At the end of 2007, Castel-lani House quite fittingly mounted an exhibition of gifts: artwork received by the gallery from individual and corporate donors. The exhibition is a fairly large one – 71 pieces of paintings, prints, drawings, ceramics, textile and sculpture occupying two floors of the gallery. Entitled ‘An Exhibition of Gifts. Donations to the National Collection of Art’ these pieces of artwork add another layer of richness to the National Collection which the gallery houses.
As artwork, many of the pieces on display are of the highest quality, and moreover, as additions to the National Collection, all are of special significance. Some are historically valuable pieces, such as the painting of the seawall promenade dated 1920. Others are of more contemporary value and the signal piece in this respect is Frank Bowling’s painting Silenuspices III (Towards Crab Island) which was donated by the artist in 2007.
This, to my knowledge, is the only Bowl-ing piece in the National Collec-tion and so it is a very valuable work by a contemporary, highly-acclaimed Guya-nese artist of international repute. Only recently, Bowl-ing was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth. Some of the gifts are revelatory, as is the almost naturalistic wooden sculpture Family Group by Philip Moore, which is quite different from the kind of work for which he is more well-known. Some early experiments in clay in the form of small figure sculptures by Stephanie Correia are also there.
There are pieces from Stanley Greaves, Bernadette Persaud, Dudley Charles, Omawale Lumumba and others who are the leading names in Guyanese art. Other artists, lesser known to the public but equally important are there also; historically there are Cletus Henriques, Philbert Gajadhar, George Bowen-Forbes, Carl Ander-son are also on show. The exhibition brings together past artists such as ER Burrowes, Aubrey Williams and Emerson Samuels, with more contemporaneous ones such as Philbert Gajadhar, Terrence Roberts, and Josefa Tamayo.
Of course, since the exhibition is a collection of gifts, and does not reflect the consistent acquisition efforts of the National Gallery over the years, the scope is partial and incomplete . What is surprising, though, is the range of the donation: gifts from the Guyanese masters have been received, but also gifts from the contemporary younger artists – Winslow Craig and Carl Anderson. In short, the donations by themselves provide a very useful glimpse into Guyanese art of the past and the present. From the earliest-dated work, the 1920 painting of the seawall promenade, to the latest, Winslow Craig’s Flight (2003-4) the gifts cover a span of over eighty years and include most of the movements, artists and changes in Guya-nese art within this time frame.
The range of styles, preoccupations and themes is wide, emphasizing once again the protean nature of Guyanese art, as on the other hand, the focus on painting and wood sculpture reflects our artists’ consistent engagement in these media. Along the way, some interesting high points may be glimpsed. The large collection of sculpture by Omawale Lumumba was a joy to see. His sculpture marks a high point in Guyanese art, and it reminds one of a period of fertile work of a very high quality in wooden sculpture in Guyana in the 1980s. In relation to Omawale’s work itself, it was interesting to observe his pursuit of a theme: couples. This is a theme he treated in many ways ranging from a naturalistic and erotic Mother and Child piece, to succinct semi-abstract work such as Couple (1983) and finally, to highly abstract metaphysics in wood.
The fact that many of the pieces came from collectors is also significant, since such persons would have been close to the artists and would have had access to particular treasured pieces. The large collection of Omowale’s work – 15 pieces of fine wooden sculpture, for example – was donated by the Kissoons who had long been the artist’s patrons. Also, the plaster sculpture entitled The Spirit of Kaieteur which was done by ER Burrowes and donated by Dr Habib Bacchus is, I believe, probably an early model for a larger work by the same name which once stood outside the entrance of the National Museum, but has since been destroyed.
There are, I am sure, other very valuable pieces which are in private hands. Let’s hope that the extraordinary generosity evinced in this exhibition inspires those other collectors and artists to make those pieces available to the public.