By Alim Hosein
Guyana has a long history of visual art competitions, going back to the colonial days. Even the young movements of local artists in the 1930s and 1940s saw regular exhibitions of artwork. Among our local art exhibitions, the National Exhibition of the Visual Arts (NEVA) is the best-known by contemporary Guyanese. This is because it was the most recent, and also the largest, of these exhibitions. The NEVA became a national institution and was one that was looked forward to. Artists such as Hubert Moshett, Stanley Greaves, Ron Savory, Philip Moore, Marjorie Broodhagen, Emerson Samuels, and later Basil Thompson, Angold Thompson, Dudley Charles, Bernadette Persaud, and many others, became household names in good part because of the popularity of the NEVA which they had entered. Much later, towards the end of its heyday, other artists emerged and these marked the new crop of top-class Guyanese artists. Such artists include Colin Warde, Ossie Hussein, Desmond Ali, and others. But the NEVA began to fall on difficult times in the 1990s. Various attempts were made to change the design of the competition but these met with little success, and some acrimony developed. Eventually, after fits and starts, the NEVA subsided in1994.
There have been no major exhibitions of the scope of the NEVA since that time. The Brewmasters Competition sponsored by Banks DIH comes close, but this exhibition is only held periodically. In addition, Castellani House, the home of the National Collection, has been mounting a Watercolour Competition and a Drawing Competition which alternate each year. These are nation-wide competitions. However, a grand national exhibition which includes a range of categories and is held on a regular basis has been absent since 1994.
The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport has now launched the Guyana Visual Arts Competition and Exhibition. This competition continues the tradition of the NEVA and hopefully will gain the same national popularity as the NEVA and produce the same kind of quality artists. The inclusion of “Guyana” in its name is aimed at branding the competition internationally, since the hope is that it will become widely known.
The GVACE aims to be a development of the NEVA, and in this regard, it will have some special features which are designed to help contribute to the development of art and artists in Guyana. These include a masterclass for artists conducted by one or more of the judges, and a public lecture, also delivered by one of the judges. Another feature of the competition is that a special “Promise Award” will be given to a young artist (aged 25 years or younger) whose work the judges believe shows strong talent and the promise of future development. In addition to these, the GVACE will also, from time to time, recognise the work of outstanding Guyanese artists by presenting special awards to them.
The competition and exhibition will be part of a week of activities which will specially focus on the visual arts. This is meant to increase the visibility of art and artists in the Guyanese community.
The competition will be judged in six categories: Painting, Drawing, Sculpture, Textiles, Ceramics and Photography by a panel of five judges, that includes persons from Guyana and abroad who are well-experienced in the field of the Visual Arts. Works may be entered on any theme of the artists’ choice, and executed in any style they choose.
Unlike the NEVA, the GVACE will be held biennially, and artwork that is produced within the two-year span will be eligible for each competition. However, given the fact that this will be the first year for the competition, works produced over the last five years (ie, between November 2007 and November 2012) will be eligible. After this year, only works produced in the two years between competitions will be accepted.
In keeping with the aim of being open and developmental, the competition will allow artists to enter a total of up to three entries, either in one category, or in a combination of categories. Thus, an artist can submit three paintings, or three pieces of sculpture, or two paintings and one drawing, or a set of ceramics, a piece of textile and a drawing, or any combination of work that he or she wishes, once the total number entered does not exceed three pieces.
In some cases (for example in an installation, or in a set of ceramic ware) a set of pieces will be accepted as a single work. In Textiles, the focus will be on the design of the fabric, not on finished pieces such as dresses or other articles made from the fabric.
The awards for the competition are substantial, with cash prizes of $500,000, $300,000 and $200,000 being awarded for the first, second and third places in each category. In addition, gold, silver and bronze medals respectively will be awarded. The winner of the Promise Award will take home $200,000 plus a bronze medal.
The Guyana Visual Arts Competition and Exhibition is open to all artists who are Guyanese by birth or naturalisation (proof of citizenship will be required). Entries must be suitably mounted where applicable, and must be accompanied by the official registration form.
Persons may obtain copies of the registration forms and the rules and regulations of the competition from the E R Burrowes School of Art, Carifesta Avenue from Monday, September 3, 2012 or online at www.mcys.gov.gy or from the Special Projects Unit, Mash Secretariat, Middle Street, Georgetown.
Entries must be submitted to the E R Burrowes School of Art by 3 pm on Friday, November 23, 2012. Winners will be announced at a special ceremony in mid-December 2012.
Artists have been clamouring since the end of the NEVA for a national art competition, and the Ministry of Culture has now responded. The GVACE seems well-designed for the task – for example, it offers scope for visual artists in different genres to win prizes, the prize money is reasonably generous, and the expansion of the eligibility period to five years for the 2012 competition acknowledges work done and also gives artists some leeway this year. On the other hand, the type of judges’ panel announced indicates that issues of quality will be taken seriously.
The ball is now in the court of the Guyanese artists.