Remembering Bookmann geocites 2004 – Rubadiri Victor

A Testament to the mural’s effect lies in the fact that it has not been seriously defaced by students- a serious triumph in Tranquility where nearly every free surface area is covered with graffiti. – Rubadiri Victor 2005

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The wall mural “Legacy” at Tranquillity College in Port of Spain

“Legacy” is the theme behind a wall mural at Tranquillity College in Port of Spain. The façade to the school’s new wing is tiled with a cascading emblem of the Past, Present and Future heroes relating to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. From the summit of this mural, embraced hand in hand are the individuals from the writer, C.L.R. James to the former Prime Minster, Dr. Eric Williams, united together without the turmoil of political indifference.

The eccentric dancer, Beryl Mc Beanie wears her white head tie to suit her personality and is actually holding a bouquet of flowers in unison with the painter Carlyle Chang, he too proudly clenches (black power style) a paintbrush in his right hand. Although it is left to the imagination of the viewer to wonder what part of Mr. Chan’s body C.L.R. James is actually grasping. This icons, prominent, dressed in white toddler’s garments, are the “models of distinction” perched overlooking the living legacies not yet past their prime.

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A closer look at the “Legacy”

The centre of this large wall mural is anchored by an equally large Pat Bishop, and at either side of her, left to right, is a chain of gloomy black robed scholastic luminaries in embrace. The illusion here is the “union of hands” below the lip of a black concrete post. Living heroes in the art of writing, preaching or playing a pan are interspersed with sports personalities dressed in national colours; Red, black and white. Nationalism overstated and tiresome.

A few painted textbook pictograms are depicted as well, and they act as a syllabus of the vocational possibilities for students. If you dream to become a cashier or want to cook for a living, you can stare at the icons for enlightenment. Unfortunately, the “paintbrush and palette” are noticeably absent. Can this mean that Artists alike are ignored from the grander spectrum of civil achievements? Or has the wall painter not yet attained a level of proficiency to be represented in the “exclusive crème d`la crème”.

But proficiency is not the aim here, what this mural speaks of is empowerment. It is also a guide to the heroes that may influence the youth in a youth-like way. The painter – musician – writer – poet – editor – artist, Rubadiri Victor is the mastermind behind this work, and his approach through this childlike mural is to simple say; “Dream and Achieve.”

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The romanticized vision of students in their school uniform,  drawn and assembled like Chinese  paper-doll  cutouts guarding a football net

The history of mural painting inTrinidad and Tobago is a very short one. The most famous being Carlyle Chang’s master work at Piarco Airport that was unceremoniously destroyed despite protests, and the most obscure one being this mural by Rubadiri Victor. Murals by their very size and purpose are supposed to represent lofty ideals and this attempt at the Tranquility College goes about doing just that. Murals are a macho endeavour. You cannot talk about murals and not think of the master muralist Diego Reviera who was creating not just painting, but political statements. But who can forget Ghernica, arguable the most important and famous mural of all by Picasso, also a major political statement of its time and any time?

So basically the mural is something that one has to plan and really prepare to do well because of the expectations of all who see them. One wonders whether this artist was aware of the “legacy” of murals when he set out to create this one? Mr. Victor wants us to embrace the idea of many important black leaders who have died and who are still with us, along with the future hopeful leaders represented in the young people at the base of the painting. On the side of the work is created a ‘u’ shape that filters out in a Roschartesque image from lines to birds that fly off towards a sun that looks like a flower. That curve along with the background for the students and the grey that is used like a decorative element attempt to unify the work. But only succeed in making it asymmetrical. The eye travels downward to the corner of the piece, leaving the top an afterthought.

Yet this is typical of young work, the desire to pack up the space that can be seen at ground level. You see it with beginner sign painters who have to put a lot of text in small spaces, the tendency is to spread out the first words and pack in the last words. However this piece is so sincere you can almost expect to see the artist giving tours and pouring his heart out to those who do not see the need for the black man to embrace his/her icons.

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Hands across a Nation

Tranquility as a school has had its rocky patches, going counter to its name, and so this mural is asked to inspire the young and was painted at the time by a young past pupil, Mr. Victor. There are many challenges in the work, least of all being technique and ability to reproduce faces convincingly. There is the need to be patriotic with colour choice, the need to stay on point with the colour for the deceased, colour for the living, colour for the youth and colour for the many options that the youth can take up on their road to greatness. Then there is the awkwardness of the space itself and the overlip of the wall for the second floor. But he endeavours to try.

My concern with this mural is its tonal quality. There is such a heavy use of black that is used in its pure state, causing the work to be very flat in nature. He tries to compensate for this by outlining the faces, but it is a little too late because so much of the work is about the silhouette and filling out the silhouette is the afterthought. What this work does do very well is pose questions about the intention of the mural in public spaces. Do they achieve what they set out to do? Are they inspiring as they are intended to be? Do the students at the school see the work for what it is, or does the piece just blend into the background? Whatever the case may be, these are some of the things that need to be looked at as we continue to explore art in public. – Adele 2005

Firstly, the mural simply represents 4 generations of Tranquility students. Williams, CLR, Naipaul, Gene Samuel, Chang etc. are all alumni. There is no ‘black nationalist’ agenda as the people depicted are of different races and are simply the alumni that constitute the school’s pantheon. It was because of this phenomenal alumni and the fact that Tranquil is one of the oldest schools in the region that I choose the Legacy theme. Tranquil however was indeed a conduit for the ambitious black lower middle class to try for college places. I myself was not a past pupil as you stated but went to St. Mary’s College. (This observation has been corrected)

Mural painting in this country comes with all types of constraints- from paints, finances, to scaffolding to time. All constraints applied in this instance. Like the simple ‘for instance’ of the scaffolding used for the mural being taken away after 4 days. This meant that the second stage of design- the overlying coat of paint with other design elements could not have been added. Thus the design could not be ultimately unified and resolved. The second set of paint with the requested colours also never materialized.

Tranquil is not a rich school, but it has pride. The colour scheme (the dominant yellow and national colours) were requested from the school- yellow is the school’s colour and is not present anywhere else in the school’s architecture or design. The bunching of subject matter in the lower 2/3rd of the piece (which you referred to as a mistake of ‘beginner artists’) was simply because the scaffolding did not go up any higher! Alas that is how it goes.

The snide shots at careers that may have to do with “cashing and cooking” and the like is classist and beneath you and not worthy of being responded to. Have to admit the oversight of no paintbrush is to blush over, but the arts were represented by music, filmmaking, books etc. I have never claimed to be the greatest technician as a painter- what I am is a person who will go out and do rather than sit down at home and complain and criticize. I am very modest and open to saying I am still growing in my craft. At the same time I am very aware of the craft and history of mural painting- from medieval frescoes, Michelangelo, Tiepolo, Egyptian painting, Inca hieroglyphics, to Mr. Rivera, Orosco and Sequeiros- as well as my local predecessors Carlyle, Hinkson, Holder and Morris. Take it from me, the conditions under which Picasso’s Guernica was created- as well as the works of these other artists- were not the conditions under which I created Legacy for Tranquility Government School- financially, infrastructurally or time wise. The ability to create under these ‘special’ types of local conditions and create work of integrity will ultimately be the Legacy of my early life as an artist in Trinidad.

My work is as much provocative as an end in itself. I want my peer group and community of artists to jump in the fray and commit to communal art. I want my work to provoke people to respond by doing. Hopefully some smart talented critic turned painter will feel the need to compete with me in the ‘macho’ world of mural painting. Hopefully some artists will feel obliged to show me how it’s really done and get off their ‘comfort zones’ and actually do some work of some relevance. Yep, I would really like for there to be more ‘fine’ artists willing to get their feet wet and hands dirty taking on community and public art projects- with all their complications of: time constraints; art by consultation; financial and logistical limitations; aesthetically resolving large surface areas and sightlines, interaction with intended populace; etc.

Whilst I did not get a chance to fully complete and resolve the Legacy mural I stand by it as a piece of work. I know it works because after it was up I used to visit the school a lot just to watch people’s reaction to it. Alumni kept visiting on afternoons, some cried, others nodded in agreement. It gave students pause. Assignments were given on it by unrelated teachers. Students began drawing more… The alumni staring down from the wall have actually started pacing some of the students… A testament to the mural’s effect lies in the fact that it has not been seriously defaced by students- a serious triumph in Tranquility where nearly every free surface area is covered with graffiti. I had factored this tendency into the mural with an 8 foot square part of the wall dedicated to student’s graffiti! This part of the wall was used to this end for about a year with a lot of poetry, smut, insults, mauvais lang, and student artwork passing under the bridge. That part of the wall gave rise to a lot of student creativity and a real feeling of legitimizing of their voice. This of course is the kind of stuff your critique would miss altogether.

All in all I feel that the work is too dense in the middle without the textures I never got to add to the black and the yellow sky is too flat without the swirls I intended. The kids themselves did their self-portraits (!) on the bottom as well as the swirls that you have tried to devalue as a football net. Those swirls were taken up by another part of the wall now painted over and were to be balanced by the swirls at the top that the incomplete scaffolding never reached. Teachers and students were a part of the entire process from the beginning to the end. It aint no Diego Rivera but with $2000., some sponsored paint, four days, unsure, unsafe, incomplete scaffolding, benevolent institutional consultation and student artists I think it works pretty good. – Rubadiri Victor

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