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Where Old Stones Are Set

Thursday, June 14, 2018
Artist Tamara Tam-Cruikshank

Artist Tamara Tam-Cruikshank’s debut exhibition — Where Old Stones Are Set: The Poetics and Politics of Cultural Memory in the Built Heritage of Port of Spain, Trinidad — examines the relationships between the layers of the built environment as well as the natural and built environments. The exhibition continues until June 29 at Soft Box Gallery, 9 Alcazar Street, Port-of-Spain.

The exhibition, which is submitted in partial fulfillment of a Master of Philosophy degree in Cultural Studies at the UWI, uses the layering of images to make the viewer consider how the national environment influenced the colonial and post-colonial architects and architecture.

Tam-Cruikshank said her work looks at how the architecture we see everyday determines our sense of place and how we think about our heritage. “It’s really about place and meaning and the layers of meaning.

We venerate built heritage, but what does it really mean to us?

“I think we should question and think and attach our own meanings, because we’re told we need to love this heritage, treasure it and protect it but where did it really come from?

And how did it influence the whole place?

“I think that we can look at the place, the natural landscape, the natural setting and climate and all of that and we could see patterns developing in the architecture.

So it’s like an exchange, so when the colonists came, they may not necessarily have wanted to be influenced by the environment that they were in, but they had to be in some way, like using fretwork because they needed the air to flow through the house, etc.”

The artist said some of her work looks at the materials used to construct the architecture, such as yellow bricks, blue limestone and the concrete pavers in Independence Square, and she attempts to peel back the layers of meaning within them. “What does it mean to have this kind of architecture in our landscape? The yellow brick came as ballast, which I associate with slavery and colonisation and colonialism, so that’s the historical connection.

“Then there’s like blue limestone which came from the hills of Laventille which is often mixed with the yellow brick to reinforce it and that to me symbolises this kind of material marriage which is unique to Trinidad. I’m just saying colonisation was this meeting point of cultures and places and a whole new place had to be created.

“Then there’s concrete, as in the concrete pavers and the pillars of the Treasury, which represents this modernisation and this sense of Trinidadian independence, the pavers for instance on the Promenade are in this red, white and black colour and then they’re also in this wavy pattern and that area was the seashore at one time, so it’s peeling back at all those layers.

It’s really about deconstructing the history and past and looking at the connections between material and architecture and the past and memory, how we remember the past.”

Tam-Cruikshank said she thinks the approach is to save whatever old architecture is present, without knowing how it fits into the culture. that Trinidad doesn’t know its history well enough to teach it properly, so instead. “I don’t think we know our history well enough to teach it, so we speculate as to what things mean and where they come from. In my view, we have this nonchalance and this kind of laid back attitude towards built heritage on a whole and probably a love-hate relationship with it.”


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