Janelle De Souza
Artists Sherlann Peters and Maria Diaz couldn’t help but shed tears of joy when, on June 18, one of their biggest dreams came true with the unveiling of the Yoruba village monument.
Commissioned by the Emancipation Support Committee (ESC), the monument was unveiled in the Yoruba Village Square, east of Port of Spain, during the Yoruba Village Drum Festival. It is a tribute to the Yoruba village community which has made a significant contribution to the social, economic and cultural landscape of TT.
The sculptors said they dreamed of one day building a monument and leaving a permanent mark on the national soil. It’s even more meaningful for them because they understand what sculpture means to the region and the country. It is also a great achievement for young female artists because most of the pieces in the capital were made by men.
“It was surreal to do the largest statue in eastern Port of Spain,” said Peters, who designed the monument.
Made of sculpting putty and painted with oxidizing bronze paints and patina, the monument is of a Yoruba man and woman, identified as such by facial scarification.
Constructed by 26-year-old Diaz, the female figure is nurturing. In her hands she holds a calabash bowl filled with black-eyed peas with a plant growing from them, signifying new growth and the continuation of African culture and heritage. It is adorned with a gele (headgear), cowrie shells and an anchor pendant around the neck. And since the national instrument originated from what used to be called the Yoruba village, the design of her necklace is that of steelpan while her earrings are steelpan sticks.
The male figure was constructed by Peters, 42. He is dressed in an African outfit and hat (an aso oke agbada and an abeti aja) and wears a sankofa pendant. The website cola.siu.edu translates “sankofa” as “returning to the past and presenting what is useful” while berea.edu translates it as “it is not taboo to seek out what is likely to be left over”.
He also plays a talking drum and a stick and Peters explained, “Talking drums were banned during slavery, but out of that ban came the evolution of the steelpan. He is like the father who protects everyone and brings up the rear with the music and the rhythm. It depicts the festival, the vibe of the area which is appropriate as we see the influence of African soca and calypso music.
Peters told WMN that the ESC contacted local artist Kenwyn Crichlow about the project three years ago and recommended her because she was one of his former students at UWI. Excited and ready for any challenge, she contacted Diaz, a fellow sculptor and friend of eight years to partner with her on the project.
And they are perfect partners because, although they both cover similar subjects in their work, Peters’ art style is realism while Diaz’s gravitates towards surrealism and contemporary art.
They immediately started working on research and design, internal mechanism, how to install it, material sourcing and carving process. But, due to the challenges of rising costs and delays due to the pandemic, it wasn’t until a year ago that they began acquiring the materials and building the monument.
They thanked everyone who helped them realize their dream, including Rauf Aregbesola, then Governor of Osun State in Nigeria, who made the initial financial contribution in 2018, and later the East Port of Spain Development Company as well as the PoS City Corporation which made the base of the monument.
ART IS LIFE
Peters is a self-taught artist who has been painting and drawing for as long as she can remember. Her father practices art as a hobby and her brother, Shawn Peters, is a painter and sculptor.
“I’ve been making art since I was young. It’s in my family, I don’t think I could have escaped it and I didn’t want to because I love it.
She remembers her grandmother sending her to the post office when she was a child. She marveled at the images on the stamps and wished she could create such work. And she was able to achieve this goal in 2004 when she made a collection of stamps for TT Post commemorating the abolition of slavery.
Her love for art grew exponentially during her studies at Morvant Laventille High School. There, her art teacher introduced her to artist Makemba Kunle. She was inspired by his work and the work of other local artists like LeRoy Clarke, Bill Trotman and Fitzroy Hoyte.
Then, at age 15, she sold her first piece – a drawing of two women dressed in colorful Caribbean clothing sitting on a sofa – at an art show at Toco High School.
“Through Studio66, I sold this piece to a German couple who were on vacation for $800. After that, I was an artist. That was it for me.
She skipped the rest of her studies to focus on art. So much so that during her CXC math exam, she drew everyone in the room and walked out. Since then, she exhibits every year in art galleries.
“Art was my main focus. I didn’t even think I would need English or social studies or anything else to support my art. Of course, I went back and did other subjects afterwards.
She then took a certificate course in visual arts and, a few years later, the diploma program from which she graduated in 2017.
She was also part of the 2011 Women as Agents of Change exhibition where she created a sculpture of Calypso Rose which was produced for Commonwealth Day celebrations for the Queen.
Diaz was introduced to art when she started attending Bishop Anstey High School East where Peters taught art for a year.
“Although she was not my teacher, there was one day when she brought a sculpture and I saw it by chance. At that time, I already knew that I wanted to do art. I was more focused on digital arts and animation, but I was still researching what medium I would choose. This was the first interaction I had with realism, clay and sculpture, and I thought “It’s so amazing! I need to do some sculpting.”
“Animation is a digital form of sculpting, using a computer program to sculpt the pieces. So, for me, it goes hand in hand.
During her A-Levels, she studied with artist Elsa Clarke who nurtured and helped develop her skills. Still, she was determined to pursue animation and game design. She received a partial scholarship to a school in Canada, but could not afford it. So she applied to the Visual Arts degree program at UWI and focused on fine art.
There she met Peters and the women clicked instantly. They also received Caricom scholarships to participate in a one-year exchange program at the University of Calgary in Canada where they lived and studied together and developed their friendship.
She works at the Department of Sports and Community Development and had her first exposure in 2019.
Over the years, the two women have worked for Carifesta and for the Central Bank, but the Yoruba monument is the first piece they have worked on together, something they hope to do again.
They can’t wait to do more landmarks, possibly one of TT’s icons, Peters said. They hope to do a joint exhibition at some point in the future.