Joshua Lue Chee Kong: The presence of the past:

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A report from Trinidad’s Guardian.

Researching T&T’s past has always been part of artist Joshua Lue Chee Kong’s process in creating his work, and now he’ll have the opportunity to do so as he has been chosen as the T&T recipient of the British Council’s two-month Trans Atlantic Artists’ Residency Exchange (TAARE).

The programme sees two artists from the Caribbean going to the UK and two artists from the UK travelling to the Caribbean to do work in their respective disciplines.

On its website, British Council Caribbean said: “The residency can be research and/or practice-based and includes round trip travel, accommodation, a materials/project budget, an artist fee and a stipend for living costs.

“The residency is supported by British Council, its UK partners: Delfina Foundation, Gasworks, Autograph ABP and Hospitalfield Arts; and Caribbean partners: NLS Kingston in Jamaica and Alice Yard in Trinidad.”

Lue Chee Kong said he will use the opportunity to find out about the stories of the objects which he has been collecting here in T&T. Lue Chee Kong said that after studying graphic design at the Savannah College of Art and Design in the US he was energised about the potential and the stories of T&T.

“I was happy that I had made that step, coming back with new eyes, seeing how we could envision a past, present and future. A lot of history is vanishing at a very quick pace because of progress.

“I started from taking pictures of houses, then it gradually evolved into digging in people’s backyards or exploring these places where I find bits of pottery, bits and pieces of the past.”

Lue Chee Kong said people have been very helpful in reaching out to him and giving him artefacts that have been handed down.

“That generosity has been very helpful in terms of my progress as an artist, historian, archaeologist—I don’t know what to call myself these days. I more focus on the stories, the stories behind objects, the stories behind houses, I love capturing that aspect of it.”

The artist has exhibited in T&T, Martinique, Barbados, and Jamaica as well as being featured in local newspapers, the T&T China Times and Time Magazine, where two of his pictures were on the front page.

In announcing his selection, the British Council said: “He has a keen interest in history and culture and is presently exploring T&T’s folklore, redefining traditional interpretations by expanding cultural iconography and imagery.

“This has helped create a new dimension in the redefinition of T&T’s society being relevant to the present global family, while preserving its own cultural uniqueness and identity, transcending racial and social barriers.”

Lue Chee Kong hopes to be able to take some of the things he has found to London with him. These include bits of pottery, water jugs, clay pipes and bricks.

“Most of the stuff I’ve been finding so far has been connected to the colonial past of Trinidad, whether British, French, Spanish or Dutch.

“I’ve been cataloguing when and where I found them, so now I have the opportunity to take that information and find out more about the distinct places they were made, the stories that connected them to the motherland,and how they found themselves in Trinidad.”

Lue Chee Kong said the UK has kept excellent records of history, including documents, photographs and deeds.

“You just have to know where and how to look. Here in T&T, we only have fragments of our history and even now we are destroying or losing it, so for me or anyone else who tries to trace back their history, it’s near to impossible to find that sometimes. It’s not unique to the Caribbean or in Trinidad; it’s just because we’re so small, I think.”

Lue Chee Kong said bricks were brought to T&T as ballast or weight in the holds of ships and then were exchanged for goods and used as building materials.

The clay pipes show an evolution from the time when tobacco was expensive to when it became cheaper, as the bowls increase in size.

The bits of plates he’s collected range from when such plates were very expensive and hand-painted to when they became more accessible with the use of a new printing technique, so more people could have them as a status symbol. He said his favourite piece has a Masonic symbol on it.

“These things fascinate me,” he said.

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