Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Experiencing the Art in a State of the Art Museum and Art Gallery

"What is currently the home of the National Museum and Art Gallery has, as a building, outgrown its walls and its floors. So we are looking to a state of the art building or system of buildings that can house what we are also trying to currently define as the National Collection... and  to chronicle, document and interpret events and experience"


Experiencing the Art in State of the Art
Opening Remarks, Chair, National Museum and Art Gallery, Dr Kris Rampersad
EYE...HAYTI...CRIES...EVERYWHERE...
Symposium on the Exhibition by LeRoy Clark, May 19, National Academy for the Performing Arts, Port of Spain

Happy International Museum Day!
Thank you for that invocation for reminding us that we are a part of something larger that came before us and that we ourselves come from something larger in our ancestry.
It has been a distinct honour that one of the first acts of the new Board of the National Museum and Art Gallery (NMAG) was to host this phenomenal exhibition of Chief Ifa Oje Won Yomi Abiodun—Master Artist, Le Roy Clarke EYE...HAYTI...CRIES...EVERYWHERE...
The breadth and depth of artistic vision are as much in each individual piece as in the collective of some 105 drawings in black and white which encapsulate and exude the spirit, resilience and potential of the civilisation and people who inspire, even with their tears, in Clarke’s symbolic Hayti. That is the overpowering sense when you enter the art gallery - that Hayti is all around us, and we are in it! Everywhere. That is the singular power that this exhibition: EYE...HAYTI...CRIES...EVERYWHERE...exudes.
I hope you have all had the opportunity to not just view but experience the exhibition before coming here – and if you haven’t yet, it is still open at the National Museum and Art gallery for another month.
It is in this context that I invite you to listen to the presentations and participate in the discussions that will follow. We. You Me all of us are not isolated or insulated from all of it. We are very much a part, participant, player and protagonist as we are audience, recipient and receptacle. This is a symposium about everywhere, as much as it is about the here and the now, and the actual country, our neighbour Haiti, that inspire it.
As we speak, we are confronting the tragedies of humanity that bring us to despair, to tears. I do not have to list them. They are personal and they are national and they are universal. That you are here means you must feel some of it, and want to impact upon it. And it is that eternal resilience to search out, to quest and to question and in doing so to transcend that this exhibition also celebrates.
At a time when the arts is the first – the first – to feel the axe of funding cuts and budget and other adjustments, we are trying to make the National Museum and Art Gallery into a state of the art institution. But what is state of the art? Which art? Whose art? It is a phrase often used loosely without thinking of what it really means:
The standard definition of state of the art is: the most recent stage in the development of something incorporating the newest ideas and features. Newness, innovation, and technology feature in every definition, but what of history, heritage, legacy? What of art?
Where is the place for art in state of the art?
It is indeed a reflection that seems apt standing here in a building like this that houses the National Performance Art Academy. Is this state of the art? Isn’t that a discussion, a dialogue, we should have had a long time ago, and is somewhat long due: the conversation between the centuries old building next door, known as the Royal Victoria Institute and headquarters of the National Museum and Art Gallery, and this ultra modern state of the art one here? And isn’t there a dialogue and conversation that should be happening between our institution next door, and institutions like this one, the University of Trinidad and Tobago and the other one up the road, the University of the West Indies.
Where is the art in state of the art?
When we talk of a state of the art, we at the National Museum and Art Gallery envision an institution that is aptly fulfilling its role in all the dimensions and expectations such an institution is supposed to offer. It is a building yes – but it is not just a building. We are well aware that what is currently the home of the National Museum and Art Gallery has, as a building, outgrown its walls and its floors. So we are looking to a state of the art building or system of buildings that can house what we are also trying to currently define as the National Collection. And we hope that can be equipped with the latest technologies and equipment and devices that define the modern age.
But that would be nothing, a void, like the echoes that emanate from the cries within Clarke’s drawings, if we do not also fill that building/those buildings with events and occasions like these: to reflect, to interrogate, to elucidate, to educate on the state of the art, the state of our art, and the state that we are in as a people, the role of the State and the role of the people in the state of the art. We welcome partnerships in this so we can have more of these, more engagement, more interaction, more discussion, articulation, interrogation so we could better understand ourselves and this place we call our society, and our world.
It allows us an opportunity to remind ourselves, and others, of the role of the arts: to chronicle, document and interpret events and experience; to bring people closer together to understand each other: to promote cross cultural understanding because art reaches out from canvas and makes the looker-on, the onlooker – a participant. Isn’t that true of the exhibition next door? It encourages us to find creative solutions to challenging situations which we are here to do at this symposium.
To me, ultimately, art, all art, is not techniques and buildings and technology but experience. Through it an artist expresses an experience that he or she often cannot even fathom – his/her experience of an emotion or thought; and through it we participate in an experience that may be larger and inaccessible to us in our daily lives.
As we reflect on, discuss, debate, project and contemplate the artist’s work here, examine and scrutinise where it came from, what it has become, where it will go; where we have come from, what we have become, where are we going as a people, let us also reflect on the state of the art: The state of the art that a Museum and Art Gallery represents, should represent.
And I invite you to join us in helping to take it there. It is a cry, my cry, for all of us to recognise that perhaps we would not have so many tears if we had such an institution that could hold together all the fraying and flaying strands of our society and from its chaos create the kind of art we see in the exhibition: EYE...HAYTI...CRIES...EVERYWHERE...
I thank you for taking the time and effort to be a part of this; and the University of Trinidad and Tobago and the Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration for partnering; Legacy House for inspiring us and I look forward to the presentations and your partnership and collaboration as we move forward towards better appreciation of the state of the art. We appreciate and welcome your understanding of this as a collective responsibility as we move to form alliances and partnerships that would help us fullfil the esoteric and exoteric place a museum assumes in the lives of citizens.
We invite you to join us in forging opportunities for our National Museum and Art Gallery to grow in stature as a place to explore and interrogate ourselves as much as it is to celebrate and transform the worst in and of us into the best of us, so that we too become state of the art.
I thank you.
Dr Kris Rampersad
Chair, National Museum and Art Gallery.