Giving Voice Through Art

Giving Voice Through Art


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I’ve always looked out for the underdog and I paint what I feel passionate

about. You will see a lot of aboriginal and black people in my paintings;

because I feel so often that our voices are not heard.



Giving Voice Through Art

By Oscar Wailoo


July 18, 2006

Long before Canada proclaimed itself a multicultural society, Guyana had already settled its identity as a land of six peoples. The recently enunciated Canadian ideal has not yet produced the classic multicultural Canadian; whereas Guyana, which has been at it much longer, has produced people of remarkable mixtures and textures. Such a person is Guyana-born Torontonian, Claire Carew.  

Claire covers a fair part of Guyana’s peoples. She is African, Arawak, European and bits and pieces of others, and at once is fair to them all in her appearance. Her features are like the brilliant “essays” she does in paint and poetry. And her eyes are of a quality that both penetrate and invite. Those exceptional eyes are also the eyes of one of Toronto’s finest artists.  

Carew has a remarkable canvas on her living room wall. It is an essay of powerful images of spirituality, conquest, struggle, resistance, self-assertion. Here is the struggle of the aboriginal against conquest, there’s the brown-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe, here are John Carlos and Tommy Smith with fists raised in Mexico, there is the back of the Mexican maiden slowly receding away, and at the center the native face with clear eyes gazing back, neither in defiance nor humility, but just “returning the gaze” as Claire puts it.

Scattered around her neat semi-detached home in Toronto’s west end are paintings ranging from rich to subdued tones, all commanding your attention. There is a lot of power in these pictures, belying the gentle Guyanese tone of Carew’s strongly Guyanese accented words. But there is nothing “soft” about Carew when she asserts, “As a woman you don’t have too much freedom. So the least you can do is paint what you want to paint. That’s when you can get your freedom. Because in society a woman is always told what she ought to be. So art is one way a human being can express herself.”

Then you know what she means as you sense a pair of eyes looking at you. Just to her left knee on the floor is a picture of an aboriginal woman called “The Eye Sees What The Mind Fears.” Painted during the Oka crisis, when native Canadians refused to have their ancestral burial ground converted to a golf course, the “Oka Woman’s” face does not threaten but project a powerful dignity, commanding immediate respect. And the eyes, penetrating, projecting a strength that defies all the years of oppression. Carew said that once at an exhibit, a native woman, impressed by the power of this Oka Woman, sought her out, took her aside, pressed sacred tobacco into her palm and encouraged her to keep doing what she was doing. 

“I’ve always looked out for the underdog and I paint what I feel passionate about. You will see a lot of aboriginal and black people in my paintings; because I feel so often that our voices are not heard. And when they are, they are often stereotyped. So I always paint people of colour in a positive light.”

Sometimes the light is so positive that it fairly dazzles and blazes and disturbs like the piece entitled “Amazon Warrior-Blood Runs Deep.” If you are running around with a bad conscience about the historical abuse of aboriginal peoples around the world, this richly coloured Amazon warrior fastens onto you with eyes askance. He is not threatening, he is not bitter, but his eyes seem to say, “I saw what you did and I’ve not forgotten.” So striking is this piece that Carew said that it was once on exhibit at a swanky eatery in downtown Toronto and the patrons requested it be removed because his eyes followed them and disturbed their appetites.

If when gazing at her art the viewer is disturbed by its power, moved by its sensitivity, soothed by its calming influence, then Carew can ask for no more, even though she doesn’t always set out to evoke such responses.

But Carew does not doubt the critics and reviewers who have seen her exhibits in galleries across Canada, in Mexico, USA, at the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, the UK, etc, and who agree on terms like evocative, powerful, healing, revolutionary in describing what they see in a typical Carew piece. It is not surprising then that her pieces have found their way onto socio-political magazine covers and posters, a couple of sociology text books for college courses, greeting cards and the walls of many an art cognoscenti. 

For the past seven years Carew has brought that passion for art, living and political action to the west end middle school where she is teacher in visual arts, but we may soon begin to see more of her as she considers taking a few years off teaching to concentrate on her painting and poetry.

Until such time some of her pieces can be seen on exhibit at Angels Gate Winery in Beamsville, Ontario. Or you can go to Claire’s quite clever website,, to fill in the yawning gaps in this all too brief cameo.

posted 19 September 2006

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Capitalism and the Ideal State: Marcus Garvey  / Negroes and the Crisis of Capitalism (Du Bois)  / Economic Emancipation of Africa

Liberty and Empire  /  Money is Speech   /  On Capitalism: Noam Chomsky

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 19 February 2012




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