Traditionally female artists were not as recognised as their male counterparts until the end of the 20th century. However archaeological and scholarly research lends to the belief that the world’s first artists were indeed female. In TT Fraulein Rudder formed The Women in Art Organization (WIA) in 1996 in an effort to provide more exposure and recognition for the contribution of women to the arts. Though Rudder retired from the organisation in 2012, she has left her legacy for others to follow in her 16 years of leadership.
The passion for the artists’ craft is evident as I am greeted by radiant smiles as I walk into Chi Studio located on 30A Gatacre Street, Woodbrook, Trinidad’s latest art studio owned by Reah Lee Sing who has partnered with the WIA to host the organisation’s 21st annual flagship group art exhibition. I am welcomed by current president and artist Michelle Tappin-Davis along with two of the exhibitors Stacy Phillip and Yvette Simon.
WIA patron and former First Lady Mrs Zalayhar Hassanali was present at the opening reception which took place on August 28 and the final day for viewing and purchasing art is September 9. This year’s theme is Thread which is intended to mean, “We are women in art and we are the thread that links the past to the future.” The challenge trophy for most outstanding overall work was awarded to retired primary school principal Virginia Pacifique-Marshall for her paintings, Smoke Ceremony and Water Ritual. Notable to mention is the inclusion of the photo memoir Art for the People of prolific artist, author and social activist Valerie Belgrave posthumously.
A visual arts secondary school teacher by day, Tappin-Davis shares that 53 pieces of art from 22 female artists were submitted and accepted into this year’s show through the jurying and curating process conducted by Ethiopian-born artist Turunesh Raymond. The art ranges from oil, acrylic, watercolour, dry media (pencil, pastels, pen and ink), textile, jewellery, mixed media, quilling, wire bending and ceramics.
“I want to encourage female artists to produce more art and for WIA artists to become even more successful. My definition of success is happiness and I believe that one is truly happy when they are doing what they love and doing it well,” Tappin-Davis says.
“Many of the artists wear many hats, but at the core they are creatives. My goal is to provide additional encouragement for them to hone their technical skills to achieve success through the joys of earning a living while making art. We also want to inspire younger artists to pursue excellence in their craft through workshops, plein air (outdoor) sessions and community/volunteer projects,” the president says.
WIA also partners with the Ministry of Education to host another major event which is their Bi-annual Art Competition and exhibition held in March and open to forms five and six secondary school students. They share that though participation had been great throughout Trinidad, WIA plans to encourage greater involvement from schools in Tobago.
Tappin-Davis shares that many members over the years were able to successfully launch their careers and businesses through some form of support from the female community at WIA. These include Anya Ayoung Chee who won the prize for "most experimental work" at the Bi-annual Art Competition and exhibition while a student at Bishop’s Anstey High School. She continued to excel on the international stage as the winner of Project Runway Season 9 and pursue her passion as a designer with her own label.
One may ask the question: can art really be sustainable in our economy especially in a recession? The ladies volunteer a resounding yes with personal success stories, as well as from other members who have made art their sole career. “The entrepreneurs work in multiple creative genres to make it sustainable. Art is an investment and there are many collectors of art who support the WIA,” Tappin-Davis explains.
Members who have made a successful career from their art include, but are not limited to the following: Marsha Trepte of Weecreate Concepts Ltd and Beverly Fitzwilliam-Harries, however these artists share with the Newsday that it is a necessity for artists to have a joint income in order to be completely sustainable, especially in these times.
The two teachers present at the gallery express their love for teaching and while they would like to pursue their art full time, they share that the rewards of teaching are priceless. “When you motivate young people and they display excitement and passion, you feel a joy and fulfilment! I am amazed by the talent of students and as teachers we also learn in the process and incorporate it our craft.” Phillips shares.
Phillip loves doing work on canvas and texturizing and she started drawing at the age of five when she began emulating her sister with figure drawing, later placing first in an art competition while at primary school.
The president shares that although the rewards of being an artist outweigh the challenges; as an artist with a full time job, you must strike a balance to find creative ways to manage your time to dedicate towards your craft. “As an organisation, we are also working on finding a space to call our own to host meetings, workshops and exhibitions, as well as sourcing funding for our projects as an NGO.”
Yvette Simon who paints in watercolours, returned to painting after a vacation in Tobago the same year she learnt of her son’s terminal illness. “In an attempt to regain some degree of happiness, I decided to return to art since I was able to absorb the pain and receive satisfaction from seeing my work come to life and it also brought solace to my son. I see beauty all around me and I want my work to be happy and reflect the joy in life and nature,” she reflects.
The artists explain that enrolling in WIA is a way to share costs in order to exhibit and market their work collectively, since the art is curated and prevents the artists’ work from getting lost in a crowd. Marketing efforts are also multiplied by its 100 plus members. Tappin-Davis explains that WIA recently introduced associate membership for students 18+ as well as both genders who are indirectly affiliated with art/artists. “Our intention is not to separate women from their families and loved ones, since we need the support.”
You can find more of Carolyn Correia’s writing at www.carolyncorreia.com