Roberto Teekah: Bringing Guyana’s folklore to life on canvas

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By Jarryl Bryan

Many would say that Roberto Teekah’s painting “We are watching” brings to life the spine-tingling folklore unique to Guyana. The judges of the Guyana Annual Magazine certainly thought so, which is why Teekah won first place in this year’s Visual Arts category.

The burning desire to create and a passion for Guyana’s folklore saw Teekah, a Burrowes School of Art student, paint the winning piece; a portrait of Ol’ Higue, the Baccoo, Kanaima, Moongazer and Wata Mama, all assembled for a macabre family portrait to represent the best Guyana has to offer in the horror genre.

Teekah in the middle of breathing life to his art

The way these creatures of the night are presented is no accident. In an interview with this publication where he described his creative process, Teekah said he aimed to paint the subjects in as striking a position as possible while making use of the “repeating eye” technique. But also, they were all just too good to leave out any.

“I knew that I wanted to represent multiple characters or figures from our folklore. I felt that showing only one would do no justice to the incredible variety that we have here.  From there I just had to decide on how I would go about doing that – I decided to represent them all in striking, front-facing positions and to have their repeating eyes be the thing that ties them all together,” Teekah said.

Artists Roberto Teekah

“That frontal position is something that I explore often in my art, because it creates a direct connection between the viewer and the work… the repetition of those piercing eyes is what inspired the title – ‘We Are Watching’ because no matter where you are in Guyana; the city, the countryside, the jungles or the savannah; there might always be something lurking, something watching.”

But how did Teekah begin his artistic journey? This 22-year-old Bishops’ High alumni, who hails from Herstelling, only knows that as a child growing up, he loved drawing and creating. It was in high school that he began taking art more seriously. He remains passionate in his defence of the principle that art is so much more than a hobby. It can also be a profession.

“While I was at Bishops’, my perception of what art is, and what it could be really changed. Most people probably view art as a hobby or a way to pass time, and while it can be those things, it can also be so much more. Artists in history have been the vanguards of incredible movements, they greatly shape the societies they live in.”

Roberto’s 2020 winning entry in the Guyana Annual Magazine’s Visual Arts category

“They are the ones who have recorded much of history. Artists are able to look at the world from an outside view and capture that world in a time capsule. Knowing those things, and pairing that knowledge with my natural inclination to create, it was almost impossible to not pursue the visual arts,” Teekah said.

As an artist, Teekah draws inspiration from a number of sources; from objects or the shadow cast by a building, or nature, to creative and other powerful elements like mythology, religion, feminism, historical figures, oddities and mysteries. He described Guyanese expressionist painter Bernadette Persaud as one of his favourite artists, someone he has met and had conversations with.

He is now in his third year at Burrowes and while it is not without its challenges, by his own admission, he has thrived in an environment that constantly pushes artists to create and experiment. So when he heard Guyana Annual’s 2020 theme for the Visual Arts category, the allure was too much for him to pass up.

Carnival Fever

“I was familiar with the competition but the moment that I knew I had to take part was when they announced the theme – Guyanese Folklore. This is something that has always fascinated me, and I’m sure it has done the same for many other Guyanese. It sparked a childlike sense of the unknown, a different way of seeing and imagining things.”

“It’s an incredible honour to be the winner of the Stephanie Correia Prize, the idea of having my work in physical print and for it to be accessible for generations to come is incredibly humbling and I’m very grateful,” Teekah added on his win in what is his debut Guyana Annual entry.

Teekah believes that more competitions like Guyana Annual’s would be welcome, giving local artists more opportunities to gain recognition for their work. At the same time, he also believes that opportunities are only what we make of them, which is where knowledge and sharing information comes in. He also had some words of encouragement for visual artists who have just started their own journey creating works of art to last a lifetime.

One of his pieces called “Bloody Mary”, inspired by the historical Queen Mary

“Do everything you can to improve and use all of the resources at your disposal to hone your skills. Practice and do so consciously; don’t make the same mistakes over and over – understand your weak areas and work towards improving on them,” he said.

“Learn how to speak and write about your work, and understand the power and responsibility that your work has. Artists are the movers and shapers of society and our work has more responsibility than we will ever be given.”