Soft Box curator takes Trinidad and Tobago art to World Art Dubai

Fishing Village by Peter Shappard. - Photo courtesy Soft Box Gallery. -
Fishing Village by Peter Shappard. - Photo courtesy Soft Box Gallery. -

Soft Box Gallery director and curator Nisha Hosein took the work of seven local artists to an art fair in Dubai earlier in May, exposing them to a new market and opening possibilities for all artists of Trinidad and Tobago.

World Art Dubai was held at the Dubai World Trade Centre from May 1-5 and Hosein was excited as a number of galleries and collectors expressed interest in working with Soft Box and its artists, and buying pieces.

Hosein told Sunday Newsday she experienced a Dubai that was rich in culture with regards to religion, language, food, art and more, yet, the people were very open-minded to other cultures.

Into the Woods III, created with egg tempera and pigment on canvas, by Andrea C Hoffer. - Photo courtesy Soft Box Gallery

She said that culture-rich society meant people could get everything they needed there and, as a result, many did not feel the need to experience the West and was establishing itself as an independent cultural hub for tourism, industry, art and other fields.

“As developed as they are, they are still maintaining their grounding. Respect for their culture was still in the foreground.”

The fair hosted over 10,000 pieces of artwork from over 400 galleries and solo artists in over 60 countries but, most were from Eastern and Asian countries. There were a few from the Americas, including TT, which was the only Caribbean country represented.

The Soft Box Gallery booth was just one of many at World Art Dubai. Photo courtesy Soft Box Gallery. -

There she displayed 26 pieces of art of different styles and media that she felt represented the Caribbean. They included the work of:

Kvita Mongroo, a Trinidadian/Canadian artist whose work primarily focussed on life in the West Indies using collage. Shalini Seereeram, whose usual media were painting, sculpture, illustrations and jewellery, and who uses intricate patterns and dramatic colour contrasts. Her selections at the fair were of wood and mixed media. Tracey Johnson displayed oil on canvas and her work could be described as photo realism with a fusion of surrealism sand abstraction. Christine Norton, a humanist photographer, dealt in mixed media pieces using digital fine art rooted in documentary, history and urban fantasy. German-born Andrea C Hoffer’s work was indigenous to TT and its scenery, and her selections were egg tempera and pigment on canvas. Visual artist and filmmaker Kenderson Noray showed oils on canvas. His paintings were a combination of different styles and techniques such as cubism, abstract expressionism, impressionism and more. And Peter Sheppard, a self-taught artist who was also at the Dubai fair, is known for his attention to detail. His works were inspired by TT’s culture and landscape and his medium was acrylic on canvas.

North Coast Road by artist Kenderson Noray. - Photo courtesy Soft Box Gallery

Hosein said both the organisers and attendees were very impressed by the diversity and quality of work of the TT artists. The country was also a point of interest because very few people knew of TT or where it was, so from the aesthetic of the pieces, many thought the works were from South America or Africa.

“I chose the artists I work with because I think, aesthetically, they would add different viewership to what will represent Caribbean contemporary. I didn't want to go too edgy or too traditional like the washerwoman or cricketers or social commentary. I chose what I thought would have been considered Caribbean contemporary with a twist. So a Caribbean view but with different mediums and subjects presented.”

Sheppard emphasised Hosein’s point about TT being unknown to the people of Dubai.

He said many people could not understand their Trini accents, did not know there was a country called TT or where it was and, did not expect anyone in TT to be showing in Dubai.

Dimanche Gras is a fine art digital composite with deckled edge created by artist Christine Norton. - Photo courtesy Soft Box Gallery

“A lot of people were surprised in a positive way. They were sort of, ‘Thank you so much for being here because we don't usually see gallery representation from the Caribbean. This is new. This is a step forward.’ So it's a positive thing.

“And from that we got a lot of individual feedback from visitors to the booth that we're all having that experience. They were learning where TT was in one sense and, they thanked us for making the effort to bring the work to them.

“I think it was validation for us that our work, our creative output, has a space in this overall global event.”

Sheppard said, in addition to the displays, there were live art performances, workshops sections, and talks so it was very interactive. He described the fair of all-encompassing as appreciated that it included urban or street art as well.

Artist Tracey Johnson’s oil on canvas piece called Placid. - Photo courtesy Soft Box Gallery

There was a main stage where he participated in an art walk in which artists were announced and they would walk on stage with examples of their work. After his walk he did a painting demonstration at the TT booth which brought people to the space where they learned bit about the country.

He said he appreciated that interaction because, in TT and the diaspora, his work was nostalgic as people knew the location of a scene he painted or it reminded them of something or of home.

The works of seven local artists were on display at the Soft Box Gallery booth at the World Art Dubai art fair at the Dubai World Trade Centre. - Photo courtesy Soft Box Gallery

But with an international audience there was no such feeling, so they were connecting to the art itself such as the details, the technique, the style, and the colours.

“The thing you always walk out with at the end of it (art fairs abroad) is the experience you gained while there, hearing what different eyes looking at your work have to say. Not just Caribbean eyes but an international eye, how they interpret the work, what makes them connect to it.”

Frameworks of an Ending by artist Kvita Mongroo. - Photo courtesy Soft Box Gallery

Sheppard said people brought their families and children to the fair and their appreciation for art, and the fact they were extending that appreciation to a younger generation, was important to him.

He said the fair also attracted art influencers, creators and buyers from around the world.

“That alone was a great exchange of information, contacts and experiences, just within the attendees. And we got to meet many interesting people.”

Empress of the Earth, a wooden sculpture by Shalini Seereeram, was on display at World Art Dubai in May 2024. - Photo courtesy Soft Box Gallery

He said when people think of Caribbean art they think of Cuba, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, as those governments were invested in projecting their visual artists. So representing TT at World Art Dubai was an important step. It was beneficial to be part of the experience and make their mark on an international stage.

“Because people now know, when they are thinking about art outside of their normal zone, that such places exist.”

Although she could not attend, Mongroo said it was great to get exposure overseas and to have so many people see her work.

“It’s just this great, new, upcoming network of a whole mix of people. There are a lot of people from many different countries living and working in Dubai so you get exposure on a different level in the Asian area.”

Artist Peter Sheppard, seated, speaks to visitors to World Art Dubai during a demonstration of his painting skills at the Dubai World Trade Centre. - Photo courtesy Peter Sheppard

She said there was a lot of interest in her work as people were not used to her medium of collage. She also appreciated the opportunity to have her work shown and considered alongside more established artists.

Seereeram said initially she was caught off-guard about being selected but as the fair drew closer she started to feel excitement and anticipation.

During the five days of the fair she was extremely curious about what was happening in Dubai, as it was a big new market with people from all over the world who were widely travelled and were in high-income brackets.

“I think they (people in Dubai) were very excited about her (Hosein’s) take on Trinidadian artists to the point where she said she had to go back soon. That gave us an inkling that there were connections she made along the way that would propel a vehicle for all of us artists.

“It makes you feel more confident when you get your work out there and to be received favourably. The reception that she conveyed that we got out there. Knowing that your visual voice is having an impact on a wider audience, it makes you feel more secure in what you are doing and your purpose.”

Seereeram said artists usually knew how to market themselves but it always helped to be backed by a gallery that would propel its artists to showcase in other markets.


"Soft Box curator takes Trinidad and Tobago art to World Art Dubai"

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