You hardly notice what isn’t there


Judy Raymond on what we don't see about Trinidad in the work of 19th century artist Michel Jean Cazabon @ the Caribbean Book Review.
Michel Jean Cazabon (1813–1888) has a special place in the hearts of Trinidadians, for a number of reasons, but not all of them are grounded in fact. Cazabon is often described as “Trinidad’s nineteenth-century artist,” an expression that suggests he was one of a kind. He’s considered a pioneer, and indeed in some respects he was. Even more importantly, we think of Cazabon as one of us. He was a Trinidadian, of mixed race, and his work evokes pride and nostalgia and a sense of pleasing familiarity. We know and recognise the scenes he painted: fronds of bamboo arching over rivers, kite-flying and horse-racing in the Savannah, the stumpy twin turrets of the Roman Catholic cathedral.

But the nostalgia evoked by Cazabon is for a Trinidad that may never have existed. And the more you look at his paintings, the odder they start to seem.

That’s because we look at him as if he were unique. In fact, Cazabon fits firmly into a tradition, and once he is set into this context, his paintings become, if no less idiosyncratic, then at least more understandable.
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