Feared, ridiculed and outlawed, the African-Caribbean spiritual traditions that came to be known as Obeah have survived for centuries as an underground practice of spirituality and healing.
Even with the relatively recent elimination of the colonial era laws banning its practice, Obeah is yet to enjoy the legitimacy and respect accorded to other spiritual traditions, and remains largely shrouded in mystery and ignorance.
On March 19, the Lloyd Best Institute of the Caribbean (LBIC) will launch a two-week tribute to two outstanding men of art who have defied the culture of secrecy and shame to openly declare Obeah as the spiritual source of their work.
Obeah philosophy as expressed through the art of Leroy Clarke of Trinidad and the music of Shadow (Winston Bailey) of Tobago will take centre stage during the LBIC’s Convois 2019, which runs from March 19 to 30 at 91 Tunapuna Road, Tunapuna.
The opening event on March 19 will include the launch of an exhibition of Clarke’s paintings with a presentation on “Different Drummers: Obeah as Art” by Prof Fazal Ali, provost of the University of Trinidad and Tobago.
From the beginning of their careers, both Clarke and Shadow had been clear about Obeah as the wellspring of their artistic power and the perspective from which they see the world. Shadow’s 1982 composition, “Obeah”, put the point squarely on the table with the charge that he was “wukkin’ obeah”.
Giving validity to what was forbidden
Shadow’s entire oeuvre is saturated with references and language from the world of Obeah.
In the process, he has given popular currency and validity to what was once merely whispered and forbidden.
At the other end of the spectrum, Clarke, now celebrating his 80th birthday, has consciously elevated Obeah as philosophy and the means through which the African psyche can be healed and made whole from the ruins left behind by the devastation of the colonial experience in the Caribbean.
“My art is Obeah. Obeah is a way, the art of the way to being,” was how Clarke explained his relationship with Obeah philosophy.
From early, Clarke recognised a kinship with fellow pointer man, Shadow.
Interviewed by Jeremy Taylor of Caribbean Beat almost 25 years ago, he said: ‘“My painting is revolution, it’s not about pretending at making you happy. The only artist I know doing the same thing in terms of art is Shadow.”
Following their own paths, Clarke and Shadow recognised each other as spiritual brethren joined in a relationship of mutual respect.
Clarke recounts a moment one day when Shadow visited him. To demonstrate how much he loved Shadow’s music, Clarke brought out of his substantial collection of Shadow’s albums.
Shadow looked at it, then averted his gaze and said in his quiet, succinct way: “You have a big piece of me there!” In those eight words was a world of understanding between fellow travellers who needed to say no more.
The schedule of events for Convois 2019 is available online at https://lloydbest.institute and on the Facebook page of The Lloyd Best Institute of the Caribbean.
Among the events are a presentation of Shadow’s philosophy by Winthrop Holder, followed by a panel discussion by Sharlan Bailey, Thomas Isaacs and Ravi Mungalsingh on Friday, March 22.
This will be followed on Saturday, March 23, by the painting of a mural at the Lloyd Best Institute under the guidance of Clarke and artist Makemba Kunle, whose art will also be exhibited alongside Clarke’s.
There are 20 spaces available for young artists in participating in the mural project.