I left Trinidad at age eighteen and am now sixty-nine years old. I wanted to focus my artwork on childhood memories and growing up on a unique multicultural island.Indra Persad-Milowe
J’AIPUR: What is your background and how did you become an artist?
In my youth I wanted to study art. My interest was in nature, still life and design. I adored my high school art teacher, Mrs. Helga Mohammed. She was from Madrid and married to a Trinidadian. On my first day in her class, she wrote on the blackboard: “Art is not just a painting hanging up on a wall, art is in every aspect of your daily life.” My paintings were chosen for the high school’s yearbook for two consecutive years. At age 15, I painted from nature —orchids on a branch. At age 16, I did a still life: a display of an apple, pear, and a bunch of grapes. Those two paintings and all the incredible reviews that came with them lifted my confidence in my artwork. In my adulthood, I retired from general, ophthalmic and psychiatric nursing in 2019. I had worked in England, Malta, Trinidad and the United States. Through British Nurses Overseas, I was able to work in different countries. Ultimately, I decided to go back to art during my retirement and my preferred medium is acrylic paint.
J’AIPUR: Describe your creative process.
Most of my ideas come to me when I am lying in my bed so I keep a sketch book and pen next to it. I sketch my thoughts before putting them onto my canvas. I also do a lot of research before I start sketching. I left Trinidad at age 18 and am now sixty-nine years old. I wanted to focus my artwork on childhood memories and growing up on a unique multicultural island. Weekends and holidays were spent at my grandparent’s house. There was a Hindu temple on their street which was the community hub. There is so much that I thought I had forgotten but the memories streamed back for my series ‘Festivals and Folklore of Trinidad, West Indies’.
J’AIPUR: Who are some women artists (living or dead) that you admire?
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986) who was an American artist and known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes. She has been referred to as the “Mother of American Modernism”.
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929), a Japanese contemporary artist who works primarily in sculpture and installation, but is also active in painting, performance, film, fashion, poetry, fiction, and other arts. She has been acknowledged as one of the most important living artists to come out
Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) who was a Mexican painter known for her many portraits, self-portraits, and works inspired by the nature and artifacts of Mexico. She employed a naïve folk art style to explore questions of identity, postcolonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Her paintings often had strong autobiographical elements and mixed realism withfantasy. She is also known for painting about her experience of chronic pain.
J’AIPUR: What inspires you to create?
I am interested in traditional art forms and symbols which can launch my own creativity. For example, I have been researching rangolis for my next art exhibition. Rangolis are found in Hindu households on floors and tabletops and consist of various colorful patterns and symmetries and made with mostly natural materials. I made them with my grandmother while singing bhajans like the ones I listen to during the online satsangs.
J’AIPUR: Name an art exhibition that had a lasting impression upon you.
I visited the Museum Juan Zorrilla de San Martin in Montevideo, Uruguay in November of 2019. It was a refreshing surprise for me to see the entrance wall painted with the murals of Nicolás Sánchez or better known as AlfAlfA (born in Mérida, Venezuela, 1983) depicting mythological and sea beings which was a rather fascinating idea of painting them together.
J’AIPUR: What are some tools, techniques and materials that you employ to create your work?
Canvas, pencils for sketching, sharpener, eraser, acrylic paints and paintbrushes.
J’AIPUR: How would you like to see your artistic practice/career evolve over the next few years?
I want to share my work in the United States for educational purposes since many Americans are not exposed to other cultures.
J’AIPUR: Name a favourite artwork of yours.
I am very attached to my “Moko Jumbie” (2019) painting. A moko jumbie (also known as moko jumbi or mocko jumbie) is a stilts walker or dancer. Moko means healer in Central Africa and jumbi is a West Indian term for a ghost or spirit that may have been derived from the Kongo language word zumbi. The Moko Jumbies are thought to originate from West African tradition brought to the Caribbean and they may wear colorful garb and carnival masks. They also frequent festivals and celebrations such as the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival. Moko, in the traditional sense is a god. He watches over his village and due to his towering height is able to foresee danger and evil. Africans believed he protected them during their arduous slave days. His name, Moko, literally means the “diviner” and he would be represented by men on towering stilts and performs acts that were unexplainable to the human eye. In one remote tribe, the Moko rises from a regular man’s height to the skies fluidly with no help and descends similarly to leave others to wonder how he performed such an act. The Moko arrived in Trinidad as a man “walking all the way across the Atlantic Ocean from the West coast of Africa, laden with many, many centuries of experience, and, in spite of all inhuman attacks and encounters, yet still walks tall, tall, tall.” (John Cupid, Caribbean Beat) The idea of the Moko survived by living in the hearts of African descendants during slavery and colonial life to eventually walk the streets of Trinidad in a celebration of freedom, the Carnival. While this figure was rooted in African heritage, Trinidad adapted the figure, notably by adding on jumbie or ghost to the name. By the early 1900sm moko jumbies had become an element of Trinidad’s Carnival and this figure would walk the streets of Port of Spain and other cities protecting the city and revelers from evil. As part of his role in the Carnival, the moko jumbie would accept donations from onlookers in upper floors of buildings. (via Wikipedia)
J’AIPUR: What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an artist?
It is a lot of hard work and a lot of research needs to be done.
J’AIPUR: What do you like to do when you are not making art?
I design and sew a lot of my own clothes. I love visiting our local hat shop and am definitely a hat woman! I cook a lot of delicious meals now at home. I work in my flower, herb and vegetable garden. I used to travel abroad at least twice a year but that has been halted since the Covid-19 pandemic.
J’AIPUR: How do you navigate the art world in terms of finding opportunities and building a collector base?
I have found that my newspaper and magazine interviews have brought greater interest in my art.
J’AIPUR: What are some challenges you have faced as an artist?
Since there are so many artists, one needs a lot of unique work in order to succeed.
J’AIPUR: How do you think the art world can better support women artists?
Gallery directors and museum curators need to look for unique styles and substance to encourage and support all artists.
Indra Persad-Milowe was born in Trinidad in the West Indies. At the age of eighteen, as a British Commonwealth Citizen, she received a scholarship to London University and studied General, Ophthalmic and Psychiatric Nursing. She worked for British Nurses Overseas and travelled extensively around the world accompanying hundreds of patients who came for medical care at prestigious London hospitals. After forty-five years, she retired and went back to what she loved the most – art! Working primarily with acrylic paints on canvas, her work focuses on personal experiences, reliving her childhood memories of growing up in Trinidad in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Her paintings reflect the many cultural traditions of Trinidad and Tobago including traditional Hindu ceremonies, African folklore as well as the natural beauty of the islands. Indra’s art has been featured in various publications in the United States and in Trinidad. See more of her work on her website.
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