‘Indian Art’ in Trinidad? Ethnicity at its Limits

Wainwright, Leon (2007). ‘Indian Art’ in Trinidad? Ethnicity at its Limits. Journal of Creative Communications, 2(1&2) pp. 163–188.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/097325860700200209

Abstract

Addressing present day art making in the southern Caribbean island of Trinidad, with specific attention to the notion of a diasporic ‘Indian art’, this article offers a genealogy of some relationships between ethnicity, nationhood and visual imaging. Focusing on the painter and sculptor Shastri Maharaj (b. 1953), who is descended from South Asian indentured migrants to Trinidad, it shows how artists in the Caribbean have negotiated the region’s period of strident anti-colonialism to the present. Examples of Maharaj’s art comprise works of figuration and landscape, including depictions of local architectural styles and Hindu ritual, as well as more ambiguous and abstract forms, also presented as gallery installations. Paying attention to these the discussion highlights the problematic relations between the exegetical tendency for ‘reading’ such visual materials, and the ambitions of artists seeking to transcend the limits of expectations about ethnicity and cultural difference. In place of those limits it recommends an alternative historiography able to enjoin the critical search among contemporary artists for perceptual and aesthetic agency.

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