The Monumentality of it All

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 14, 2016

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeIt’s Sunday, September 4th. I am in Rome, Italy. The sun is ablaze but it is not a Trinidad hot sun. There is no breeze and the heat radiates from the earth, making you feel as if you are being roasted alive. I visit the Palazzo Barberini, the National Gallery of Ancient Art that was conceived to celebrate the artistic passion of Maffeo Barberini who became Pope Urban VIII in 1623. As a cardinal, he sponsored many artists with his patronage.

As I enter the first gallery, I am transfixed by Girolamo Muziano’s painting, “St. Matthew and the Angel.” I am blown away by “the powerful monumentality” of this “pala” or altarpiece. It’s a word I had not encountered before. Immediately I thought of Chief’s (Le Roy Clarke) oeuvre and the power of his artistic creations. I had written previously about his genius but it never occurred to me that the word “monumentality” might capture hidden dimensions of his artistic powers or, as he prefers, “the obeah of his work.”

The work of the artists from the Trenchante School which documents “the rich artistic geography of Italy in the Trencento, the century of Dante and Giotto” was just as moving. It underscored the powerful role patrons played in promoting the arts during the medieval period and the artists’ ability to capture “an important evolution of visual culture on the part of the medieval public.” God/Jah was moving in mysterious ways.

Again my thoughts returned home. I envisaged Cazabon’s landscape paintings that captured Trinidad’s cultural landscape of the nineteenth century. Having studied in England, Paris and Italy, Cazabon was au courant with the techniques of these Italian artists which he used to his advantage. He displayed his work in Paris.

Two of Trinidad’s wealthiest planters (William Burnley and John Lamont) commissioned Cazabon to paint island scenes while Lord Harris, governor of the island, employed him to capture his marriage to Sarah Cummins, daughter of the Archdeacon George Cummins of Port of Spain. “Through his paintings,” as I wrote previously, “he captured and documented the emerging consciousness of the nation.” (Beyond Boundaries).

Monday was cooler. I revisited the Vatican to glorify in the wonder of Michelangelo’s paintings which engulf the Sistine Chapel. Mother Teresa was canonized on Sunday. Although I am not a member of the Roman Catholic faith I was moved by her life and touched by her faith. An inner impulse drove me towards that monumental citadel of faith where Roman Catholics traveled since 64 AD to reaffirm their faith in God.

After visiting the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, I entered St. Peter’s Basilica through the Holy Door. It seldom opens. Mother Teresa’s canonization allowed for this rare exception. Once inside, I knelt in front of the tomb of John Paul II, a good man, and offered a prayer. I remembered his ecumenism and his outreach which stood in stark contrast to Michelangelo Caravaggio’s “Narcissus,” another one of the memorable paintings at Palazzo Barberini. Narcissism, a butchered love, had no place in John Paul’s worldview.

As I knelt in the Basilica, I contemplated Pope Francis’ words: “Faith,” he admitted, “is not a light that dispels all of our darkness, but rather a lamp that guides our steps in the night and that is sufficient.” Walter Kasper, a German cardinal, illuminates Pope Francis’ theology which says: “The joy of the gospel is not primarily a matter of overcoming social injustice…The starting point lies much deeper. It concerns the lack of joy and the lack of spark, the inner emptiness and the isolation of human persons closed up in themselves and the loneliness of hearts turned in on themselves.” (Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love).

On my flight from London to Rome, I encountered Bishop Gerald Maximin County, the newly-installed Bishop of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Bishop County is related to me by marriage. In February of this year, I attended his ordination in St. Vincent. He was traveling to the Vatican to immerse himself deeper in his calling. In that sacred space, he hoped to imbibe in the theological rigor of Pope Benedict XVI, the philosophical ruminations of John Paul II, and the earthy folksiness of Francis, the shepherd.

At St. Peter’s Basilica, as I reflected on Pope Francis’ simplicity that was nurtured in the heart of Latin America’s Liberation theology; Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s mercy that touched the lives of many people in the slums of India; and the courage of a young Trini who has given his life to serve others, and all I could think of was the monumentality of it all.

Bastardizing Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” I concluded: “Ours is not to reason why; but to respect ourselves and others while we are alive.”

3 thoughts on “The Monumentality of it All”

  1. Always good to get some good news of Italy Doc , birth place of Christobal Colon, the man who helped drag Europe out of de Dark Ages,and so began their liberation. Sadly though, he assisted in fostering the invasions to lands / civilizations, controlled by alleged savages, they met there , upon arrival.

    The news coming out of the Hitler pal/former Fascist Mussolini fiefdom , isn’t looking too Rosy , one might add,Doc.

    Take this suspect Suicide , por ejemplo. I am literally scratching my head in consternation. It has dem looking more like our Underdeveloped , underachieving T&T , where since 1962 our Independence, what seems like at least 150,000 (chiefly females )folks of the- to quote you- “South of de Caroni” tribe , have likewise ,mysteriously died, under questionable circumstances, only to have our severely compromised, Police Service , conveniently call those Suicide too.
    Are you buying, or prefer to let dem neo tribal ,’sleeping dogs,’ lie, in de interest of peaceful co existence?
    Now tell me Doc, seeing that our new regime’s leader – after a recent cyber -chiding from you- perhaps heeding to calls to get off his haunches and lead , has decided to spend a few millions on our Police Service-do you think the latter , will start to do their jobs-re this much ignored , dehumanizing problem- and look closer at these alleged suicides, or do you think , the still clueless , political lightweight Kamla , is correct , all dat money would only be used to spy on …, well ,your guess, is as good and mine , and the Siparia Queen Karma.

    Sadly also , the recent small earthquake , had this EU big player Italy, looking more like Nepal,backward, Islamist Pakistan , or drug haven , criminal den , and future Pax Americana President, Donald Trump’s favorite vacation spot, Mexico.
    So incompetent , were the authorities , in quickly providing relief for victims.
    I see that you are quite enamored with this Argentinian ,Latin Pope, and product of Liberation Theology -am I correct?
    Not certain why Doc?
    Last we checked ,over 500 million children , many now grown up, are still suffering the ravages of the abuse , by dem pedophile Priest , who to this day, prefer to hide behind the cloak of Celibacy ,to mask their ugly, not too closeted ,predilections. Am I correct, or am I correct Doc?
    Did this Pope decide to finally address this social problem, or better yet , used some of the billions , hidden away from centuries of Slave trade , free labor ,pro Slavery profiteering ,or European -African/ Caribbean neo imperial theft , to compensate victims?
    How many of the neo elitist , Catholic Princes , still scattered across the globe ,referring to themselves as Bishops/ Archbishops , are forced to accept their roles in encouraging , and or participating in this historical monstrosity , and so ,pay a price, via the Criminal Justice/ Penal systems?
    The irony is , many on the grand , International ,public stage , love to show outrage , and or pontificate ,about the savagery as played out by Islam – as they certainly should ,where warranted- but the role of Christians- especially Catholics – in condoning barbarianisms, is forever greeted by deafening silence , Y por que?
    I wonder , if this Pope , during his tenure , would address the blatant acts of racial discrimination, that has systematically took place, all across Latin America , starting from Cuba , to Dominican Republic,across to Ecuador , Argentina, Chile,Brazil, and Columbia etc- particularly against Indigenous Indian peoples, and worst,descendants of African Slaves?
    In all fairness , and objective commentator that I am ,let me therefore ,add the following , in the words of my late , extremely wise , Tobago Granny- “give Jack his Jacket, and Jim, his Jom boots.’
    The Italians , have certainly given the world wonderful things , many as you have so eloquently alluded to in terms of the Arts. There are two other areas, one should also point out too. I am talking about Politics, and a code of ethics , as played out within ‘Organize Crime .’
    In the realm of politics,one book, and author comes to mind . The Prince , and of course the great Nico Machiavelli. Need I say more? No Political theory class , will be complete , without delving into this gem.
    One of basic principles that is a truism in Organize Crime, aka The Mafiaso , be it in Sicily ,Brooklyn , Queens , Long Island , or down town Little Italy Manhattan , is that ‘families are off limits.’
    The bastards today ,across the globe , that have attempted to emulate this criminal practice, have no compunction in attacking , wife , kids , and dogs alike, with impunity, for any slight received.
    Did anyone mention crime laden T&T lately?
    Thanks again for an insightful article. I too came to appreciate the vastness of some of these artistic works you’ve expounded on ,and more so the value of art – paintings , due to an elective I was forced to take back in College.
    Powerful stuff. One of my favorite painters was the famous Spaniard Diego Valasquez . Who can forget Las Mininias?
    While in the service of the powerful, one can sense his almost sadistic pleasure, in subtly poking fun at his elite benefactors , while simultaneously , doing his best to strive to foster some sense of dignity , for the under caste – who so happened to be midgets. Art as a tool of empowerment of the other, was never more graphic , than via his works.
    I promise to take a peek at some of our local hero Cazobon’s paintings , to see if he too , had similar tricks up his sleeves.
    Maybe we should give some luv to our present PM, as preserving these artifacts , were part of his early ,governmental initiative-financially troubled times as we are said to be in, and all.
    Not surprise , the Political dinosauric-octogenarian-National Divider in Chief-Basdeo Panday claimed , that this Dr Rowley government ,did nothing of worth,during the past year,and therefore , was no different from the previous UNC dominant , PP regime , led by his female protege .
    Maybe he felt the PM ,should have opened the Chinese constructed , Couva Children’s hospital, and stock it up with a few hundred more foreign doctors , and nurses ,even if said was opened up with big pre election fanfare, with ribbon cutting ceremony,and all, some 2 years ago- when oil prices was still 200 plus dollars per barrel?
    Perhaps he is of the view ,that another White European Police Commissioner , was the real solution ,for all our crime woes, or that we should have attempted to repurchase those 3 OVP border patrolling Ships ,that were lapped up by the grateful Brazilians , when Kamla , and her gang ,decided to give the middle finger to the manufacturers.We know for sure , that none of his , Sat Maraj, or said Kamla ,lovely grand daughters will be forced to marry some pot gut ,drunken ,40 year old fake religious hombre , while at the tender age of 9, 10 , 12, 14 , or 16, as that social reality ,is left for the poor , lower class families to indulge in, but do you think he believe the new government was unwise to try to rectify (close up the loop holes )this problem legislative , as highlighted so astutely by CJ Archie?

    Let’s continue to play our part to make a difference Doc, by all means necessary -including ART , be it music, paintings, the written word, and film.
    While at it , we’ll take the chance to wish our people well,si?
    Stay vigilant T&T!
    I luv this land, Y tu?

  2. “Cudjoe is at his best ,….. blah , blah, blah!”TMan
    So the question for you is :-When is your glorified Nobelist,in ‘De National INGRATE in Chief -Sir V S Naipaul ,’at his best, and who decides such?
    There are some – especially on ‘dis’ here ,Trini Center Nation – who naively think, that much needed political engagement , is limited to running for office, or repeatedly ,only voting in pointless elections, so as to get the same stupid results ,from colluding ,elitist, self serving bastards.
    In the absence of an Independent Media, or sadly, a President, who is not beholden to an unmentionable tribe,that elevated him to the T&T Republican throne, and worst yet,since we are devoid as a nation ,of many authentic ,Visionary leaders, there is a strong need ,for a moral conscience ,unafraid to occasionally send a spear into the ugly underbelly of seemingly ,rudderless T&T.
    Great writers such as Wole Soyinka,Franz Fanon,John Steinbeck, James Balwin,CLR James,Ivo Andrić,Gabriel García Márquez,Maya Angelo,and yes, even your Sir Vidia, all knew, that they had a much bigger role to play,in trying to transform their society, and by extension, the world at large.
    Even though you and likeminded others , don’t believe this , deep in your twisted Souls , I’ll add, that Dr Cudjoe ,in his efforts ,is no exception to that rule, and belongs in that esteemed class.
    Translation- art/ literature , must be viewed as a tool to achieve more useful – sometimes idealistic -ends.
    Make an effort to commend ,as opposed to denigrate him , each time he tries in his own way , to keep dem symbolic barbarians from over running de gates TMan.
    In de end , it’s you , and kind ,who might be the winners- along with the rest of our more peaceful País, si?

    From Kashmir, to Congo, Sudan, to The Gaza, Columbia, to Afghanistan, the Balklands,Burundi, the killing fields of inner cities , located all across ‘Pax Americana,’ and beyond.
    Just think of the possibilities,if folks in influential positions,like the Good Doc , were -like him-prepared , to step out of their safe , tranquil/Croissant, Caviar , Y Italiano Vino- /comfort zones , in efforts to -a. halt the bleedings, and b.advance the cause for a less savage Humanity.
    Again , thanks for an Illuminating article Doc.

    A excellent , much respected Nobelist , of recently devastated country Yugoslavia ,once said the following , and no truer words , ‘me think,’ were ever spoken:-
    “Of everything that man erects and builds in his urge for living nothing is in my eyes better and more valuable than bridges. They are more important than houses, more sacred than shrines. Belonging to everyone and being equal to everyone, useful, always built with a sense, on the spot where most human needs are crossing, they are more durable than other buildings and they do not serve for anything secret or bad.”
    Ivo Andric Author of classic book- The Bridge on the Drina .

    Let’s continue to strive to finds ‘prudent’ ways ,to build Symbolic Bridges to the future ,across the Global North/ South Divide-and closer to home- well…. you know Doc,who are the still existing,’Puppet Massas,’ who are laughing(while string pulling )as delusional ,non visionary ,national elites,do their typical, ‘neo-tribal tassa whine/ limbo dancing- ‘damblays,’ as our underachieving country,trudge along ,ever so quickly -to nowhere, si?

    Tell you what ,it certainly doesn’t hurt to dream folks, but if by some strange miracle,after his entire political tenure is over, Dr Keith Rowley, could in some way, be able to get a Bridge constructed , between the still fractured Trinidad ,& Tobago,from say Toco,to Crown Point,or Mt Irvin, he would by that one achievement,be able to cement a great legacy, and if I dare say ,supersede ,all the paltry efforts,of the 6 preceding-old talk/ do Nada – PM’s ,en la Trinity,to push T&T along the part of elusive,Sustainable Development, si?
    I luv this land, Y tu?
    Long live the Republic of Toba…. ooops ,…Lo siento, T&T!

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