His 2017 presentation, Cazabon: The Art of Living was supposed to celebrate our heritage architecture and the period when those buildings, like the members of the Magnificent 7 were built.
The problems were present from the get go. Those buildings were constructed in the 20th century. While George Brown, the architect who designed the fret work that has become the hallmark of the gingerbread houses moved to Trinidad before Cazabon died, they had little interaction. So the association is messy.
But what really upset some people was the section La Belle Dame and Garçon de la Maison. The beautiful woman and the house boy. It glamourised a relationship where one of the partners, in this case the overly sexualised houseboy, wasn’t an equal partner, and probably couldn’t refuse the relationship if he wasn’t interested. Regardless of how beautiful his mistress may have been.
Earlier this week, the band leader held a Facebook live discussion where he apologised for causing offense and dropped the section.
I had an interesting conversation with a lecturer in Carnival Studies about this controversy, Trinidad Carnival’s history and society. I also spoke to the leading expert on Cazabon about this. I’m working on that piece now, and hope to have it ready for broadcast soon.
On Friday I got to see Michel-Jean Cazabon’s paintings for the first time. I mean his actual paintings, not prints in a book, his hardwork was before me and it was an experience. Because I was there for work I didn’t get to take them in the way I’d want to, so I’ll have to go back before the exhibition closes on the 25th September.
Last year Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley announced the purchase of 10 paintings from Trinidadian 19th century artist Michel-Jean Cazabon. Those paintings, and 39 others are currently on display at the Diplomatic Centre. Viewing is free but you have to register at the National Museum for tickets.
Also on display are some of the Margaret Mann paintings. Mrs. Mann was the wife of a British captain, she was tutored by Cazabon. As was common, she wrote many letters to her family describing in great detail her life in Trinidad during the years 1847 and 1851. 87 letters to be exact. Which offers a rare female-centred view of life in the Caribbean in the 19th century. Along with her paintings, we have a an unparalleled peek into life in Trinidad during that time.
Hopefully I have sparked your interest in everything Cazabon. If you want to learn more about him, do take advantage of the opportunity to see his work at the Diplomatic Centre. Also there are a lot of books available. Including Danielle Delon’s The Letters of Margaret Mann. Geoffery MacLean is the foremost expert on Michel-Jean Cazabon, he has written several including the official book accompaniment to the current exhibition called Cazabon Legacy. I think that they have settled on a price of $250 TTD. His older books include Cazabon: An Illustrated Biography of Trinidad’s Nineteenth Century Painter Michel-Jean Cazabon. The author Lawrence Scott’s Light Falling on Bamboo is the fictionalised retelling of the artist’s life, which is fascinating, to say the least. Geoffrey has shown me the divorce decree that Cazabon’s parents signed at the dissolution of their marriage.
There’s also Michel Jean Cazabon’s Book of Trinidad 1837, but at a bid price of $25,000 USD, it might be out of your reach.
More accessible is Gerard Besson’s detailed blog post on Cazabon, his life, his woes. You can read that here.
Moments like this make it seem that we’re getting better at valuing our history. In September, 2011 Citizens for Conservation restored his tomb in Lapeyrouse. According to Geoffery is could probably do with a touch-up, but it can be viewed. It’s on the 7th Street of the cemetary.