CAPTIVATING the attention of spectators with their vibrance, detail and sheer magnificence, the Emancipation Day murals at Jn Baptiste Street in Castries brightened the city in every way when it was officially unveiled at a ceremony this week and continues to do so.
Commissioned by the Cultural Development Foundation (CDF) for Emancipation celebrations, the paintings highlight the work of two of Saint Lucia’s leading visual artists (Alwyn St. Omer and Naja Simeon) and their interpretation of the 2023 theme.
Individuals were more than thrilled to view the paintings as they unfolded prior to its launch. Saint Lucians and visitors were visibly intrigued by the paintings on the two CDC blocs which have now been transformed into iconic canvasses, the first of its kind for Saint Lucia.
In his mural, Alwyn St. Omer – a member of the renowned St. Omer family, celebrates the past and the present in an artistic piece entitled, ‘Now We Are Free’. It is absolutely breathtaking. The mural, one can say, tells a thousand stories and the passion that is displayed is captivating.
According to St. Omer, the mural “illustrates symbols of Saint Lucia’s compellingly beautiful landscape and the people of her ancestral past while embracing who we are as a people in the present-day expression of that freedom.”
“When I was asked to do this mural, I was already working on a series for an exhibition in the UK; my series is based on the masquerade. I was brought up in the CDC and I was always mesmerized by street theatre at Christmas.
Later on in life when I started painting them and found out the truth behind the masquerade, I discovered that when plantation owners allowed the slaves any form of gaiety from their misery they would put on the mask… as a cure for that pain they had in their hearts,” St. Omer said.
“This fit in with this whole Emancipation thing and what I was already doing for my exhibition in the UK,” he added.
Like St. Omer’s, Simeon’s piece is absolutely stunning, rich and passionate. The piece is entitled ‘Revolution, Emancipation, Celebration’.
The mural, the artist noted, is a representation of the revolution, emancipation and celebration of Saint Lucia’s African heritage. It showcases Emancipation heroine Petronille Dwine whose resistance led to the emancipation of women slaves from punishment by pillory.
Said Simeon: “Although I have been painting murals for many years around the island, this one is by far one of the best projects I’ve done… as it represents not just our past… and what we came from, but the revolution that happened and is still happening, and also the celebration that we are continuing to do every year for Emancipation.”
According to CDF’s Executive Director Raymona Wynne, the project gives evidence of the many ways that the CDF facilitates and represents “the real purveyors” of Saint Lucian Arts and Culture.
“Just standing here to me is testimony that our city is worth what… we are doing. In recent times, art focused bust and walking tours have become popular in many cities and Saint Lucia should be no exception.
One of the fundamental effects of public art is that it creates community finger prints: that is, spaces that make people feel represented… and give people a sense of ownership and belonging— this is emancipation through art. All of this is embellished in CDF’s brand promise of culture, creativity (and) community,” said Wynne.
Minister for Culture Dr. Ernest Hilaire told the audience “it means a lot to us… for our people to be able to say how they feel through art.”
“When government changed in July 2021, the prime minister a few days later had to address Saint Lucia on… Emancipation Day and he said this was going to be the last year that we were going to celebrate Emancipation in the manner in which we did. As we prepared for the following year I was reminded by the prime minister that we had to make Castries and other communities in Saint Lucia alive with art,” Hilaire said, adding “for us it is a very serious aspect of our national identity.”
Member of Parliament for Castries Central Richard Frederick said when he was first approached about causing the relevant agencies to agree with the idea of painting the murals, a meeting was immediately convened with various stakeholders.
Frederick called on business places “to rally with us in our quest for city beautification. Sponsor a wall or two or an entire building if you can; my team and I will stand ready to rally with you to lend an ear in ensuring that we take this exercise a little further.”
“As we continue to enjoy our freedom brought through Emancipation… guard that freedom cautiously when you exercise a fundamental right of freedom. Do so with the remembrance of what our ancestors had to undergo for you to enjoy it today. Don’t take it for granted,” the minister said.