We swore…that we would never leave the island… is the theme of artist Kvita Mongroo’s first solo exhibition of paper collage and mixed media artwork. The Trini-Canadian artist said her work is a product of her experiences and struggles living in two places. The exhibition opened at Soft Box Gallery in St Clair on October 1 and continues to the 15.
Mongroo began studying art at Naparima Girls’ High School, where she was exposed to many different Caribbean artists through gallery visits during CXC and A Levels, and was really inspired by what she saw.
“Even then I dreamed of becoming a Caribbean artist. It was something that really resonated with me, how they captured this island we live on. People like Jackie Hinkson, Lisa O’Connor, they were my heroes then. I wanted to participate in that as well, capturing how we live and what we see, the beauty that’s around us every day that sometimes we take for granted.”
The artist was born in San Fernando and lived there until her family migrated when she was four years old, returning when she was nine. She went to primary and secondary school in TT, and returned to Canada for university where she studied philosophy, public policy, and English Literature.
“I never lost interest in art, I kept it up as a passion and a hobby. My Caribbean roots were always an inspiration. Art was a way of reconnecting all the time. Even if I couldn’t be at home, or be in Trinidad or in the Caribbean, my work was a source of conjuring the memories that stayed with me and then expressing myself.”
She said the subjects she studied come into play in what she chooses to portray in her work and the titles of her pieces.
“The theme We swore…that we would never leave the island…” is an excerpt from Derek Walcott’s poem Another Life from Book II: Homage to Gregorias.
The words express the hold that TT or the Caribbean have on you, and when you leave, you swear you’ll never leave, because it’s your memories, it’s your childhood, and then you come back because there’s something that pulls you back, it plays on your memories. You come back, you may leave again but it’s like you never leave because so many things might trigger a memory in you.
“I remember when I was in Canada and after it would rain, there would be puddles of water on the ground and the sun reflecting in them would take me back to Mayaro beach. And that that would be what I would remember, even on a wet rainy day in November.
“When I was reading Derek Walcott’s work, it was incredible and it expressed for me that unnameable force that keeps the hearts of island people embedded in the beauty that we breathe in every day. And I thought ‘yes, these are the words that will encompass my body of work.’”
Mongroo said this is her first solo show, but she has taken part in group shows before with the TT Art Society, the Rotunda Gallery in the Red House, and Arnim’s Art Galleria.
“Those were really good experiences and gave me exposure and courage to put my work out there and see what the reaction would be, and how people would interpret it. Collage is not the most popular medium and that adds a uniqueness to the way I express the Caribbean.
“I was inspired by collage. I found that the layering process adds depth, and it’s a very meticulous technique that I do. I tear the paper and glue everything together, it’s a process. I don’t use scissors at all, it’s all tearing and it’s a very precise technique. But it gives you a deceptively simple result, it’s colour, pattern, texture.”
Mongroo said she contacted the Derek Walcott Estate for permission to use his work and was gratified that the executors of the estate came to the opening night.
She said living in Canada as a young adult and coming back to TT gave her an understanding of how the Caribbean called people to come home.
“You feel like you want to contribute in some way, you want to come back, you want to bring something back. I want to help people reawaken their awareness in what we have here, and what we should value, what we shouldn’t take for granted.”