Memories of her childhood in T&T in the 1950s and 1960s, inspired the works of visual artist Indra Persad Milowe.
Now based in Salem, Massachusetts in the US, Milowe said her interest in nature, still life and design was sparked by her art teacher at St Augustine Girls High School, Helga Mohammed, originally from Madrid, Spain, who was married to a Trinidadian.
She recalled: “On my first day in her class at age 12, written on her blackboard were, ‘Art is not only a painting hanging up on a wall, Art is in every aspect of your daily life.’ These words have been stuck in my head since.”
Her paintings were chosen for the school’s yearbook for two consecutive years.
“At age 15, I painted from nature—orchids on a branch. At age 16, I did a still life—a display of an apple, pear, and a bunch of grapes. Those two paintings and all the incredible reviews that came with them lifted my confidence in my artwork,” she said.
She read a book that led her to think about all the kitchens she had cooked in, including her favourite, her grandmother’s kitchen.
“She cooked with three chulhas. They required a lot of skill to manipulate the pieces of wood, to keep the flame burning correctly,” she revealed.
“To become an ‘eligible bride’, one of the requirements was to be able to puff a paratha, with the right texture and consistency. After mastering that skill, you are allowed to place your handprint on her kitchen wall. It was like graduation.”
That kitchen reminded Milowe of the different foods that were cooked for different festivals, so her first painting was of her grandmother’s kitchen.
“As I began to plan out this painting, I remembered the smell of freshly made laddoos which was a favourite dessert of ours and of Lord Ganesh. Lord Ganesh is the remover of all obstacles and the first Hindu deity to be worshipped in all festivals and ceremonies, therefore my second painting was Ganesh Chaturthi,” she said.
“There is a personal story behind every one of my paintings,” added Milowe who has painted every single festival celebrated in T&T, as well as depictions of the folklore stories she heard while growing up.
This is the title for her current exhibition, Festivals and Folklore of Trinidad, West Indies.
Milowe, who retired from general, ophthalmic and psychiatric nursing in 2019, now focuses on art full-time, working on canvas with multicoloured and gold acrylic paints.
Indra Persad Milowe