By Alim Hosein
The biennial Guyana Visual Arts Competition and Exhibition (GVACE) will be held in June of this year. The deadline for entries is May 25, 2019 and the Awards Ceremony is scheduled for June 27, 2019. Artwork should be submitted to the National Gallery of Art, Castellani House.
When the Guyana Visual Arts Competition was first held in 2012, it attracted an astonishing 204 entries from 90 artists. The large number of entries was surprising, even to the organisers. But it was probably understandable since a national art competition had not been held since 1994. The subsequent GVACE exhibitions attracted equally large numbers of entries.
These numbers are still surprising and pleasing, because of Guyana’s small population and the perceived slowdown in art since the 1990s. But the entries showed that a surprising range of persons were engaging in art. The entrants included the usual practicing artists and art students, but also persons whose main occupations were outside the realm of art – teachers, office workers, managers, housewives and others. In fact, the entrants represent a good cross-section of the Guyanese population from most of the regions of the country.
The newest feature of the competition is the GVACE Education Bursary which is meant to provide support for two young persons who are trying to establish themselves as artists. These bursaries, worth $100,000 each, will be awarded to two artists drawn on a competitive basis from the two main art-teaching institutions in Guyana: the E R Burrowes School of Art and the Department of Language and Cultural Studies at the University of Guyana. Art students from these institutions will be nominated by their administrators who will submit the students’ academic transcripts and references as proof of their performance. The candidates will also be interviewed, and their artwork examined as part of the process. The bursaries would be for tuition fees or the purchase of art materials or in other ways directly related to the winners’ study in art or production of artwork.
Guyana has a long history of visual art competitions, going back to the colonial days. In the 1930s and 1940s, emerging Guyanese artists held annual exhibitions at various venues including school halls and churches. These grew into an official, state-sponsored exhibition from the 1960s, called the National Exhibition of the Visual Arts (NEVA).
The NEVA become a much-anticipated national institution. It helped to make household names of artists such as Hubert Moshett, Stanley Greaves, Ron Savory, Philip Moore, Marjorie Broodhagen and Emerson Samuels, who were among the second and third waves of Guyanese artists from the 1940s and 1950s. Later, it served as the avenue for artists such as Basil Thompson, Angold Thompson, Dudley Charles, Bernadette Persaud, and then Colin Warde, Ossie Hussein, Desmond Ali, and others to become nationally-known. The NEVA also served as a barometer of Guyanese art, reflecting the emerging artists and developing trends in our art.
NEVA survived the difficult times of the 1980s, but it began to struggle in the 1990s. It was felt on one hand that the quality of the works submitted had dropped, and on the other hand, that the range of prizes was too limited, and the prize money was too small. After various strategies had been tried and failed, the NEVA ceased in 1994.
This undesirable situation remained until 2012 when the then Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport revived the idea of a national art competition. Thus, the Guyana Visual Arts Competition and Exhibition was born. Learning from the vicissitudes of the NEVA, the GVACE was designed as a biennial competition, with a substantial increase in prize money and a wide range of categories.
The GVACE goes beyond NEVA in trying to help support and encourage Guyanese artists. This is partly a recognition of the changed times, where there is a different climate for the arts. In this regard, the GVACE has 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. These activities, the competition and the exhibition which results from it form part of a week of activities which specially focus on the visual arts. This is meant to increase the visibility of art and artists in the Guyanese community.
Another feature of the competition is that a special “Promise Award” will be given to a young artist (age 25 years or younger) whose work the judges believe shows strong talent and the promise of future development. In addition to these, the GVACE also, from time to time, recognises the work of outstanding Guyanese artists by presenting special Lifetime Achievement awards to them. Over the years, the competition has honoured Stanley Greaves, Jorge Bowenforbes and the late Philip Moore, who was the first awardee.
The GVACE is also planning to support other deserving artists who are not in a formal art institution, in a similar manner. This will take some more careful thinking through and will be announced later.
The 2019 competition will be judged in the usual six categories: Painting, Drawing, Sculpture, Textiles, Fine Craft and Photography by a panel of five judges, which includes persons from Guyana and abroad who are well-experienced in the field of the Visual Arts.
Artists are free to submit work on any theme of their choice, executed in any style they choose.
In keeping with the aim of being open and developmental, the competition allows artists to enter a total of 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 plus a textile work plus a drawing, or any combination of work that he or she is wishes, once the total number entered does not exceed three pieces.
In some cases (for example in an installation, or in 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.
Entries must be suitably mounted where applicable. The GVACE is looking to promote high standards of presentation so artists should keep this in mind.
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.
How to enter
The GVACE is open all artists who are 16 years or older and who are Guyanese by birth or naturalisation (proof of citizenship such as a national ID card or naturalization documents will be required).
Each artist must complete and submit the official registration form and a receipt for artwork form together with their artwork. This helps us to record your work and importantly, to create a database of artists in Guyana. This also helps the artists because it means that their names will be on record.
Two good passport-size pictures of the artist must also be submitted with the registration form.
All of these forms, plus the rules and regulations of the competition, can be downloaded from Facebook at Guyana Visual Arts. Hard copies of the regulations can also be obtained from the E R Burrowes School of Art, Carifesta Avenue; the Department of Social Cohesion in Main Street; the National Gallery of Art (Castellani House); or from Regional Offices in the outlying regions.
Entries must be submitted to the National Gallery of Art, Castellani House, by 3 pm on Saturday, May 25, 2019. A secretariat will be set up at Castellani House to receive artwork at least one week before May 25 (that is, at least from May 20) to receive entries.
The 2019 Awards Ceremony is scheduled for June 27, 2019 at the National Cultural Centre at 5 pm. All artists and their families and art lovers are invited to this event. The winners in the various categories will be announced at this ceremony. As usual, the ceremony will be followed by the opening of the GVACE exhibition at Castellani House and the reception for artists, their families and art lovers at the same venue.
Guyanese artists deserve recognition because their work has been part of our emergence and development as a nation for decades. Also, it is remarkable that Guyanese have been taking the time out to create artwork in these times when there are so many developments and distractions and new ways for people to spend their money and invest in what they think is valuable. Because of this resilience, it is important that all persons who pursue creative work in the visual arts should seize this opportunity to display the work that they are doing. The pursuit of art shows the will of the human spirit and art reveals the inner workings of the human spirit. These are important things to demonstrate in these times.
(Alim Hosein is the Coordinator of the GVACE, Head of Language and Cultural Studies at the University of Guyana, and a member of the Management Committee of the Guyana Prize for Literature. He is a linguist, artist and critic.)