Sharda Patasar writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
Old structures and dilapidated buildings have been the focus of many local artists’ work. Trapped in those, rusting galvanised roofs and broken walls is a past glory. They contain memories of a simpler time–communal life, better living–conjuring for us in the present, a sense of nostalgia.
We pass by, mobile phones clicking away at the remnants of that once glorious past as it slowly fades into the shadows of modern buildings. The stories that our photographs never tell are the ones about the lives lived in and around such structures even today. And it is to this end that the exhibition Home is Where the Art Is, becomes relevant to us–highlighting aspects of these untold stories that we rarely pause to see.
Home Is Where The Art Is is a play on the expression “home is where the heart is.” The title of the exhibition can be viewed as a tribute to a family legacy of art, inherited from a father who was a wood sculptor and passed on to his children. Perhaps no one knows better than the three siblings who came together to pool their artistic talents in this fine exhibition that home is indeed where the art is. But art in this case also becomes a comment on this space that we call home, an idea that is constantly in flux. For many, home is an uneasy space and we question, sometimes, exactly what is this thing that we call home and what does it look like?
In this exhibition the siblings Sherlann, Shawn and Nerine Peters, presented a body of work that highlighted the ramshackled, worn houses that have become so embedded in our vision of the Trinidad landscape that we often see them as buildings that once were. “There’s that old colonial house down the road” or “that used to be so and so’s house.” But what we rarely see, are the lives that created, sustained and, in some cases, presently are unable to maintain the physical structures they call home.
In Nerine Peter’s What Lies Behind the Fig Tree, we zoom into the possibilities of the window highlighted in the painting. Which room could it possibly be? What does it contain? A fig tree in front the window grants partial vision both to the viewer looking in as well as whoever might be looking out. In a sense, the painting encapsulates what the exhibition is attempting to rectify – to providing, as a whole, a picture through fragments.
Sherlann Peters’ clay sculptures, in particular, focused on the lives of the people. The fragments of walls, or a piece of a balcony that she constructs under and around the human figure, symbolically produces fragments of daily life which are profound in their depictions. They are 3D portrayals of various aspects of what we generally term the simple life. But, for those still living these lives, their reality is harsher than nostalgia is given to construct. Wash Day and Ah Tired focus on the female in her different roles within the home. Pressure At the Out House is a particularly interesting piece, fine details captured in the seemingly hurried expression on the man’s face, trousers halfway down as he makes his way into the outhouse. It is also a brave portrayal, a natural part of daily life that we rarely see because it is kept so private.
While the old houses highlighted do, indeed, run the risk of romanticising poverty, a fear that the artists themselves have expressed, Sherlann’s sculptures bring us back to the reality of the lives that exist there today. They are reminders that simplicity do not necessarily mean happiness. We can romanticise simplicity because today many of us who do, often have the means to live comfortable lives and so, can indeed romanticise the simple life. The paradox is that, at the core, most people often want simple things – safety, food, health and shelter. But we often forget that those living the simple life in a time where the cost of living is high and social life itself has changed drastically from the early to mid-1900s, can be reduced to poverty. The idea of home assumes a different meaning when the past is unable to keep up with the present and homelessness becomes a real state of being in such cases.
If art represents the imaginative capacity to shape the world that we find ourselves in, then artists become the people who tell the stories that we often do not have the imagination to construct ourselves. It is also commendable that part proceeds from the sale of pieces are to be given to the persons residing in the structures highlighted. This is when art becomes a truly social act.