It can be said that the Chinese brought with them from their homeland traditional artistic techniques, forms and calligraphy, but it wasn’t until the late 1920’s that the first recognizable talent from the Chinese community emerged. It also began a tradition of artistic pioneering by the community.
Amy Leong Pang (b.1908 d.1989) was a founding member of The Society of Trinidad Independents. The Independents gathered in private homes, painted and discussed the arts and developed their ideas. Leong Pang became mentor and teacher to several of the young artists of the time, including Carlisle Chang (b.1921 d.2001). The Independents disbanded in 1939 giving way to the formation in 1943 of the Trinidad Art Society. Leong Pang and Sybil Atteck (b.1911 d.1975) were founder members of the Society. Atteck’s knowledge and experience of European and pre-Columbian art provided an intellectual validity to a growing and independent expression from Trinidad and Tobago.
Atteck was tireless in promoting younger artists, including Pat Chu Foon (b.1931 d. 1998), who became known for his public sculptures, and Ou (Edwin) Hing Wan (b.1932 d.1976). Between 1951 and 1975, Hing Wan produced some of Trinidad and Tobago’s finest watercolours inspired by the landscape of Mayaro and Guayaguayare.
The pre-Independence years of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s provided Carlisle Chang with a platform for his expression. He is best known for his public murals – The Inherent Nobility of Man at Piarco Airport, destroyed in 1977; Conquerabia for the new Port of Spain City Hall; Cosmic Event for the façade of the new Textel building and The Elements – Air, Earth, Fire, Water at The Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. Chang’s influence on the artists from this period can be seen in the work of Willi Chen (b.1938) and Audley Sue Wing (b.1939).
Sue Wing’s New Dawn was a prize winner of a competition sponsored by the National Independence Committee in 1962. Chen is perhaps best known for his mural, Solar Marinorama, commissioned in 1962 for The Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, but since removed from its original location. No other artists in Trinidad and Tobago have produced work on the scale of Chang and Chen.
Innovation and originality continued into the eighties and nineties with the work of Cynthia McLean (b.1941) with her combinations of media including copper, brass and aluminium and traditional acrylic and canvas; Greer Jones (b.1955) with her textile prints and multi-dimensional views; and James Amow (b.1947) with his painted clay and wood. Amow works almost exclusively in black and white. His style is based on his experience as a graphic designer and his appreciation of Chinese calligraphy. Kathyn Chan (b.1960) works in several mediums producing a range of works from traditional painting to kinetic sculptures.
Younger artists, including Susan Dayal (b.1968) and Brian Wong Won (b.1970) continue the traditions of independent expression, Dayal with her wire sculptures and Wong Won with his playful depictions of carnival figures and distorted buildings. Raymond Yawching (b.1969) uses photo-realism in extraordinary representations of popular figures and scenes.
After two hundred years, the Chinese community continues to foster pioneers of artistic expression. Their contribution to Trinidad and Tobago’s art and culture remains invaluable.
INFORMATION CREDITED TO THE CITIZENS FOR THE CONSERVATION OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO