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The Inherent Nobility of Man

Carlisle Chang 1921 - 2001 black and white photo
Carlisle Chang 1921 - 2001

Counting down to the 60th anniversary of our Independence, we are taking this opportunity to look back at the road travelled and our accomplishments along the way. Today, we look back at the contribution of one of our artists extraordinaire, Carlisle Chang.

Carlisle has been widely regarded as “the father of Trinidadian art”. Born in 1921 in San Juan his early education in the arts started with helping friends in San Juan make tadjahs for Hosay and costumes for Carnival. As a student of Tranquility Boys School, he met fellow classmate Boscoe Holder, and the two were mentored by artist Amy Leong Pang. They also took part in exhibitions organized by the artist collective “The Society of Independents” whose members included artists such as Sybil Atteck, Hugh Stollmeyer and Amy Leong Pang.

Multi talented, Carlisle worked as a photographer for ten years before returning to painting. He was awarded scholarships to support his training in the arts abroad. His studies in photography, ceramics and mural painting took him to the USA, London and Italy. When he returned to Trinidad four years later, he opened a studio gallery where he sold Christmas cards, paintings and costumes.

As far back at the 1940’s he had a great impact on the Caribbean in the sphere of art when his name made headlines in art reviews and the newspapers.

He created a dynamic career through his involvement in theatre, photography, interior designing, easel painting, murals, as well as a designer for carnival, theatre and ballet to name a few.

One of his famous murals “The Inherent Nobility of Man” graced the Arrival Building of the Old Piarco Airport. It was commissioned by the Trinidad and Tobago Tourist Board and was installed on the eve of Independence in 1962.

Forty feet long by Fifteen feet high, it epitomized the spirit of the country during the countdown to independence from Britain. It depicted the successive waves of immigration into Trinidad, the pressures and restrictions of society on the efforts of the individual for self realization. It featured the man who succumbed to the environment and recreated himself through a return to the womb to recreate in turn his environment in a resurrection. According to Art historian Geoffrey MacLean, it was “possibly the most important work of art in the Caribbean’’.

Sadly, this work of art was demolished in 1979 when the airport was being extended. On August 25, 2022, a 2006 reproduction by the late Glen Roopchand, who worked on the original mural with him was unveiled at Piarco International airport as part of an exhibition commemorating the 60th anniversary of Independence.

Among his other murals is “Conquerabia” a 41 foot long concrete mural which is displayed on the ground floor of City Hall on Knox Street in Port of Spain and is a National Heritage site. Another graces the wall of the TSTT building on lower Edward Street. At the 1967 Expo in Montreal, Canada he was part of a team that painted a 120 foot mural for which they received an award.

He was instrumental in designing the Coat of Arms for the West Indies Federation, as well as the Coat of Arms and the National Flag of Trinidad and Tobago in 1962.

Carlyle was involved in carnival in Trinidad and Tobago in various capacities and was the designer of costumes and sets for Dimanche Gras in 1965. From 1964 to 1975 he designed costumes for Stephen Lee Heung’s bands.

Carlisle was the first Caribbean artist to be awarded a medal at the prestigious Bienal de Sao Palo exhibition in 1963. Among his other awards were two Cacique awards for the locally produced Lysistrata in 1991 and Turandot in 1992. His accolades include the Trinidad and Tobago Humming Bird Silver medal for the Arts in 1969, the Lifetime Award from the National Carnival Bands Association in 2001, a Citation from the Press Club of Lausanne, Switzerland and serving as President of the Trinidad Art Society for five years.

In 1970 he started Gayapa Industries Ltd. producing collectors dolls some of which are at the U.W.I. library, embroidery hangings, creating designs from local folklore and popular culture but this faltered by the end of that decade.

A brilliant multi-faceted artistic mind, the death of this noble son of the soil in 2001 was indeed a great loss for Trinidad and Tobago.

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