exhibition, make the case that during the last half-century there has been a general flowering of the arts in Guyana and the Indian strand has contributed a body of the most penetrating works, both literary and visual, that speak directly to its social and cultural reality. But, as often happens in plural societies, the creative efforts of some segments of society tend to be trivialized in the struggle for cultural dominance. Thus, the subtleties of the unique stream of art produced by Indians have been largely ignored or subsumed in the accounts of Guyana and the Caribbean.
Nonetheless, The Arts Journal is a journal of the literature, art and culture of Guyana and the English-speaking Caribbean. Papers describing the masquerade band tradition in Guyana and other forms of music in the Caribbean are at hand but, in the interest of thematic unity in this issue, those papers will appear in our next issue.
This Journal aims to encourage research and widen scholarship in respect of those works seemingly lost to us through the passage of time.
I hope you find this first issue of The Arts Journal both instructive and enjoyable.