- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

The United States isn’t the only quintessential melting pot. Guyana, which is about the size of Florida and is wedged between Venezuela and Suriname, calls itself “The Land of Six Peoples.”That diversity of cultures and traditions is reflected in “The Arts of Guyana: A Multicultural Caribbean Adventure,” an art and sculpture exhibit at the Inter-American Development Bank’s Cultural Center.

Exhibit curator Felix Angel calls Guyana “an intriguingly strange country that produces fascinating, puzzling art.”

In visiting Guyana, Mr. Angel chose art as different as Amerindians’ (Guyana’s indigenous Americans) woven baskets and intricately designed split mukru Akawaio fans; Philip Moore’s African-art-influenced “Wata Mama” illustrating the country’s “wata (water) myth”; Winston Strick’s Amerindian-like leather sculptures and clothing; and political activist Stanley Greaves’ scintillatingly geometrized paintings.

Although much of the show is first-rate, Philip Moore’s “Wata Mama” boat sculpture about a mourning mermaid is the best and most complex. Carved from a native samaan tree trunk and more than 5 feet long, the exhibited section shows what Mr. Angel calls the “sturdy, arching female form” of a swimming figure.

Identified with unexpected drownings, she sports long, flowing hair that — according to the exhibit label — symbolizes the torrential waters of Guyana’s famed Kaieteur Falls. Moreover, one of her hands holds a comb for dressing her hair, while a cuff — containing Hindu, Christian and Islamic symbols — encircles one of her wrists.

Consider also the long sword carved on the boat’s left inner edge with a staff of entwined serpents — standing for medical doctors’ caduceus symbols — on a raised center section of bark.

By contrast, the boat’s outer rim holds musical instruments that stand for music played in honor of this water spirit.

Mr. Moore takes a different aesthetic route on the obverse side, gouging markings and symbols of foreboding.

Stanley Greaves is one of the show’s major painters. After spending time in Guyana’s Mazaruni River region, he began rhythmic contrasting and patterning of shapes. His “Traffic Lights and Banana Trees,” which at first looks like an abstraction, is actually a busy intersection in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital.

The artist’s even more successful “Swamp Birds” also was inspired by this region, but here the repeated birds motif is patterned even more rhythmically.

Another winner is Carl Anderson, originally from Venezuela. His enormous “Sals Emmaso” and “Peace and Global Unity” — filling one long wall — with their ribbons of moving lights remind us of New York’s “Op” art style. For Mr. Anderson, however, they symbolize light breaking down darkness.

Nearby hangs his joyous “Windows to the Caribbean,” showing the area’s many carnivals and peoples.

Also important for Mr. Angel is Muslim Philip Moore’s varied work, such as his intricately painted “King Sparrow”; a carved wood celebration of Guyana’s love of cricket in “Bat and Ball Fantasy”; and a tribute to the great Muslim boxer Muhammad Ali in “Mohamed Ali (Ali Allah Ali).” One of his low-fired dishes is even here.

Eye-catching here also are the jute weavings called “tapestries.” Students are taught to use the jute of rice bags to save on expensive materials. Rice and cotton are the country’s main agricultural products.

Winston Strick’s leather art — especially his “Signs of the Zodiac” in leather with aluminum and galvanized wire — are unusual additions to this unusual exhibition.

WHAT: “The Arts of Guyana: A Multicultural Caribbean Adventure”

WHERE: Cultural Center of the Inter-American Development Bank, 1300 New York Ave. NW

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, through Aug. 11

Cost: Free

PHONE: 202/623-3774

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