CASTELLANI House came alive Thursday evening as Indigenous artists from across the country paid homage to John Peter Bennett, a well-known Lokono Priest and linguist.
Speaking at the launch of the exhibition, internationally acclaimed artist George Simon noted that this is the first time that the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs have collaborated on such an event.
Expressing his reason for choosing to pay homage to Father Bennett, Simon noted that after reading the works of Bennett, particularly the Arawak-English dictionary, “immediately it dawned on me that it would be an ideal occasion to pay homage to Father John P. Bennett and his conscientious and thorough work on such a wonderful dictionary. Undoubtedly, [it is] a great contribution to preserve the Lokono culture.”
Whereas in the past the exhibition was dedicated to the works of painters and sculptors, on this occasion the exhibition will also feature the works of craftsmen and women. It was revealed that some of the craftsmen and women will be at the exhibition showing patrons how they made specific items. The exhibition, Simon explained, will be a very interactive one.
“Craft work is integral to Indigenous people’s lives. The fine arts emerged from the making of utility objects and sculptures in wood developed from the fashioning of items like canoes, mortar and pestle, walking sticks, paddles, “hesso” [a wooden spatula used for spreading cassava flour on the baking pan when making cassava bread] gauge-pins [which are inserted in holes drilled into the canoe to gauge the even thickness of the vessel], arrow points and bows, flutes, stools, and a wooden tool to smooth fibre for weaving fans,” he disclosed.
Dr Vivian Baharalli, the grand-daughter of Father John Bennett, whilst reflecting on the time she had spent with Father Bennett, noted that even though he had spent so much of his time reading and writing, his priority had always been spending time with his family.
She related that he was lovingly called ‘Papi’ by many, and among his favourite pastimes with his grandchildren was in making soap, glue, and even doing some tailoring.
Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs Sydney Allicock, explained that the indigenous peoples have contributed very much to the development of Guyana. He noted: “We need to seek to identify the talents our youngsters possess, and to encourage them towards achieving excellence.”
One of the issues which he stressed as needing attention was the re-introduction of art into the school system. He also related that he would like to see families “put down their gadgets” and return to being a family.
Minister Allicock assured present and upcoming artists that they have the support of his ministry, while also stating that “in attracting these specialists, age must not be a hindrance.”
Education Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine echoed his colleague’s words by assuring the artists present of the support of his ministry. He, too, noted that a lot of work needs to be done to bring back sports, music and creative arts into the school’s curriculum.
“This work of transformation will require a lot of work”, Minister Allicock noted. He said that one of the steps which should be immediately looked at is having schools visit the exhibition at the Castellani House.
“February 2016 will mark 25 years for the moving circle of Indigenous artists in Guyana, but this exhibition is by far the best display of our Indigenous arts,” Alim Hosein, Chairman of Castellani House, explained.
Hosein urged all to make time and visit the exhibition, which continues daily until September 30. (Rebecca Ganesh)