Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What Kimme left for us on a Tobago hillside

Some of what you can see at the Kimme Museum of Art and Sculpture. Photo: Richard Charan


Luise Kimme died far from her German motherland five years ago. But she was far from alone.

When the misery that is colon cancer finally claimed her body, Kimme was in the living room of her Tobago home, looking out to Mt Irving Bay, surrounded by her art and her beloved dogs.

And Kimme,74, had artist Dunieski Lora Pileta as a caregiver and confidante for six years before her passing.

Hours before she died, he had left her and travelled to Trinidad to buy the materials for a school of art they intended to open at her Museum of Art and Sculpture.

This sculpture is meant to symbolise the emancipation of the Africans from slavery.

 

That was in April 2013. Much has happened since. Not all of it encouraging.

But there is still a chance that her plans to give back to the people of her adopted island, could be realised.

Born in during World War II and raised in Berlin, Kimme travelled the world teaching and working, including with the Rasta and the Reggae in Jamaica and the Maroons of Suriname, before finding Tobago in 1979. She never left.

Her sculptures of bronze and wood, the paintings, murals and books had brought her worldwide recognition.

But it was Tobago that some of her finest work would be done in the studio of that hillside property below the village of Bethel, where she honoured the people of Tobago, its history of enslavement, the religious beliefs, folklore, superstitions and culture.

The Tobagonians were the models for some of her sculptures, inspired the paintings, and they built her home and studio.

And the island's stray dogs that she found in the village hungry and diseased, became her 'children'. They too were made timeless in her art.

Five years later, several of her dogs are still there, cared for by Dunieski who is now the artist in residence at “The Castle”, now owned by Kimme's sister Ilse.

It is a place largely untouched since Kimme's passing, containing the detritus of a frantic life, half-done projects, personal possessions, a place that will leave you awe struck.

And this is how it will remain, said Dunieski.

He is Cuban, only now mastering the English language, and willing to partner with those who knew and loved Kimme, and who want Tobago to benefit from her influence.

Dunieski was born in Santiago de Cuba, he told us.

“And from very early in life I was doing art, carving with clay, using bricks and stones to make things, from the age of eight” he said.

 

Dunieski with some of the sculptures on display at the museum.

 

“I was discovered and brought to the art school and passed the elementary level. If you passed you went on to the academy where you would do a test to go on to the university”.

 

Dunieski had become skilled in the ancient art of lost-wax casting, by the time Kimme found him 17 years ago.

 She was in Santiago de Cuba for the annual International Caribbean Festival and was in search of someone capable of doing bronze casting.

The two would work together until her death, with Kimme travelling frequently to Cuba to learn to work with beeswax.

Said Dunieski: “My first time in Tobago was about eight years ago. I visited for three months, After that I left and I went to Europe, Spain …When she got sick she called me. She had colon cancer that would metastasize all over her body.  (At the time) I was in Martinique doing a ten metre monument near the airport. She wanted me to come”.

Dunieski, a 42-year-old married father of three girls, said he considered it a privilege.

“We were close. In Cuba, we would go to parties, to dances, she was a professional (salsa) dancer. People thought we were like girlfriend, boyfriend. But no, she was like my mother.  In Cuba, I helped her with plane tickets, and making links for her exhibitions in Havana and Santiago de Cuba, her taxi, (and) accommodation”.

Six years ago, Dunieski came over to Tobago.

“I was like her nurse. I couldn't speak a word of English then. And I had to go with her to the Oncology Centre in Trinidad to talk to the doctor, to get blood tests, to do this, to do that, then find my way to the guest house on Tragarete Road by getting a taxi. I was so afraid. But I learned”.

Those who knew Kimme remembered her courage in the face of the disease. She continued working, and when she could no longer walk, she carved on her knees.

The day Kimme passed away, Dunieski said he made her comfortable, before leaving for Trinidad.

“We went to get the material and stuff to build, intending to open an art school here to teach people. We also wanted to make a theme park, with big statues two metres high to attract people, to help the tourism. And that same day she died. When I left, I said wait for me, I am coming back soon. But she was gone, and never came back”.

As with many artists, Dunieski has grand ideas beyond the reach of many.

One of them, he said, was shared some years ago, when Orville London was still the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly and visited the museum along with some other island politicians.

Dunieski had created a scale model in bronze of a planned monument to remember Tobago's slave and sugar plantation history.

Ten metres high and erected in a prominent place, it would be an expensive project that would employ many, the sculpture to be unveiled on an Emancipation Day as an everlasting symbol of the African man's freedom and what it cost.

London was impressed and considered it a project to pursue, said Dunieski. Nothing has happened since. Maybe there is someone out there willing to fund it.

Meanwhile, the work created at "The Castle” continues to draw crowds at exhibitions around the world.

“Shango” the bronze that visitors would have seen standing sentinel at the entrance to “The Castle”, is off to Stockholm, Sweden.

The rest of the art, conjured in the minds of Kimme of Dunieski, is on that Tobago hillside, awaiting your visit.

NOTE: There is an entrance fee $20 on Sundays from 10a.m. to 2p.m.. Visits at other times can be arranged by contacting 639-0257. To learn more, you can visit www.luisekimme.com/