The work of nine artists features in the Northeast Tobago project


From right, Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, Dr. Faith BYisrael, Region Representative, Belle Garden and Nathisha Charles-Pantin, Secretary of the Food Security, National Resources, Environment and Sustainable Development Division unveil the painting “Fisher Folk” by Avian Orr of Delaford at the North East Tobago UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Art Trail, Belle Garden Multipurpose Facility on Tuesday. -David Reid

Works by nine of Tobago’s artists can now be seen publicly in communities at the Man and Biosphere Forest Reserve in a pioneering initiative to marry concern for the environment with artists’ talents of the island.

In October 2020, the Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve, the oldest legally protected forest reserve in the Western Hemisphere, received the prestigious Man and Biosphere Designation from the United Nations Educational Organization, Science and Culture (UNESCO), becoming the largest UNESCO-branded site in the world. English-speaking Caribbean.

Northeast Tobago includes 15 villages, ranging from Belle Garden in the east to Moriah in the north.

The Man and the Biosphere program is an intergovernmental science initiative that seeks to establish a scientific basis for improving the relationship between people and their environment.

It promotes innovative approaches to economic development that are socially and culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable.

Tomley Roberts, president of the Tobago Visual Arts Association and contributor to the Art Trail, speaks at the launch. -David Reid

At the launch of the North East Tobago Art Trail on Tuesday at the Belle Garden Multipurpose Facility, project curator Tomley Roberts said the initiative was conceptualized about three years ago as part of a larger plan to give an artistic touch to this part of the island.

Roberts, an art teacher at Speyside High School, said team members from the ERIC (Environmental Research Institute, Charlotteville) met with village artists, students from Speyside High School and others stakeholders on ways to celebrate the designation.

He said the first initiative was to install the life-size Ah Ahwe Own sculpture at the Bloody Bay Recreation Site on June 7, 2022.

Roberts, who designed the sculpture, said it symbolized the biosphere reserve’s importance in promoting harmony and synergy between communities and nature.

The art trail, the second initiative, features exhibits at specific sites in Northeast communities.

Roberts, whose painting Hand in Hand with the Environment is on display in Delaford, told Sunday Newsday: “This is an important initiative that showcases our talent here in Tobago and also shows sensitivity to the environment, as these pieces are now installed in man and the biosphere forest reserve, showing exactly what our way of life is and some of the things we do.

He chose a painting by Avion Orr, Fisher Folk, to emphasize his point. It was unveiled at the launch by THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, Food Security, Natural Resources, Environment and Sustainable Development Secretary Nathisha Charles-Pantin and Member of the Belle Garden/Glamorgan congregation, Dr. Faith BYisrael.

“Fishermen pulling the boat out of the water is part of our tradition, as is planting and dancing cocoa. These are very important attributes of our cultural heritage that we have tried to immortalize, in a sense, because they are now permanent exhibits and they would be shown all over Tobago.

Tamika Whitlock Labidie addresses the launch of the North East Tobago UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Art Trail. -David Reid

Other artists involved so far are Jason Nedd, Earl Manswell, Chris Thomas, Coryse Wright-Kerr, Israel Melville, Quishang Jacob and Janina Awals.

Roberts, who is also the president of the Tobago Visual Arts Association, said visitors as they pass through northeast Tobago will now have the opportunity to stop and take photos of the pieces.

“It will be like a nostalgic affair, reminiscing about some of the things we have here in Tobago. In short, it is a whole development of the purple (creative arts) and orange (cultural goods and services) economy,
making sure to use our cultural heritage and monetize it so that our artists and visitors coming to the island can benefit from it.

He said it is very important for people to see works of art on public display.

“Most people would have had the privilege of looking at art in a gallery, but now what we’ve done, and which I think is very iconic in Tobago, is we’ve now taken the art and introduced it into the environment where people live.. So now they can see the artwork and develop an appreciation for it.

Saying that the future looks bright, Roberts said, “We have a lot to look forward to in terms of artistic development on the island.”

Welcoming the artistic trail, THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said Tobago needed to capitalize on its vibrant creative sector.

“We should devote more time and resources to those in the creative arts, and that includes the visual arts,” he said.

Augustine recalled many years ago that Tobagonians knew all the artists on the island, but he lamented that this was no longer the case.

“At some point people started telling their kids that it’s not a profession to do, because you can’t make money out of it, until you become an adult and you realize that a work of art can be a down payment for a car.”

Augustine told the artists that they are important for the development of Tobago.

“You are helping to document the life and lived experience of our people, the history of our people. Hundreds of years from now the world will see how we live today from the snapshots you may have painted or sculpted with your hands.

Augustine told the audience that the Man and the Biosphere designation “signals to the world that Tobago is an extremely important ecological space – a space that requires our constant attention.”

But he said that for too long the rainforest had been just ‘cutting off a road and going around it

“What happens with these installations is that they force people to stop and look, take a picture and understand how our people for many generations have lived in harmony with our environment.

Augustine said some of the practices depicted in the pieces are worth preserving for future generations.

“In our 60th year (of independence), we can celebrate the way we live as a people and tell young people that some of these practices are worth keeping.”

He remembers that as a child, his late grandmother made quilts and taught basket weaving in village groups.

“For a while, as a kid, I thought those things were symbols of poverty.”

Augustine said his views changed over the years, especially when he got married. Joking that his wife had “taken” me to a trade store for shopping a few days before Christmas, Augustin recalled seeing “all sorts of prices for baskets”.

He said he regretted not having learned the craft of basket weaving from his grandmother. His children, he added, also did not learn the skill, because for them it was not a “modern and progressive” activity.

In his address, Augustin also said that the signs in the village needed to be replaced.

“Those signs around the island that say ‘Welcome to the Villages and Drive Carefully’ – these now need replacing and they need to be improved with much more liveliness so that when our visitors move on the island, they will actually feel inclined to stop at the welcome sign.

He added that the signage should also reflect the uniqueness of the respective villages.

“Every community on this island has something they are good at and they are great at what can be celebrated. This should be celebrated in the “Welcome” signs.

He asked the Administrator of the Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transport Division to start this project in the new fiscal year.

Augustine said there was also a need for permanent signs at the beginning and end of the designated Man and Biosphere area.

He urged Tobagonians and visitors to preserve the art trail.

Food Security, Natural Resources, Environment and Sustainable Development Secretary Nathisha Charles-Pantin said the beautiful works of art will enhance the tourism product in northeast Tobago as well as the pride and the friendliness of its inhabitants. She added that it will also attract international visitors.

Stating that ecotourism is a key contributor to revitalizing and stabilizing the island’s economy, Charles-Pantin said, “Economic opportunities are poised to be derived from the biosphere reserves of northeastern Tobago. .

“This designation attracts opportunities for more local, national and international partnerships that are important for collaborative management.”

Further, she said the initiative espouses the division’s work to conserve and sustainably manage the use of Tobago’s natural resources while valuing and showcasing our rich natural heritage.

Charles-Pantin praised ERIC and other collaborators for conceptualizing the project, which she said is “an exciting sight”.

A project of ERIC, the initiative is funded by the Office of the Chief Secretary, the divisions of Food Security, Natural Resources, Environment and Sustainable Development and Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and transport; the United Nations Development Program Small Grants Programme; and Woodside Energy.

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