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UWI certificate show plays it safe

Published: 
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Power by Micah Telesford Phillip, part of the UWI Department of Creative and Festival Arts certificate programme exhibition, which ran from May 8-13, at Gordon Street, St Augustine. Photos: Marsha Pearce

“An essential element of any art is risk,” says acclaimed filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola in an interview for the 99U creative blog. According to him, risk-taking can lead to the creation of something that has not been seen before. For the first time in a number of years, UWI’s exhibition of works by students of the visual arts certificate programme demonstrated a lack of that essential element—it was a show bereft of adventure. 

Walls bore predictable studies of flora and fauna in pastels, pencil, pen and paint. Other subject matter included architecture, J’Ouvert and a look at facial expressions. Zára Montoute’s drawings of friends and family depicted joyous faces while Anika Black-Haynes charted the changing physiognomy of an individual from toddler to adult phases of development.

Taken as a whole, the works carried a mechanical aura with a patent effort to render the various subjects “correctly.” A statement by Black-Haynes, which accompanied her pieces, reinforced this feeling. “I am challenging my abilities to draw realistically (and) blend colours properly,” she wrote.

The Department of Creative and Festival Arts certificate programme is different from its fine art and design degree programme which showed its final-year works at the National Museum from April 13-May 14. The certificate programme aims to teach fundamental drawing and design skills and to expose students to various techniques of studio practice. 

Indeed, a strong foundation in methods is needed but what about sparking the imagination? What about prodding a vision that goes beyond seeing what is immediately in front of the canvas or paper? What about instigating a personal response? Technique and insight can go hand in hand. Both seeds can be planted and have been in the past. What happened with this cohort?

High points of the exhibition were some of the outdoor sculptural forms, specifically the giant dreamcatcher-cum-wind chime by Montoute and Ornella Sequea’s pod seat, which echoed a corn bird’s nest. While these were not novel ideas the students showed a sensitive approach to their engineering of materials and an acute eye for the way in which their works occupied space.

The most memorable work was Micah Telesford Phillip’s Power series. Her acrylic paintings explored the political climate with an underscoring of the nexus of an almighty power and the authority politicians wield. Her piece Judgment renders politicians as liars with Pinocchio noses. Images of a snake, scorpion and rat are symbolic of deception. In the background of the painting she makes a spiritual reference as she shows the politicians leaving office, each with a cross to bear. 

Her art was noteworthy precisely because it attempted both image-making craft and interpretation. It offered her way of seeing. 

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