Nestled in a rocky paradise in ‘Durant’s Village’ you will find Kenneth Blackmans ‘Black Art’.
He is the ‘Wood Surgeon’ of Mahogany. Taking no live tree as his victim, Kenneth accepts Mahogany from whomever wishes to make him aware of it once it is no longer ‘living’.
Kenneth has the uncanny ability to bring to life the everyday circumstances that wind their way through our entire state of being. He is unafraid to express the depths and secrets of our souls. The hidden aspects of ourselves that we strive to keep hidden from public view for fear of ridicule and alienation. The very core of our ‘being’.
“Talking hands, so dark, so deep,
What are the secrets that you keep…”
‘Journey’, is a ‘mother-and-child’ sculpture , a tribute to black womanhood.
Another Yoruba inspired piece is ‘Garments of Rope’, two women tightly wrapped in ropes carrying the burden of a heavy tabletop.
In 1990 his submission to the Crop Over Fine Arts Exhibition was rejected. The judges found ‘Crisis’, a life size, skeletal Mother and Child mahogany comment on the Gulf War and AIDS epidemic offensive. It was 10 years before its time and can still be viewed on the wooden wall of his simple studio.
“As an African, Caribbean person, Barbadian, I used my art to preserve the culture, beauty and people I see and interact with. I am a sculptor and as is best said by Joseph Ki Zerbo, “Without identity we are objects of history, an instrument used by other. Like a utensil. Identity is an assumed role. It is like being in the theatre where everyone is given a role to play.” I know my role.”
As so many of us do at some stage of our lives, Kenneth embarked on a journey in search of his identity in the 1980’s. He found it in his African heritage and took a closer look at the work of Barbadian artists. He was inspired by the works of Grafton Woodpecker, a fellow sculptor, who I had the pleasure of meeting on a recent visit to the Island. Kenneth was also inspired by the music of Bob Marley.
He had carved as a hobby and worked specializing in old fashioned pickling and as a carpenter. He was waking up in the night coughing and having lost two of his friends and workmates to cancer decided that there must be another way and took up carving fulltime. Starting out with only one chisel, he now has plenty, a gift that was given to him from a friend passing on.
His hilltop ‘paradise’ is quiet and peaceful, no sounds of machinery can be heard as there are none. Kenneth uses an axe to cut the wood from the broken boughs of mahogany. Each piece already telling a story before he has even placed a chisel upon it. No stains or varnish are used. Each piece is hand-sanded smooth. Over time the mahogany takes on its own deep, rich colour as it continues it’s relationship with the elements.
Kenneth draws his inspiration from his surroundings, whether that be human, animal or spiritual. All are intermingled and entwined as this Universe in reality is. Kenneth has the ability to express this like no other artist I have yet met.
He has won numerous awards on the Island and has also taught youngsters the art of carving. He is passionate about his art. It is personal to him. He has been ‘let down’ on numerous occasions but the currents of nature still run deep within him. As is true of all gifts anyone has been given by the ‘Great Mystery’ they are our gifts to treasure and share with the rest of the World. The timing may not always be as we may want or expect it, as seems to be the case with so many great artists. But so often these visionaries seem to be way ahead of their time. Living guides perhaps along the way, for the masses to be awakened by, followed, and be inspired by.
Kenneth welcomes visitors to his piece of ‘paradise’ at ‘Durant’s Village’, St. James, Barbados. You will find him just off of Holders Hill. Just ask for him by name or ‘The Wood Carver’. You will find him.
My digital camera cannot possibly do justice to this work. You will have to check it out for yourself.
You can contact Kenneth at:- (246)244 0127 providing he hasn’t lost his cell phone in the sea or (246) 432 0145