I was at an event recently, when a lady came over and engaged me in discussion about my artwork and books that were on display. She was very impressed with the quality of my work, but, before she left, she asked, “Where do you sell your work?” After telling her how I went about getting my work sold, she stated I was doing myself a disservice. She felt I needed to explore more lucrative venues, and events, if I have to be as successful as she thought I could be.
This is a common theme at a number of events where my work is displayed and after a while, it becomes more of a motivating factor, to move beyond the level, that I am presently. At times too, it makes you ask yourself whether, what you’re doing, is a waste of time. It prompts you to ask yourself what else can be done to make such questions go away, not because you are offended, but because you realize that there are people who appreciate your work and the quality of work. How can you show them that you are interested in making a change or taking your work to another level?
I began writing poetry during my early years of high school in Dominica, and it was the appreciation by those who heard and read my work, that helped me move into the literary spotlight and become a household name. Individuals like Mrs. Phyllis Shand-Allfrey, Editor of the Star Newspaper, the late Marcel “D’jamala” Fontaine, Daniel “Papa Dee” Cauderion, Royston Ellis, and Alwin Bully..
One of the highlights of my literary career, was lying in bed at my home in St. Joseph, many years ago, listening to the late Prime Minister, Hon. Mary Eugenia Charles, deliver her Independence Day message. To my greatest surprise I heard her mention my name and then she quoted lines from one of my poems “Towards A New Day,” from the collection, Words in the Quiet Moments. I was thrilled. The Prime Minister of our country had found it fit to use my poetry as she addressed the nation and the world. What an honor it was.
I dabbled with oil painting and photography before, and after, immigrating to the United States. However, I took them up seriously in 2009 while at home, and wanting to fill time, after having been laid off from my job, the year before. But, I had to deal with the disappointment expressed by my children, and my wife to some extent, who felt I had deprived them of my creativity all their lives. I thus had an added incentive to move on and dig deeper. I am pleased and proud that my daughter is now “stepping into the ring,” and beginning to display her own artistic talent on canvas.
However, being multi-talented, has been a good thing. I have been able to combine them all together when I paint or write or do photography. The knowledge of all three helps me “paint,” for lack of a better word, a clearer picture, when I put oil on canvas, write a poem or short story, or take a photograph. Not that I am an expert, far from that, but the little I know comes in handy. Many are surprised when they visit my booth at events and I tell them that all the paintings, photos and books, are my creation. “You did all this?” they would ask, sometimes, a bit bewildered, and doubtful, until they see my signature on the artwork and my name on the books.
The questions, queries, and words of fans, are rather encouraging. However, as an artist, I, like many of my fellow artists, who now reside, and create, outside of Dominica, face this challenge. I try to portray my art as close as possible to what I understand, cherish and can relate to, yet at the same time, be able to relay my message to the people whom I interact with on a daily basis, that is, besides fellow Dominicans.
Sometimes, the only opportunities we have, as artists, to showcase our work, are at cultural events which are far and few between, and even then, we get more compliments about what we do than selling what we do. Some say it is because our people have not been sensitized enough about Arts as some of us-the artists-expect. Usually, the artist has to make his own connection to attend the events rather than getting an invitation to participate. There is also the argument that it is also that we still, to this day, seem to believe that anything Dominican is inferior.
Dominica just celebrated its 36th year of Independence, and as an independent country, I have not seen a serious effort to harness and save the artistic creativity of our people. I already mentioned this on a previous blog so I won’t go into length on this. We have to devote a little more time at ensuring that the artistic creations whether in theatre, music, paintings, literature, get their rightful place in the annals of Dominica’s history. I have noted, just recently, that some individuals are asking questions as to the origins of certain folk/cultural songs. Is it because it did not matter at the time or we just pay lip service to the arts in our country and even when we go out? I am yet to understand why Dr. Lennox Honychurch, a noted Caribbean historian, has not been commissioned to write a History of the Island exclusively for use in ALL our schools. What are we waiting for?
If our own people do not show an appreciation for our talent and creative abilities (except at certain times of the year-Carnival and Independence,) then how do we expect others to exhibit that same love and appreciation for something that is foreign to them? How do we expect the artists, who spend time and effort at creating, to feel good about what they do. How do we expect them to feel appreciated for what they do, more specifically, upholding the culture of the island in many respects, when their work, is second-guessed, or they are seen as individuals trying to make money off our backs?
I am devoted to what I do. I have a love for what I do, not just to get paid for it (this is great) but because of what I gain emotionally, spiritually and mentally from engaging in the various art forms I have taken a liking to, and I am sure I am not alone. There are quite a number of us out in the “wilderness,” so to speak, honing our craft and being proud to do it: Among them; Christian George; Glenford John; Dave Wilson; Joszann St. John, Paula John, Steinberg Henry, Felix Augustine, Judge Irving Andre and Lola Louis; just to name a few.
So the struggle continues, notwithstanding. Frustrating? Yes. Rewarding? Yes. Enjoyable? Yes. But we need to ensure that our own are sensitive to what we do, not only for the complimentary word, but for accepting, not mediocrity, I should stress, but what is good. We have to debunk the saying “No prophet is wanted in his own country,” and say “All our prophets feel lost away from home.” meanwhile, I will surely stay the course!!!