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Redemption–through God and art

By Lara Pickford-Gordon

The art exhibit from Carrera Island Studios got off to a good start with 17 of 30 pieces sold on opening night Friday, June 30 at Archbishop’s House, Port of Spain. It was attended by President Christine Kangaloo, members of the diplomatic corps and art lovers.

Members of the public had a chance to view the pieces by the seven Carrera artists and one from the Maximun Security Prison (MSP) on display July 1–2 under the theme Redemption.

The Catholic News visited the exhibit on Saturday, July 1 and found out that art has become a source of release and inspiration in bringing a freedom beyond their present confinement. The creative process is a source of healing and empowerment.

Alladin Mohammed started the Carrera Island Studios, tutoring four inmates in 2009. He has since tutored many more. Art, he said, is a process that takes time. Mohammed said, “The guys are sentenced to life imprisonment. All we have is time and that is why they are so good today because we had time to develop our artform.”

He is candid that the full impact of art on the reformation of the men cannot quickly be articulated, however, art has proven redeeming.

Mohammed said, “That is one of the reasons we came up with this theme Redemption. We have redeemed ourselves through art and through service to others. One of the things we have come to realise is the greatest good we can do is service to man.”

The artists have donated to charitable organisations from sales generated in their annual exhibits.

Sales of commissioned pieces also go towards supporting other prison rehabilitation programmes, disclosed Leslie Huggins. The artists themselves receive one-third.

Huggins began doing art in prison, tutored by Mohammed. Like Mohammed, he got involved in the meditation classes offered by the Raja Yoga Centre and connected with God.

Huggins, 54 years, thinks he was shaped by God within the prison system. “I am happy with who I am and who I have become and being connected to God, I am satisfied”, he said.

Now an artist in his own right, Huggins helps teach inmates. “They will listen to me…I could let them know what working and what not working. Crime not working. I have a talent, I have a living, I making sales…and I am also trying to give back to society.”

Huggins’ medium of expression is airbrushing and mixed media. He loves doing portraits; the prison studio gets many requests for portraits.

Art makes him feel alive and gives him peace. “It’s like some place to escape to, you could create your own world,” Huggins said. He pointed to his piece titled ‘Tranquility’ which captures the calmness of nature saying, “I can draw from memory, create what I’m thinking and paint it and put it on canvas.”

Rawle Ghany entered prison at 24 years. Now 53, he sees a career outside of prison with art and hopes to have his own studio. This hope was echoed by other artists.

“Art is like therapy to me. I paint with emotions and I feel relaxed,” he said. Ghany grew up in Montrose, Chaguanas in a peaceful area surrounded by nature. “It has plenty scenery, life forms there with rivers and trees,” he said.

Ray Oliverre enjoys conveying the natural scenes of waterfalls, seas, beaches, and birds. He draws inspiration from happy times growing up in Arima.

“We used to play in the forest and go hunting, those kinds of things. That’s why I like still life things, nature. It comes from my memory and use it into canvas.”

He said art gives him a great feeling and release. “It takes away plenty of my stress …plenty of my time in here doing prison. Makes me feel relaxed…you have to love art to get into art; art is something like a different world… if you go to pray art is something like that,” Oliverre said.

Steve Mungroo, 52 years, has been imprisoned since he was 18 years. “I use art as a form of discipline and a way of creating beauty and showing the wider world regardless of whatever happened in the surroundings, beauty still exists.” One had to take the time to pause and look around to see the beauty, he added.

The exhibit was staged with the support of the RC Archdiocese of Port of Spain Prison Ministry with the Raja Yoga Centre and T&T Prison Service for the inmate art programme.

Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon, who bought a piece titled ‘In the Beginning’ by Huggins, outlined the impetus for the showing came from his prison visit last December and discussion on the artists’ needs.

The idea of an exhibit and suitable venue came up and he recalled a successful exhibit at Long Circular Mall before Covid-19.

Archbishop Gordon said: “That did very well and I said we can have one at Archbishop’s House that will bring a different kind of stature to the exhibit and many people want to see Archbishop’s House.”

He said the historic House which serves as residence and offices of the Church was in the service of the people of T&T. The Archbishop said, “What greater service than to highlight the art of our artists from Carrera and from MSP and to show that the talent that they have is something that is very significant as a contribution back to our nation.”

He described the opening night with attendance by the President and others sharing with the artists as “magical, a wonderful moment for T&T”.

The Archbishop lauded the artists mentoring young persons within the system. “They have left the prison and come out and are artists in their own right now in society and have not come back into prison.” He gave the example of a repeat offender who has not returned.

Deacon Patrick Laurence said the Catholic Church has been involved in prison ministry for many years. He mentioned the mandate from Jesus Christ, “When I was in prison did you come to visit me?”

He disclosed, “we sold 17 which is pretty good and the young lady Rhea Frank who did the origami, she sold out and is bringing out more pieces, and all the fancy cards that they put out there, all those are sold as well so it is pretty good so far.”

Archbishop Gordon was presented with a card by Andrew Douglas, lifer at MSP on behalf of the artists.