Honouring My Guyanese Roots

I consider myself very honoured to represent my Guyanese roots in last year’s Feldenkrais Summit in May. A little too honoured in some ways, as I have not yet even had the opportunity to visit my father’s birthplace. Michael Burrowes was the son of Edward Rupert Burrowes, who was – in no particular order – a ‘Member of the British Empire’ [MBE], ‘The Father Of Guyanese Art’, and the very exciting grandfather from overseas, that I met only once, when I was 4 or 5 years old. By then my parents had separated, and this handsome older gentleman who brought my sister and I wonderful gifts from his homeland was the first person from my father’s side of the family that I had met. Now I have a lovely extended family of aunts and half-siblings, but at the time my sister and I were a rarity; two small brown children living in a very white British seaside town. Even when we were old enough to go to secondary school there were only a handful of other children of visibly different ancestry to everyone else.

While visiting my amazingly musical Aunt, Barbara van Praag, I had the chance to photograph some of my Grandfather’s work. I will share what I have here, between paragraphs, please forgive the poor quality…

I did not know much about this side of my family for many years; my mother Patricia, was – understandably – resentful, and my [biological] father was – also understandably – wary of his two families connecting. However Mum was very proud of our relationship with our remarkable grandfather, and I am glad that we had a chance to meet him before he died, however briefly. I am not a big believer in genetic determinism, but I do find it interesting that my sister and I both seem more representative of the ‘arty’ black side of the family than the practical white side; my sister is an artist and poet like our grandfather, and I am a vocal performer like my father was, and also a wanna-be writer, so I was delighted to discover that not only was my father a novelist who wrote Westerns, but that my great-grandfather was a professional journalist, writing for The Daily Chronicle (apparently a private publication) back when our family lived in Barbados.

This painting is entitled ‘Guiana, Land Of The Dolorous Garde’ – it is the only work I can find online that is definitely by my Grandfather – here is a link to a discussion of this painting, which includes another image, but with much fainter colours, so I am sharing this snapshot taken by me, instead…

Here is the introduction to my grandfather’s Wikipedia page:

Edward Rupert Burrowes MBE (15 September 1903 – 1966) was a Guyanese artist and art teacher who founded the Working People’s Art Class (WPAC), the first established art institution in Guyana. The E R Burrowes School of Art, an undergraduate institution accredited by the University of Guyana, is named after him…”

…you can read on here if you are curious, but there is not much information to be had online, and the recent Life Between Islands Exhibition at Tate Britain did not have even this much, and although the book of the exhibition does mention him, it merely describes him as the ‘remarkable’ E R Burrowes, without saying anything about how he earned that descriptor!  

I love this self portrait!

Here is an excerpt from the only other source of information I have found online so far, with a link to the site it came from here:

Brief on the Burrowes School of Art
The E R Burrowes School of Art was founded in 1975 by the late Dr Denis Williams, the then Director of Art and Archaeology within the Ministry of Education.

The school – the first of its kind in Guyana and second in the English speaking Caribbean – was named in memory of Edward Rupert Burrowes who is usually referred to as ‘The Father of Guyanese Art’. Burrowes was an artist as well as an educator. Among his ‘offsprings’ were: The British Guiana Arts and Crafts Society, The Working Peoples’ Free Art Class and an Art Class for children. These classes influenced a number of important Artists including Dr Denis Williams.

The Burrowes School of Art was first housed at the Exhibition Site Sophia, but in 1976, after its accommodation became inadequate, was moved to the more spacious building which was formerly the District Doctor’s residence, in Old Road, Eccles. Subsequent moves were made to the former Lilian Dewar College building and later to Carmichael Street. In 1999 the school was moved to the former History and Arts Council building at 15 Carifesta Avenue, where it is still housed.

Dr Williams himself held the position of Principal of the school until 1980 when he was succeeded by Mr Keith Agard.

In 1983 Mr Agard relinquished this position to Mr George Simon who held it until 1985 when a new administrative system was introduced. This consisted of an Administrator – a position held by Ms Agnes Jones until her departure in 1998 – and a Chief Instructor – the position held by Mr Jerry Barry until his departure. Ms Jones was succeeded by Mr Errol Brewster who served from January 1999 to November of the same year with the title of Director of Studies. The present Administrator, Mr Robert Cummings became the school’s new head in January 2000. The position of Director of Studies was re-introduced and filled in September 2001 by Ms Kathleen Thompson who still holds this post.

The E R Burrowes School of Art is an undergraduate institution accredited by the University of Guyana. Students graduate in two or three years with the Burrowes School of Art Certificate or Diploma, the latter qualification earning a two-year exemption on the Fine Arts degree programme at the university.

This is the picture I would like to know more about, so full of movement and life…
… I find this poem rather charming – I may have to find my way to Guyana if I am to discover any more about the complex life of this fascinating man…
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6 Replies to “Honouring My Guyanese Roots”

  1. What a fascinating story Maggy, I’m so pleased you posted a link to Facebook where I found it.

    As you know Polly and I did ‘find’ our way to Guyana to do research and I think you’ll be amazed at the journey – so you really should do it! OK, our trip was effectively before internet research was feasible but I suspect that there you will find an enormous font of information as we did in the various government departments, NGO’s etc, special mention to the cartographic and meteorological departments and the Iwokrama Centre – as well as private individuals, too numerous to mention, who simply get word of what we were doing and made contacts, sometimes in the street!

    Our Guyana ‘experience’ was very hard at times – think of the culture shock of peoples’ first experience visiting India or Morocco and multiply by a factor of whatever – as we were not ‘tourists’ living in a kind of bubble nor did we have funding, so our entire time was the ‘real deal’ – warts and all but for every hairy experience were dozens of amazing ones!

    Have a great trip!

    Simon and Polly

    1. I really appreciate you telling me about your experiences – it all sounds so exciting – I am not really a great traveller but I realise I really do want to visit this place and learn more about it, and maybe more about my family – maybe even about my grandmother’s Indian heritage. Your description is so evocative, thank you both!
      Very best wishes,

  2. I have been trying to find information about ER Burrowes online for some time now, and am so happy I found your page. thank you for writing this and for posting the photos. At last I have a closer idea of the man himself. The self portrait is wonderful! I am of Guyanese origin, and my mother attended painting classes by ER Burrowes when she was a young woman , in British Guiana. Yes he is very famous for his unique approach to painting and his generosity in providing painting classes, making art open and available to all.

    1. How lovely to hear from you and sorry to be slow to respond – I have grabbed your email address and will get in touch very soon!

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