Convois 2019: “The Art of Obeah: Leroy Clarke & Shadow”

The Lloyd Best Institute of the Caribbean is pleased to present the programme of our annual Convois. For 2019, we are organising a series of events on the theme “The Art of Obeah: Leroy Clarke & Shadow”.

Feared, ridiculed and outlawed, the African-Caribbean spiritual traditions that came to be known as Obeah have survived for centuries as an underground practice of spirituality and healing. Even with the relatively recent elimination of the colonial era laws banning its practice, Obeah is yet to enjoy the legitimacy and respect accorded to other spiritual traditions and remains largely shrouded in mystery and ignorance.

On March 19, the Lloyd Best Institute of the Caribbean will launch a two-week tribute to two outstanding men of Art who have defied the culture of secrecy and shame to openly declare Obeah as the spiritual source of their work. Obeah philosophy as expressed through the art of Leroy Clarke of Trinidad and the music of Shadow (Winston Bailey) of Tobago will take centre stage.

The opening event on March 19 will include the launch of an exhibition of Leroy Clarke’s paintings with a presentation on “The Art of Obeah: Leroy Clarke and Shadow” by Professor Fazal Ali, Provost of the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

From the beginning of their careers both Clarke and Shadow have been clear about Obeah as the wellspring of their artistic power and the perspective from which they see the world. Shadow’s 1982 composition “Obeah” put the point squarely on the table with the charge that he was “wukkin’ obeah”. Shadow’s entire oeuvre is saturated with references and language from the world of Obeah. In the process, he has given popular currency and validity to what was once merely whispered and forbidden. At the other end of the spectrum, Leroy Clarke has consciously elevated Obeah as philosophy and the means through which the African psyche can be healed and made whole from the ruins left behind by the devastation of the colonial experience in the Caribbean.

 “My art is Obeah. Obeah is a way, the art of the way to being,” was how Clarke explained his relationship with Obeah philosophy.

From early on, Clarke recognized a kinship with fellow pointer man, Shadow.

Interviewed by Jeremy Taylor of Caribbean Beat almost 25 years ago, he said; ‘“My painting is revolution, it’s not about pretending at making you happy. The only artist I know doing the same thing in terms of art is Shadow.”

Following their own paths, Clarke and Shadow recognized each other as spiritual brethren joined in a relationship of mutual respect. Clarke recounts a moment one day when Shadow visited him. To demonstrate how much he loved Shadow’s music, Clarke brought out his substantial collection of Shadow’s albums. Shadow looked at it, then averted his gaze and said in his quiet, succinct way, “You have a big piece of me there!” In those eight words was a world of understanding between fellow travelers who needed to say no more. 

The schedule of events for Convois 2019 is now available. Among the events are a presentation of Shadow’s music by Winthrop Holder with a panel discussion by Sharlan Bailey and Thomas Isaacs on Friday March 22nd. This will be followed on Saturday March 23 by the painting of a mural at the Lloyd Best Institute under the guidance of Leroy Clarke and artist Makemba Kunle whose art will also be exhibited alongside Leroy Clarke’s. There are 20 spaces available for young artists in participating in the mural project. Interested persons can write to thelloydbestinstitute@gmail.com or call 232 0959 between 9.30 to 4.00 pm from Monday to Friday.