AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Sarah Beckett and my exhibition, Angels, opens this week.
I couldn’t say where I “come from” in Trinidad. But I would like my ashes thrown at the end of the road in Blanchisseuse, where it gets very dreamy.
I grew up in England. My father was Anglo-Irish. But I don’t think I’m any relation to (Irish writer) Samuel Beckett.
I married a Trini – that romance only lasted three years – and came down here by boat. I didn’t even know where Trinidad was before I sat on a packing case on the docks – which, in those days, were rough – in a blue-and-white dress I’d made.
I was just 20 and had three small, screaming children all under the age of two. I couldn’t understand a word anyone said. We lived in Picton Street.
“You have sailed with a furious soul far from your father’s house, beyond the double rocks of the sea and you live in a foreign land.” (Athenian playwright) Euripides wrote that in 431BC. I read that and thought, “Yeah, I did.”
Though I’d been painting solidly since I was 11 or 12, I was very unformed as an artist. I was very lucky. The great artists of the time – Pat Chu Foon, (Isaiah James) Boodhoo, Sonnilal Ramkissoon, Boscoe (Holder) – took me under their wing and I learnt ENORMOUSLY!
Poetry can be very dangerous. Derek Walcott has a lot to answer for (in me). In Omeros, Walcott writes, “England seemed to him to be merely the place of his birth. How odd to prefer, over its pastoral sites.. . these loudmouth forests on their illiterate heights. Others could read it as going back to the bush but harbour after harbour closed his wound.”
How could I not live here?
I went back to Europe for financial reasons, but Trinidad (remained) my reference point. Even when I was living in England, I was painting Trinidad.
I knew I’d be able to get my kids into university on (student) grants in those halcyon days. When the kids went to university, I came back full-time.
I was introduced to the Church of England in a rather prim twinset-and-pearls, “one doesn’t talk about God” sort of way. After many years of inner conflict, in some mysterious way, music led me to become a Catholic.
“Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief.” (Mark,9:23)
Trinidad is sexy. It’s sensual. But it lacks a lexicon of Romance, with a capital r.
(Calypsonian Timothy Watkins Jnr) Baron sang romantic songs. And (recording artist David) Rudder brought out some quite romantic tunes.
But on the whole, the music of Trinidad is not romantic. So I decided to paint the Romance with a capital r of Trinidad.
What is truly distressing is, I don’t think there is any civic aesthetic in Trinidad. Port of Spain is a dump! I’m apoplectic about what they’ve done to Maracas. It was the loveliest experience, to drive over that gorgeous North Coast Road and come round the bend (to see) the bay. And now they’ve built these beige cell blocks, as if it’s a prison, and parts of the sand have been concreted. It is a shanty. That goddess beach has been violated.
I know a Trini man who was packed off to boarding school in England when he was 11 or 12 and came back to Trinidad after 40 years. He said the first two years back were really difficult.
But then, he does have family here. Which is very often the reason Trinis leave in the first place.
Sometimes Trinis need to get out, to breathe. Part of the reason I left was because I was very quickly becoming established as a serious painter. And, at some kind of (subconscious) level, I thought, “I’m too young to be at this stage!” I need to fight up!
So I went back to college in England for three years. It was the right decision, even though it didn’t feel like a proper decision.
Trinidad was on the verge of defining itself in a coherent, intellectually sound, political way when Oil came. And suddenly, it was, “We’re rich, we can travel, we can do anything we want!”
The money overrode everything, that whole highly-educated, well-travelled generation of razor-sharp minds – all of that just got trodden upon.
Music has a really, really important effect on people. And, if our music is whatever comes out of American ghettoes and American prisons, what does that say about us? Where is the lyricism?
Muhammad Muwakil (of Freetown Collective) blows my mind! Now that man can write!
The problem is that the people who are bringing out the tunes are just shouting.
The fetes at the Boy Scout Association Headquarters are lethal for the people of Cascade/St Ann’s.
There is the technology to baffle sound so you can have an outdoor fete that doesn’t (shatter eardrums for miles). But if you ask them to turn the music down, they get so vexed! It’s deafening people!
I try to get out of town for Carnival now.
I have been developing this Angels theme since 2004, originally inspired by the Frescoes of Fra Angelico, the early Renaissance Florentine Dominican friar (1385-1455).
Who send me? The work process has carried me further than I could have imagined, into beautiful, demanding and ever-widening circles of learning.
I wanted to express the idea of angels beyond the monastic Christian tradition: angels that hover beneath palm trees, float over the Northern range, sit on the banks of the Caroni, play drums in Aripo. Angels that dance in Paramin, hang out in Blanchisseuse, that celebrate not only Christianity, but, equally, Hinduism, Islam, Rastafarianism, the Baptists and Orisha.
To say what a Trini is would require talking for two hours or writing a tome. In a sentence, a Trini is a contradiction.
Tobago doesn’t really mean anything to me, but Trinidad is my muse. That’s the truth of it.
Read the full version of this feature on Wednesday at www.BCPires.com.
Angels opens at the GD Gallery, Maraval, on October 18