Authentic Embah ..Authentic Trinidad & Tobago

Why does the word authentic keep cropping up whenever I think or talk about Embah’s work? And why does everybody – everybody – else’s work seem so contrived and ineffectual next to his – I mean here at home in Trinidad, at any rate? Difficult, almost impossible to answer, because the response is an intuitive one – like the work itself, and because it speaks directly to me and into a place I’m so close to, so deeply imbedded in, that I cant always see it – the forest for the trees, kind of thing – not because I‘m taking it for granted, just that I’m living it as a daily way of living, seeing, being, like the same way you burst out in vernacular with a purely Trinidadian turn of phrase, or like steupsing, or cussing a stink cuss and calling it sweet – who but a Trinidadian knows what that is, what that means? – well, Embah! his name derived from Emheyo Bahabba.
And it hits you between the eyes when you see his work, in your belly, the same way David Rudder can hit you by singing a single note – TRINIDAD. (Which may all be why calypso can’t catch on outside the Caribbean – too specific, too imbedded in our little place, which is a wonderful thing and something to rejoice in, but just isn’t going to take you to the heights out there in foreign.) Or the way you do when something real terrible happens and you say something like, “Oh Gord, if I don’t love Trinidad ah dead, yes!” Same as, “if you don’t laugh you will cry”. But how could you love something as awful as this place that’s going so bad so quick? – well, you just do. This is what’s in Embah’s work for me, and why I cant look at it for too long without feeling the tears coming, and the laughter, too, at the same time. Masochistic? – but that’s Trinidad, too, always laughing at the pain!

I don’t like cricket so much – but I know what it is when we win or don’t win a test. Embah knows it better. Look at how much cricket in his work. Only Wendy Nanan knows as well as Embah how much it means, and to be honest, may be not even as well as he does, come to think of it.

And look at the broken mirror in the two pieces here – “mirror break, I pick it up, look at it and say aha! that is a picture – and look, it right there!” pointing across the room. Simple – complicated! – as that. Because a broken mirror is bad luck, and Embah has embedded it in the landscape in this painting of the land of his birth, to make a lake or pond, and it’s a bad sign, the bad luck that is on this land. And he smiling! Ah well, only he knows why that’s so funny. And I don’t have to be African or Indian or anything else to get it. Just have to be from here, that’s all – and everything And Embah’s work is that, as best as I can say it. – Stuart

At his open studio, Trinidad West Indies. Top image: The Caribbean made up as mirror shards, Centre: West Indian cricket, Bottom: Miniature folk-art.

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