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Respect the arts!

Marlon Madden

Respect the arts!

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Artist David ‘Guru’ McClean believes art is not getting the recognition and respect it deserves as a profession in Barbados. Furthermore, he said too many Barbadians continued to see visual art as something you do when “you don’t have something else to do”.
However, McClean, 50, said he continued to work to change all of that from his Symbol of Life Production studio in Chimborazo, St Joseph.
McClean has been interested in painting since he was in primary school and he was inspired partly by his own life experiences.
“I was always into art,’ McClean told the BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY. “I had a pretty rough life when I was young. I went to prison and . . . . I think that is where I woke up. After that I pursued art and did my Masters in Fine Arts.”  
“I am a surrealist and I only paint from the black experience. I am like a story teller. While some artists write I paint,” he added.
The award-winning artist said: “I am not satisfied with how the industry is being treated at the moment. There is this inferiority complex which rests with the ordinary people. It rests in the tenets of everywhere; the schools, the politicians and the institutions that mould our people.
“In an enlightened society like Barbados they give a national artist a little metal that is not really gold. So if you give a man a ‘gold medal’ that is not gold, that tells you how they are looking at artists and art. That should give you an idea. I have gone a lot of places in the world and see what art is. It is one of the foundations of our society. All the other people embrace their people. We don’t have that response. Art in Barbados is still that you do art if you don’t have something else to do. Even in the colleges they take that same attitude,” argued McClean.
But he said he would continue to make a difference and encourage children who were interested in the art segment of the creative industries.
“That is why I am a storyteller,” McClean said. “Every year I work with the Commission for Pan-African Affairs . . . What we do is that we bring artefacts to the children. . . and instead of the stiff literature in books we stimulate the children with these real artefacts. So that is a part of my experience of teaching children,” he said.
McCLean is also a shop owner and an actor.
He said that although art was his first love, owning a shop had always been a family tradition and he was ensuring that he balanced both as best as possible.
“My mother always had a traditional shop here so it was my idea, after she passed away, to get another shop here and it is going really good. My mother came here in 1968 and from about 1970 she had a shop up until the time I took over,” he said.
“The only challenge I have is that being an artist I don’t have enough time for my shop. So a lot of times I don’t be here because I have to get to my studio and do some work there as well. It is really hectic, sometimes I have to leave here at 2 a.m. to get to my studio and get back here for 9 o’clock to open here,” he said during the interview outside his Deacons Farm shop known as The Black Supermarket.
Why that name? “Because Barbadians live under the type of inferiority complex,” he replied. “If you go to any community across the island you may see The Indian Shop and we feel comfortable saying we going to the Indian shop. So I want black people to feel good coming here and say we are going to The Black Shop.”
The entrepreneur said the reception from the residents in the area had been very good over the past year despite the recession and although there were a number of similar shops nearby, competition was not an issue.
“People shop with me [and] they shop with the other people. They just want to get what they want . . . . I am not flustered by the economy here,” he said.
McClean, who has also been singing since the age of 14, said he wanted the family tradition to continue after he was gone so he would teach his six children the ins and outs of the business.
“I was telling one of my daughters recently that the shop belongs to her already. I am doing this out of a respectful memory of my parents,” he said.