In Pakuri (St Cuthbert’s Mission) in the early 1990s, Guyanese artist and archaeologist George Simon began a movement to promote and encourage indigenous art and artists. Its name was the Moving Circle of Artists. It led to various outreach projects, including fellow artist Ozzie Hussein spending a year volunteering at Surama and around Rockview Lodge – training artists and creating totum poles.
One of the artists Hussein discovered during his travels was Surama-based Victor Captain, who has since exhibited his work widely – including at Guyana’s national gallery, Castellani House. Earlier this year, Simon’s dream came full circle as Captain joined a group of young artists and other volunteers on a similar expedition: to bring art to Rewa village in the North Rupununi.
The group of seven included Captain, artist and designer Nigel Butler, archaeologist and historian Andrew Campbell, environmentalist and team coordinator Hadeyyah Asgar, and artists Wilkie George, Ransford Simon and Jerry Marco. Support and guidance was provided by George Simon, as well as Anna Iles, Rtd Major General Joe Singh and David Yhann – owner of The Courtyard on Robb Street, where the Onhare festival of indigenous art took place in September 2017.
But the project was propelled along and ultimately brought to fruition by the enterprising young group – as their presentation as Moray House last night demonstrated.
After an introduction by Laureen Pierre, Asgar took to the podium to talk about environmental concerns that had come to her attention during the team’s two-week visit to Rewa – which included an epic two/three days’ travelling up the river there and back. She spoke of illegal hunting and fishing, and concerns around fish/hunting stocks due to this and also the increase in the population of Rewa (which currently numbers 309).
Fake permission letters, sport fishing participants not catching and releasing, mercury deposits from mining leaking into rivers in the region were just three areas she highlighted, suggesting possible avenues for action or discussion for each – from increasing or introducing patrols to involving the Environmental Protection Agency.
Despite such environmental concerns, Rewa remains an area of extraordinary natural beauty and is lucky to have easy access to fish, so the team were well fed in the village by all accounts. Even when conducting a tour of Corona Falls on Rewa River, they were able to simply catch and cook their meals.
While sadly not a natural spring of the popular Mexican beer, Corona Falls does lay claim to an impressive number of petrolyphs – or rock carvings. With the help of a GPS and camera, Campbell was able to log and photograph many examples.
After giving a short history of Rewa, which was first settled as recently as 1959 by Nicholas Edwards and family, Campbell went on to explain the techniques behind dating the petroglyphs. The rock carvings themselves, it seems, are unreliable indicators of age so what they do, he explained, so to look for archeological remains from previous eras – for example pottery.
Digging and archeology takes time and tools, so given the short time available to them, Campbell explained how they would “let nature do the digging for us” – and seek out pottery shards in the upturned earth around uprooted trees.
Butler then took over to explain the role of the artists, who carried out art workshops in Rewa village – as well as updating Rewa Eco-Lodge with some stunning cabin-wall paintings, interior carvings, and a new welcome sign. Art materials are notoriously expensive in Guyana – and not easy to transport on long journeys through the interior – so Butler explained how the artists led the participants on a scavenging walk to collect natural painting tools and equipment.
The first week involved guided classes, but by the second week the new artists of Rewa were left to their own devices. What emerged was an inventive array of works, including ‘canvases’ made by stretching cloth between the ‘V’ of a tree branch (an idea shared by Butler), painted coconut-tree ‘spathes’ (the curved bit shown in the photo above!), and even decorated skulls and turtle shells. Some of these works were on sale at Moray House, with many snapped up quickly – though a few pieces may still be available.
Before the concluding Q&A session, the toshao of Rewa added his thanks to the team and called on those present to come and see the works for themselves. Rewa Eco-Lodge is a community-run enterprise, which helps sustain the community. It’s also now the proud owner of an array of work by some of Guyana’s youngest and most talented indigenous artists.
Yhann ended the proceedings by talking of the future of the Moving Circle of Artists project, emphasising the importance of funding but also adding “communities will grow their own communities”. It seems by investing in the Moving Circle of Artists, Rewa is doing just that.
Photo courtesy Andrew Campbell
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