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Across the Milky way, the Shaman Saw A bird, acrylic painting by George Simon.   The story of the Milky Way IN the beginning, the sky was a clear blue and was lighted by the stars and the moon at night. People enjoyed the constellations and studied the movements of the stars and the moon. Some stars appeared in the evening and disappeared after a short period; some appeared all night but gradually changed position with the progression of night. Others were in clusters and created designs and these were given Arawak names. The white line across the sky was a secret trail along which only courageous persons travelled. It was believed to be a trail to the western end of the world, the source of the precious ‘pottery clay’. However, it was believed to be hazardous and most were afraid to walk it. Only a powerful Shaman could make the journey without coming to harm.

There was a young man who bragged about this courage, his powers and his magic and was eager to be tested to prove his greatness. At first, the elders ignored him but he became so insistent that the Chief after great consideration decided to put him to the test. One morning he was summoned by the Chief to be in the presence of him and other Shamans. To prove himself, he must journey alone to the Western end of the universe and return with a quake full of the precious white clay. This was the ultimate test, the most challenging and dangerous; he must follow a trail which few had travelled and about which he had heard many tails of perils which had befallen others.

After a three-day fast he agreed to undertake the journey. With meagre belongings, he set forth. For days he walked through the forest accompanied by a sweet orchestra of sounds. And he was awakened daily by Mother Nature’s off-springs: Marudi and Hanaqua on the first day, and thereafter Powis and the cries of Howler Monkeys. Daily and nightly, Mother Nature’s creatures and sounds were his sole companions. After his third night, he dreamt he was attacked by several wolves. Despite being jolted awake, in fear, he persisted on his journey.

Across the Milky way, the Shaman Saw A fish, acrylic painting by George Simon. In a trance state, he encountered an anaconda which he embraced as his medicine, his energy. Instead, he was swallowed by it. He moved swiftly through the belly of the reptile and was deposited onto a sandy beach by the sea. In the distance, he saw an island- a land of a lost people. He swiftly floated over the sandy mass and into the sea. He torpedoed along the sea-bed and emerged on the other side to be flung into the sky. He was flying but he was in control. He relaxed as he breathed deeply. He floated over the top of tress. The lush green carpet of the forest canopy brought a smile of delight to his face. He glided in the sky marvelling at the beauty and splendour of the forest. He was alone in this world. He emerged from the trance. Unshaken, he persisted on his journey to find the Source.

Having found the source of the ‘pottery clay’ the return was no less eventful. Using water flavoured with tobacco, he induced an incredible trance. His journey home was determined. He ate meagrely. Not bothering to fish or hunt to vary his diet, he ate farine and tasso as he walked. He did not even bother to sling his hammock between trees. Instead, he made the forest floor his bed and was awakened by an anaconda slithering across his prostrate body. He had proven himself to himself and that mattered most. As he walked, white clay dripped from his quake and formed the white trail across the sky. Excerpt by George Simon was taken from The Arts Journal Volume 2 Number 2 March 2006, Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Literature, History, Art and Culture of Guyana and the Caribbean.

We have been captivated by the art created by Indigenous people. Their creativity and skilfulness have evolved from petroglyphs (Rock Art) to riveting paintings on canvas. Their depiction of Guyana’s beautiful flora and fauna, their ancestral roots, their culture and their spiritual practices has astonished and puzzled us for years. It is visual evidence of our diversity. One notable Indigenous artist whose work has inspired national integration is George Simon.

George Simon is a Guyanese-born Indigenous Artist and Archaeologist. What makes his work so captivating is the room it leaves for interpretation. The story behind the creativity. The inspiration for the colour palette. The unknown meaning of motifs. When you see a George Simon painting everything about it pulls you in. As an artist, you might ask yourself: will I ever be this great? I can tell you this, what makes a great artist is their ability to speak the truth regardless of the medium. Artists create from their knowledge, understanding and experience. It’s up to you to speak your truth. To walk your journey. To leave your mark.

As I read George Simon’s recollection of his life’s’ journey, I recognised the important role of knowing and accepting one’s identity plays in the work of the artist. It wasn’t until he reached a point of acceptance and embrace that he was able to produce the works of art that mesmerise us today. And while our spiritual views are different, I can appreciate how his journey led him to create pieces that, according to him, have captured his “Amerindian-ness.”

As we celebrate Indigenous Heritage Month 2019 under the theme: Maintaining traditional practices while promoting a green economy, it’s important to note the role of visual representation in our quest for preservation. And as my pastor would often quote: ‘a short pencil is better than a long memory.’ The National Gallery of Art, Castellani House is currently hosting an exhibition entitled: The Moving Circle of Artists Retrospective Exhibition (1988-2019), in honour of George Simon, A.A. Be sure to visit. The exhibition runs until September 28, 2019.

LINK ORIGINAL: Guyana Chronicle

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