Sunset Birds III: Celebrating Amerindian Heritage Month

By Sunn E. Lyvan
Guyana Chronicle
September 23, 2001

SUNSET Birds III, the exhibition now underway at Castellani House as part of activities to mark Amerindian Heritage Month, captures the essence of Amerindian lore and lifestyle on canvas and through the expansive use of local woods.

Paintings and sculptures were done by Oswald Hussein, while Roland Taylor did sculptures. Valentine Stoll is the Guest Artist

Hussein who describes himself as an `Artist for the Environment’, has put his best foot forward in presenting the bulk of the work - some 41 out of a total of 54 pieces - of Sunset Birds III. Hussein had his first solo exhibition called Sunset Birds in 1999 at the Venezuelan Cultural Centre.

Of all the sculpture, what does Guyana proud is the expansive use of our local woods: Dacama, Blackheart, Banya, Fukadi, Letterwood, Corkwood, Dukaliballi, Yarula and even Conga Pump.

Throughout the range of sculpture, from totem poles to war clubs, what stands out emphatically is the amount of Aztec and Inca imagery that still finds itself trapped in today’s Amerindian artistry, especially when it comes to war clubs.

One particular piece which reaches up to shake you vehemently is done by Hussein and is titled `Amazon Swamp’. This war club is finely carved, not for utility, but as a genuine work of art, probably to grace the shelf, in some revered place, of a mighty warrior/priest of Inca/Aztec lineage. It can symbolise a gift from another priest of another warrior tribe as a genuine signature for peace. The handle of the club has been carved to represent the snout of an alligator/caiman, but the teeth, showing along the half-opened mouth, are not for ripping and tearing. Rather, they are blunt instruments and disproportioned to show strength. In contrast, along the blade of the war club lies those wicked, threatening, destructive teeth destined to cause irreparable damage.

This, to my mind, is a beauty, and though Hussein also tries to capture the more simplistic images we know well of Amerindian life in many other features of his presentation, this one stands out above all as a direct link with the now ancient Inca/Aztec/Maya civilisations.

`Cloud People’, from 1 through 13, are impressive pieces. In them, Hussein tries to weave his way through the Makonaima tale, with some interesting twists.

He says: “My interpretation of clouds is that they are actually people coming to earth in this age by password for the world of Science and Agriculture, which contains the spirits of animals in nature, women, men and children. Woman is the great Head Spirit of the Cloud People. My paintings portray the forms of the Cloud People on arrival to earth …”

At first, he recreates his people as clouds, against the background of the blue sky and the golden tone of sunshine and happiness. Like people everywhere, their life is about struggle, pain and happiness, and he tells his story of their very being, their optimism as they prepare to journey to earth. He takes special interest in mapping what they found, how they dealt with it, what they put in place to augment it and guarantee their survival in the new world.

He carefully talks of their hopes, their expectations, their failures and eventual assimilation. It is a moving story, told in effective artistic language.

Another part of the Hussein presentation was titled `Through the eyes of the child I, II, III’. In these acrylic on canvas works, the violence of our times is stark and one gets the impression of an over-indulgence in television. All the grime and gore are represented by sub-machine and machine guns, pointing to the destruction of peace in the child’s mind. In this child’s mind, violence is something natural as he is buffeted and blown by society’s lopsided views of itself.

Among the more impressive pieces by Ronald Taylor are two walking sticks which were intricately carved, called Yaharo and Wunchi (girl and boy) and Ari (Snake). They were both done in Banya wood, and Ari especially stands out. The head of the snake is carved with one fang and the coils leading to the bottom of the walking stick is curved to represent the spine of a dead snake.

For those persons genuinely interested in sculpture and paintings, Valentine Stoll’s presentation will hold their interest. In the midst of surreal extentialism, cubism and abstract imagery, his downright humanistic representations are soothing to the eye, heart and mind.

`Indian Drummer’, `Indian Pork-knocker’, `Indian Hunters’ and `Indian Hunter’ are all done in Samaan wood and their simplicity refreshing. Of the set, `Hunters’ shows a pair of warriors returning from the hunt with their prey hanging suspended between them from their shoulders on a sturdy limb. The carcass seems to be that of a deer, and triumph is represented upon the warriors’ face as they add their share to the total food stock of the hut or village.

The other `Hunter’ shows us the hunter standing beside two tree stumps, about to cast his spear at some unseen prey. His concentration in this is complete, and it seems he has totally missed the huge snake, stretching from the ground and hidden by the first stump towards the hunter. One cannot help but hope that the hunter sees the culprit in time to save himself.
The exhibition runs until October 6.