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Book cover
The Colour of Shadows
Images of Caribbean Slavery
Book excerpt:
Its hard to exaggerate the newness of what Bridgens did in this book. As late as 1960, Derek Walcott wrote in the Trinidad Guardian
about the Trinidad Art Society, founded in 1943:Though the idea seems ridiculous, because of the establishment of
West Indian literature today, these painters were pioneers in depicting the world around us....To paint a breadfruit tree so that it was a
breadfruit tree and not a majestic oak was as daring then as it was to write the word mangoes in a West Indian poem. Walcott was writing about groundbreaking artists working more than a century after Bridgens and who knew nothing of his images. So
even then, it seems West Indian artists felt they were venturing into the unknown by drawing and painting what they saw around them, breaking with the classical Eurocentric traditions they had been taught. How much more bold, then, for Bridgens to draw this new world into view two centuries ago.

What else is novel about Bridgens book? It begins with some preliminary images from the voyage to Trinidad and three notable local scenes: Port of Spain from the sea, the Governors house, and the Pitch Lake. Then comes the series of five illustrations of cultivating sugar cane, followed by 11 featuring Negro character and customs.
The final four are in essence botanical drawings: the Pitch Lake palm, the groo groo tree, the plantain tree, and a comparative study of bananas (little known in Europe) and plantains. So over half of the
images, the heart of the book, focus on aspects of slave life: this alone
is extraordinary. What struck Bridgens, and what in turn jumps out of his pictures, was that Trinidad was a sugar economy and its people were enslaved Africans, or, as they would have been termed by the time
the book was published, apprentices. This is obvious and yet, for instance, you would never know from Cazabons work that Trinidads economy depended on the labour of enslaved Africans, even though Cazabon grew up on the sugar estates (worked by enslaved people) that his free coloured family owned in south Trinidad. Instead,
Bridgens, an Englishman, recorded the way of life of the people who worked on those estates. As his subtitle says, its the point of the book:illustrations of Negro character.... White people occur occasionally, as overseers in his series of pictures of plantation life and even then they look ineffectual, standing at the side of a field under a big umbrella sheltering from the sun, or pointing and issuing instructions while the enslaved labourers continue their work, apparently disregarding them....
April 2016, Caribbean Studies Press, 199pp, 19 b & w illustrations, softcover
ISBN 978-1-62632-519-7 / Cat# 5197
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