As the story goes Mama (Maud Wiltshire) arrived in Trinidad from Grenada at the age of 13. She grew up in Carenage, St. George’s and eventually settled in Carenage in the west of the island of Trinidad, School Street to be exact. She told me that she arrived on a boat called the Lady Hawkins with her cousin and that she came to do domestic work. She never returned to Grenada and made her life in Trinidad in the face of many hardships. She gave birth to my father Earl Wiltshire (Salim Muwakil) in 1956.
Growing up in Carenage my father’s visual references had much to do with the sea/ocean/water. Looking at his work now you could see how the water defined him. My father, the dreamer, spear fisherman, boss swimmer, hopeless romantic (maybe a little too romantic). In my previous post I talked about how creative he was; and that a particularly prolific time was during the period 1990 to 1992. If you want to know more about this time then you may want to have a listen to this TEDx Talk I did last year. But this post is not about that, it’s about the art he produced during that time and what it meant to me.
He does not seem so tall to me anymore but as a child he was a tower. The care that he took in making little cards and writing love letters to my mother and his children during the period of his incarceration really meant the world to us. His illustrations would remind us of the days when he was around (the river days); and through them he assured us that he would have been back soon and that life would be okay again. Every letter was art. And every piece of art made our feelings for each other as a family grow stronger.
Some of the reoccurring imagery included silhouetted birds on rocks and perched on the remains of sunken ships. These were the most troubling images as they felt dark and worrisome, but on the other hand he could have been thinking about picking up the pieces of our lives after tragedy and the importance of staying together.
He loved plants so they were everywhere. A letter was not complete without flowers and leaves. He even did some in 3D using the skin of fruits and different parts of the palm tree; these he would collect when the prisoners were allowed their airing time once a day.
He also used the various parts of the palm tree to make dried flowers which somehow were allowed to get to my mother on the outside. With them she would make dried flower arrangements to sell. His method for making the flowers was meticulous and time consuming. Using dried orange skins and other types of bark and dried leaves, he would cut little little shapes out (squares and circles mostly) and by piercing each of these little pieces at the centre and place them through and along a thin dried stick that he would get from the rib of the palm leaf. He placed the pieces at intervals and repeated these steps over and over. Some of the tops he would leave plain and other tops he would make flowers with other materials from the trees. In several letters from my mother to him she references them and tells him how sales were going.
He has always had the desire to continue painting and drawing. He asked me to buy some supplies for him a few years ago and I believe I did. Unfortunately he has never been able to find the time or perhaps the motivation to do this kind of work again. Maybe it served its purpose and that was the end. Or maybe he has a lot more inside just waiting for the right moment (I certainly hope so).
To end I leave you with a few more…
Nimah Muwakil… aka Bougie (Bow Jee)