Your thoughts on IWD has been published under the link My Thoughts on International Women’s Day Thanks for bringing this celebratory event to our attention.
Thanks Claire. I'd like to use your piece on ChickenBones: A Journal -- Rudy
Rudolph Lewis, Editor
ChickenBones: A Journal
THE ARTIST AS SOCIAL ACTIVIST
GUYANESE-CANADIAN CLAIRE CAREW REMINDS US WE ARE ALL ''SOMEBODIES''
BY NORMAN FARIA
Claire Carew, born in Georgetown and been in Canada for over 30 years, sits in a coffee shop at Toronto's Bloor and Runnymeade roads and gazes pensively at the Saturday morning passersby on the sidewalk.
''How is Guyana these days?. I still try to keep abreast of what's happening. When I see photos and stories of the Essequibo River and the sea by the seawall on the East Coast, Demerara , the old buildings in Georgetown, and the people.
Things like that still bring back memories…'' she muses as she stirs her espresso.
Claire is presently teaching at the Humber Summit Middle School in the city's west end. But she is also one of Toronto's really fine, sensitive artists. She is one of the few who uses art to highlight pressing social issues especially involving Canada's visible ethnic minorities and the struggles of those in the developing world for a better life. She has already done many acclaimed works, exhibiting them at exhibitions in the Canadian cities, Mexico and other countries.
She was brought to Canada by her mother Patricia when she was 11. Her father, Ronald Carew had come to Canada in the mid 1950s.
Mr.Carew, (otherwise known by his ''call names'' Tiger, Preacher and Lord Ronald back in then B.G.) had a remarkable working life, travelling to Vancouver in British Columbia province on the Pacific coast where he worked in the lumber industry , to Nova Scotia province on the Atlantic side and then to Hamilton in the province of Ontario where he was a steel worker. Claire still remembers fondly her loving father sending first class tickets for herself, Mrs Carew and sisters Vivvette, Corinne and Debbie to travel from Guyana to Canada in 1967. Luckily, they visited EXPO-1967, the world exhibition held in Montreal in that year, before moving on to their new home in Vancouver. Mrs.Carew is the ''political one who gives me all the news hot off the press'', says Claire.
Claire went to secondary schools in the provinces where dad worked . Art, she explains, came to her ''naturally''. A distant relative is renowned Guyanese novelist Jan Carew. In Toronto, she graduated from the Ontario College of Art and then did a B.A. in Fine Arts from the University of Guelph, also in Ontario province, where she was an outstanding student.. Last year, she completed her Masters of Art at Institututo Allende/ University Guanajuato in Mexico.
The exhibitions and overseas activity between 1988 and 2005 included a mural on a building in the Athens 2004 Olympiad complex.
The latter work, with the help of students from her school and the Gracedale Public School in Toronto and depicting as it did the unity and common aspirations of peoples worldwide, was typical of Claire's outlook. Other works depict Canada'a indigenous peoples (The Amerindians of Canada) and other ''people of colour'' as she describes them. Characteristically, on the day of her interview she wore a sweatshirt with the image of the great Chiricahua Apache leader Geronimo on front.
This social consciousness extends into other situations in civil rights, immigrant rights and developing world's ongoing efforts for social reforms, better standard of living and democracy. She did a painting on the 1983 death of Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop ; among others, on the bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima in World II, on US civil rights leaders Paul Robeson, Dr.Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson.
Her ''Artist's Creed'' on her website succinctly sums up her outlook: ''I create art filled with cultural and historic imagery to uplift, heal and energize its viewers to take personal and political action''.
She further explains: “What I am trying to do is not art for art's sake. There must be a social context. When Bishop was assassinated I tried to convey the pain I felt when he was killed. On my feelings on Hiroshima, I am very concerned about the question of peace. It is absurd for us to continue in our daily existence without ever considering that we are in danger, especially when we know what happened at Hiroshima and the Japanese people. Were they not somebodies, if I may use Jesse Jackson's term ?''
Among other world travelling, Claire attended the International Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow in the then Soviet Union in the 1980s as a delegate from the Partisan art gallery in Toronto.
Carew, who is of African, Amerindian (Arawak) and European descent, also works with Canadian Amerindian groups in addition to those of the wider Canadian people of all races.
Tellingly, her mural in Greece includes an Amerindian figure, in addition to a little pre-teen girl dressed, like she remembers, in a white dress and ponytails on a Sunday afternoon in Georgetown.
In Mexico, she spent a happy six month stay last year in the town of San Miguel de Allende, studying and painting. Her M.A. thesis at the University there was on aboriginal spirituality, or shamanism.
Out of that sojourn came several vibrant, incisive paintings, photographs and sculptures, ''fusing'', as she relates, ''ancient symbols and contemporary imagery'' . Jan, who lived and worked in Mexico during the 1980s , wrote to her observing that ''(Your) artistic imagination is fed and nourished by the Mexican experience…”
A soft spoken, beautiful woman in every sense of the word, Claire has her own distinctive artistic style. But there have been some influences. One notices some of (French painter) Paul Gauguin for example. Whom does she admire today ? What of other Canadian artists ? ''I like the work of Canadians Norval Morrisseau and Arthur Shilling of the Ojibway nation and the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo.'' Readers may view some her work on her website www.clairecarew.com.
Claire shows respect to all religions and spiritual beliefs from all over. At night, before retiring, she makes a point of following Jan's advice and saying thanks for six special things which has happened to her, things which have given her inspiration, during the day.
Aside from the homework associated with her teaching and working on her paintings, she enjoys listening to the classics (jazz and others) on radio and writing poetry during her spare time in her modest semi-detached wall house in the traditional Portuguese/Italian district. in Toronto's west end...
“When you get back to Barbados I want you to send me some photos of that beach on Carlisle Bay you are always walking on. And when you go to Guyana also send me some from there. Tell my friends I haven't forgotten the beauty of the land, smiles on people's faces, the passionate discussion on politics. I haven't forgotten the scent of the earth, the sounds of the water as I walk along the sea wall, the kisskadee whistle, the botanical gardens and the kissing bridge. I haven't forgotten my dear land of Guyana...” she says as she bids me farewell outside the little coffee shop, still pensive to the end...
(NORMAN FARIA IS GUYANA'S HONORARY CONSUL IN BARBADOS).
July 20, 2006 Toronto, Canada The Caribbean Camera. Many People, One Paper
Giving voice through art
Long before Canada proclaimed itself a multicultural society, Guyana had already settled its identity as a land of six peoples. The recently enunciated Canadian ideal has not yet produced the classic multicultural Canadian; whereas Guyana, which has been at it much longer, has produced people of remarkable mixtures and textures. Such a person is Guyana-born Torontonian, Claire Carew.
Claire covers a fair part of Guyana’s peoples. She is African, Arawak, European and bits and pieces of others, and at once is fair to them all in her appearance. Her features are like the brilliant “essays” she does in paint and poetry. And her eyes are of a quality that both penetrate and invite. Those exceptional eyes are also the eyes of one of Toronto’s finest artists.
Carew has a remarkable canvas on her living room wall. It is an essay of powerful images of spirituality, conquest, struggle, resistance, self-assertion. Here is the struggle of the aboriginal against conquest, there’s the brown-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe, here are John Carlos and Tommy Smith with fists raised in Mexico, there is the back of the Mexican maiden slowly receding away, and at the center the native face with clear eyes gazing back, neither in defiance nor humility, but just “returning the gaze” as Claire puts it.
Scattered around her neat semi-detached home in Toronto’s west end are paintings ranging from rich to subdued tones, all commanding your attention. There is a lot of power in these pictures, belying the gentle Guyanese tone of Carew’s strongly Guyanese accented words. But there is nothing “soft” about Carew when she asserts, “As a woman you don’t have too much freedom. So the least you can do is paint what you want to paint. That’s when you can get your freedom. Because in society a woman is always told what she ought to be. So art is one way a human being can express herself.”
Then you know what she means as you sense a pair of eyes looking at you. Just to her left knee on the floor is a picture of an aboriginal woman called “The Eye Sees What The Mind Fears.” Painted during the Oka crisis, when native Canadians refused to have their ancestral burial ground converted to a golf course, the “Oka Woman’s” face does not threaten but project a powerful dignity, commanding immediate respect. And the eyes, penetrating, projecting a strength that defies all the years of oppression. Carew said that once at an exhibit, a native woman, impressed by the power of this Oka Woman, sought her out, took her aside, pressed sacred tobacco into her palm and encouraged her to keep doing what she was doing.
“I’ve always looked out for the underdog and I paint what I feel passionate about. You will see a lot of aboriginal and black people in my paintings; because I feel so often that our voices are not heard. And when they are, they are often stereotyped. So I always paint people of colour in a positive light.”
Sometimes the light is so positive that it fairly dazzles and blazes and disturbs like the piece entitled “Amazon Warrior-Blood Runs Deep.” If you are running around with a bad conscience about the historical abuse of aboriginal peoples around the world, this richly coloured Amazon warrior fastens onto you with eyes askance. He is not threatening, he is not bitter, but his eyes seem to say, “I saw what you did and I’ve not forgotten.” So striking is this piece that Carew said that it was once on exhibit at a swanky eatery in downtown Toronto and the patrons requested it be removed because his eyes followed them and disturbed their appetites.
If when gazing at her art the viewer is disturbed by its power, moved by its sensitivity, soothed by its calming influence, then Carew can ask for no more, even though she doesn’t always set out to evoke such responses. But Carew does not doubt the critics and reviewers who have seen her exhibits in galleries across Canada, in Mexico, USA, at the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, the UK, etc, and who agree on terms like evocative, powerful, healing, revolutionary in describing what they see in a typical Carew piece. It is not surprising then that her pieces have found their way onto socio-political magazine covers and posters, a couple of sociology text books for college courses, greeting cards and the walls of many an art cognoscenti.
For the past seven years Carew has brought that passion for art, living and political action to the west end middle school where she is teacher in visual arts, but we may soon begin to see more of her as she considers taking a few years off teaching to concentrate on her painting and poetry.
Until such time some of her pieces can be seen on exhibit at Angels Gate Winery in Beamsville, Ontario.