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posted 18 Oct 2012, 09:25 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 18 Oct 2012, 09:31 ]
Painting on the Walls: A Novel Idea

by Rafiki Morris

I am a muralist. I paint on walls. I tell you this so you might understand my joy at an initiative designed to paint on walls throughout Trinidad in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of independence. This project is called REPRESENT.

Under the guiding hand of Minister, Dr. Suruj Rambachan, artists and other citizens will take brush in hand to express themselves on walls in fifteen communities across the land. Unfortunately I am ill and will not be able to participate. Still I think it is a wonderful and novel idea.

It reminds me of a project I was asked to help develop last year. At the launch of the International Year for People of African Descent (IYPAD), the Prime Minister suggested a National Mural Project that would highlight the history and progress of African people in Trinidad and Tobago.

Dr. Rambachan, at that time the Minister of Foreign Affairs, responded to the Prime Minister's suggestion by putting together a Multi-Stake Holders Committee to develop projects for IYPAD. This committee was co-chaired by His Excellency, Chief Servant, Makandal Daaga, Ambassador Extraordinary, Plenipotentiary. (
See statement)

This committee asked us (artists) to put together a plan called the IYPAD Murals Project. We gladly did as we were asked.

The plan was to get artists from all over Trinidad and Tobago to design 17 murals to be produced over a one year period. We were to employ more than 50 artists, apprentice artists and community youth interested in art to do the painting.
Christening Redemption
designed by Rafiki Morris, for Picton Tanks, 2008
We were to mobilize communities to input on the designs and prepare the surfaces to be used. We were to get master artists and muralists to do workshops on techniques for the production of murals. We were to produce one of the largest murals in the western hemisphere on the TANKS AT PICTON dedicated to the contribution of Africans to Trinidad and the world.

We were to ask artists from around the region and world to help. We were to get the private sector to partner with the public sector to provide additional resources and support. We were to use young people from YTTEP, OJT, UWI, UTT as support and trainees. We were to document the entire process and we were to paint real murals on walls all over Trinidad and Tobago. H.E. Daaga was the lone voice opposing the Murals Project, I still do not know why.

Despite the Chief Servant’s objections the IYPAD Murals Project was accepted by the committee as the flagship project of the International Year for People of African Descent. They also stipulated that the Picton Tanks Project was the most important aspect of the Murals Project. The proposal was placed in a Cabinet note by Dr. Rambachan in September 2011; it was approved and presented with budget at a post-cabinet press conference, for immediate implementation. (See here).

Artists don't excite easily. But in this case artists around the country were a little excited. We thought we were going to bring our talents to the service of national pride and development. We thought we were going to paint on the walls as part of a national project designed to stimulate visual arts as a non-energy sector of the national economy.

We thought we were going to use art as a means of social-economic development. We thought we were going to get a chance to show what we could do and what public art is all about. We thought that we could finally do what the people of Picton had asked us to do so long ago, Paint the Tanks. We thought it was a novel idea whose time had come. We thought wrong.

Nothing ever came of it. Nothing more was ever done and no explanation was ever given. No walls, no paint, no brushes, no designs, no tanks, no plan, no artists, no training, no thanks, no nothing! Maybe it was just too much money to be giving to some brown skinned artists to paint pictures on walls. (How much did they pay McFarlane to put those plastic moulds on the walls of the Hyatt and call them a mural?)

We do not know what happened to the IYPAD Murals Project. All we know is that it has stopped. We (the muralists) simply continue to paint on the walls. It is what we do. Painting is our work and our prayer. No one can stop us from painting, just as no one can stop us from breathing. Of course we can use public support and understanding. Maybe Dr. Rambachan's REPRESENT project can help.

In the mean time we watch, we learn and we will represent.


Some of the people around us, the theatre critics the cynics and conspiracy theorist, say The IYPAD Murals Project was performing arts, not visual art. They called it a Pappy-Show. They tell us that it was not real. According to these cynics, there was never any real intention to commemorate the International Year of People of African Descent or paint 17 murals. There was surely no real intention of Painting the Tanks at Picton.

After all, "You can't go to Picton, just so!" The critics review the Pappy-show saying that: "...The people in charge don't like Art and they don't like poor black people. So there is no reason to think that they will spend money on all this art about poor black people.

They did this song and dance just to make it look like they were doing something. So when they go to UN conferences they can say, 'Look at what we did for the IYPAD. We care about African people.' Besides, Rambachan wants to get rid of the long standing public perception that he is a racist. So he teams up with Daaga and pretends to champion IYPAD.

They use the Artists and the Africans because you guys have no power. Who is you? This is not real. It is a show, just hold your corner and look out for the second act."

Of course the review sounds all too familiar. "That's the way it is, get used to it." It has all the earmarks of an ugly truth that you cannot change. Even artists sometimes succumb to the cynicism of victimhood and surrender their fate to the unavoidable inequities of a failed system. They are afraid to speak truth to power and instead embrace power's truth.

For them the lie becomes true and truth a figment of the imagination. Fortunately artists know something of imaginings. We live in the world of imagination, where dreams are work product and the impossible routine. So we cannot be fooled by the blue smoke and mirrors of the stage production. We have our own truth!

We understand the IYPAD Murals Project and need not go to the underground world of Pappy-shows and conspiracies for insight. We were there, and have our own experience to inform our thinking. The critics and cynics are shouting their views from the sideline. Instead of listening to them we can still go to Picton and listen to the people there.
The critics don't know that this is where the Picton Tank Project came from in the first place. The critics have not heard the voiceless visions of people trying to find a better way. They don't know that these people of Picton are real and have ideas of their own.

This project always was their idea. The Picton Tanks Project is their project and it is what they wanted done in their community. They think that painting the tanks would uplift their community, change the way Picton looks and help change the way people look at Picton. They want the best artist they can get to come help them. They have been asking us for this help for years.
The Picton Tanks Project is a real expression of people's aspirations. This is cultural-work that can be done, should be done and one day will be done. This is not a Pappy-show. We are not actors in some one’s play. This is real work, real paint on real walls. This is real culture!

We also reject the Pappy-show theory because the work to put together the IYPAD Murals Proposal was significant, thorough and of the highest standards. It was produced by a team of proven professionals with more than 150 years of collective artistic and managerial experience. Our Proposal was detailed, research-based and fiscally sound. 
It included facilities, training modules, orientation guidelines, selection processes, and documentary procedures; OSHA requirements, NIS and administrative support systems. All of this and more was designed to promote artistic excellence.

Our contribution is real and abiding. It has weight and substance and cannot be easily dismissed. Only a criminal government would waste the time and resources of a nation’s artists just to put on a Pappy-show. If that is what this whole thing was about and the Pappy-show is what they were up to, then this is a criminal matter.
This is the rape of culture, the theft of ideas, the misappropriation of hopes, the abuse of human labor and the attempted murder of the people's creative spirit. This is criminal activity, not theatrical production.

The final reason we reject the Pappy-show hypothesis is that it doesn't make sense. His Excellency, Chief Servant, Makandal Daaga, Ambassador Extraordinary, Plenipotentiary, would have to be a fool to openly oppose the wishes of poor black people and abuse artists just to produce a Pappy-Show.
His whole life is built on support for the African Masses and his livelihood for the last thirty years has come from his work in culture. Why would such a man risk his legacy for a temporary alliance with Rambachan to produce a Pappy-show? It just doesn't make sense.

We know The IYPAD Murals Project is real work of which we are proud.. The effort to implement it is real politics. The voiceless shouts of black poor people is real life. The visual images that their culture conjures is real art! This is visual art in action.

These are the concepts and images of restless spirits, imposing themselves on unwilling viewers. This is the fight for the images and ideas that fill the mind of a people. This is public art seeking its place in the national consciousness. The critics and cynics have to make up Pappy-shows because they just can’t make out the paintings on the wall.

Rather than invent pappy-shows and conspiracies we are content to end not knowing. The truth will come and we will still be painting. In the real world, where people are not props and communities are not backdrops, there is always something to paint.


I commend Dr. Rambachan’s continued support of public art (Act 2). On October 20th he will again REPRESENT by painting 'murals' on walls. I think the entire nation should help him. I can't make it but you can.
With the support of the Ministry of Planning you are sure to get paint and brushes. You can paint on walls with the full support of the Ministries of Local Government and Planning. So go get your paint and brushes. Fill the walls of Trinidad and Tobago with the colors of your passions and the contours of your joy.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So speak from your heart, paint a picture on the wall. Maybe someone will see your picture and hear what you have to say.

Yes, painting on the walls is a wonderful idea. Let's paint!


Rafiki Morris 
1 868 307 1106
Rafiki Morris@facebook.com