by Bernadette Indira Persaud  (Artist)

UNDAUNTED   - Shastri Maharaj

‘’I live on the sharp edge of hope
On the testing road of an unending journey
Through Golgotha and Gethsemane
To paradise islands of history’’ (John La Rose –Unending Journey)

 Shastri Maharaj, in the memorable words of John La Rose, continues to explore, in his new series of ‘landscape’ paintings ( ‘Undaunted Spirit’ on display at the ‘Y’ Gallery (10 – 22nd Oct, 2016 ) that   ‘unending journey’  through his ‘paradise island of history’. John La Rose (1927 – 2006), a distinguished Trinidadian intellectual, active in the early anti-colonial and Trade union Movements of the 40’s and 50’s captures in his eloquent poetry the paradox inherent in the conflation of notions of a tropical Caribbean ‘paradise’ and ‘History’: for us in the region, a term fraught with the ugly  history of genocide, slavery, indentureship and colonial / post-colonial authoritarianism
How can we, in broader philosophical terms, juxtapose the mud and misery of Time with the Timeless?
In retrospect, the aspirations and struggles of La Rose’s  generation, for social justice and a brave new world seem just the “boisterous outburst of  the young’ (JLR) in an era of promising new beginnings. And ‘Paradise’ in our various post-colonial dispensations? An elusive dream: Paradise Lost, as Peter Minshall definitively demonstrated in the mid 70’s?

The Conversation

The Clearing




Not so, for Shastri Maharaj. Like the poet, living on the ‘sharp edge of hope’,
‘journeys begin and end
with another journey
on the rivers of a time’ (JLR)

 From afar, looking at his relatively small canvases, all the old tropical paradisiacal elements linger :  a whiff of Gauguin and Cazabon ,postcard blue, ultramarine, lilac,  large expanses of sky,  the hint of turquoise seas and water, purple mountains, plateau, savannahs and the sun drenched empty plains of a rural Trinidad. A closer reading, however, for those who are familiar with the trajectory of his varied stylistic output over the years, will show the  persistent dystopian motifs which  counterpoint this  ‘paradise’ island : poor, misshapen  working- women in the fields, small primitive houses, with window-eyes, some still perched on wobbly stilts,  lonely windswept trees,  and the bulls/cows/Daisy which have migrated  over the Kala Pani, from the Mesolithic rock- paintings of his ancestral country to the beautiful island of Trinidad.
Zooming in on these  works, a yet closer scrutiny shows that like Trinidad’s master-colorists,  James Isaiah Boodhoo and Kenwyn Crichlow, his paintings vibrate with the raw energy of complementary tones and the painterly  scratches of the brush; but  even in the solitude of the canvas, sometimes  empty,  silent and grey, every inch of its fabric is alive with flecks and streaks of brilliant acrylic colour. This living fabric of the canvas rises to the surface to enmesh and captivate the eye and at the same time magically  slips back deep  into the infinity of cosmic space. The horizon line, adventurously,  dips lower, in some pieces, to reveal  a more  expanding  limitless  sky; in cases of its total absence a fluid organic space envelopes   the stoic, solitary minimalistic shapes. And yet, the painting in its duplicity works as a flat, almost painterly abstraction.
‘Composition and process  dominate  the painting activity ,’  Maharaj asserts with great bravado. His experimentation with a wide range of Western Modernist   approaches- ranging from  Abstraction to Abstract Expressionism,  Minimalism,  Surrealism and  Primitivism- is balanced by an atavistic investigation into Indian Rajasthani  Minatures , Warli folk- art and rock/cave paintings of pre-Vedic  India.  As an artist he dips into the world  at large – East and West – but returns home to his very own metaphysics.  As an experienced  Art educator, familiar with the philosophical underpinnings  of  Western Modernism /Post Modernism and Contemporary Art he is undaunted by its Critical jargon.
Painting,  as a preeminent  Art form  since the European Renaissance, has now become the Cinderella of the Arts  in the Contemporary ‘International’  Art  World  - edged out in this technological Global era by New media: Video, Installation, Performance and a host of Conceptual  non art-making strategies which do not resonate with the Caribbean art-public.  Shastri Maharaj, like many in an unwavering  line of distinguished  compatriots -  Alfred Codallo, MPAlladin, Carlisle Chang , Le Roi Clarke, Isaiah Boodhoo, Peter Minshall, Ken Crichlow,  among others – continues to engage with his Island people and their burdens. The World is and is not his Gallery.

Bernadette Indira Persaud  (Artist)
October  18, 2016.