It was once said by the famous painter Pablo Picasso that “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary” and Bernadette Persaud has indeed kept a diary of Guyanese traditions, ancestry, ethnic identity, beauty and the political history of her country. She is not only one of the first women of Indian descent to make paintings and artistry part of Guyana’s culture, but one of the first artists to explore, in depth, East Indian themes, iconography, artifacts and Arabic Calligraphy. It can also be said that she is one of the few Guyanese women artists to have her works showcased on the International art scene.
Bernadette Indira Joseph, born on March 17th, 1946 in Bush Lot, West Coast Berbice hailed from a large family with many siblings. Her father, a school teacher from the Essequibo Island, Leguan, travelled due to the nature of his job and met her mother in Berbice while teaching there. Bernadette was the first of nine siblings born to her parents. Her early years were spent in Berbice but by the time she was ready to start Secondary School, her father was relocated to the mining town of Mackenzie/Linden. She spent five (5) years, 1958 – 1963, at the McKenzie High School graduated with her GCE ‘O’ Levels
and then wrote her GCE ‘A’ Levels at St. Joseph High School in Georgetown in 1965. Subsequently, she returned to her birth place and taught English Language and English Literature for three years at the Bush Lot Secondary School. She was transferred to the Charlestown Secondary School where she continued to teach both subjects along with Art and commenced night classes at the University of Guyana. Bernadette graduated in 1972 with a Major in English and Minor in History. In 1968, she got married to Mr. Byro Persaud and had her first and second son, while teaching and studying.
Mrs. Persaud thinks her passion and talent for the arts was awakened by her father at an early age when he bought paint supplies to encourage creativity in his children. “He was talented at drawing and painting and made very skilful, realistic soft sculptures – as teaching aids.” While working at Charlestown Secondary, she attended an Art’s Teacher Seminar; her talent was noticed by the Director of Art, Mr. Denis Williams who encouraged her to attend the new Art School he planned to start. In 1974, Mrs. Persaud enrolled as a part time student at the Burrowes School of Arts where she gained a Diploma in the field. She began teaching at the St. Roses High School in 1977. However, that experience was short lived as due to her out-spoken manner and political activism; Mrs. Persaud was dismissed, like many others, in 1980, from not only St. Roses High. She then threw herself into her paintings and developed a career as a serious artist. After painting for a few years and accumulating her art pieces, Mrs. Persaud held her first and very successful exhibition at the John F. Kennedy Centre in Georgetown in 1984. Her career as an artist took off; in 1985 she became the first woman to win the National Visual Arts Exhibition and Competition, sponsored by the Department of Culture; and as they say, the rest is history, and it is indeed; it is Guyanese History.
She continued to contribute to the education of Guyanese students and this time in the field she was passionate about, as she joined the Burrowes School of Art once again – at the invitation of Mr. Denis Williams – in 1991, as a teacher. Her contribution to Guyanese history was acknowledged when she received one of Guyana’s National Honours – The Golden Arrow of Achievement, in 1997, for her ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Cultural Mosaic in the field of the Visual Arts.’ After spending eight years at the Burrowes School of Art, she left and joined the University Of Guyana, Creative Arts Department in 2000 to teach Art. She retired after seven years. Her painting career did not suffer as she had many exhibitions, including International exhibitions in India – Triennale in 1997 and again in 2005, Mauritius – 2009, the Five Myles Gallery showcasing “Guyanese Contemporary Expressions” In New York City in 2011. She has exhibited with the Guyana Women’s Artists in England, at the Commonwealth Institute and in Canada. Mrs. Persaud has also had solo exhibitions in Jamaica – 1999 and Trinidad and Tobago – 2004 where her outstanding talent was showcased.
Where can we find her now?
Mrs. Persaud still resides in Chateau Margot, Guyana with her husband and sons. She continues to paint with the aim of having another international exhibition next year. She currently holds the position of Art Editor for Guyana’s Arts Journal, a position she has had since its inception in 2004. Mrs. Persaud says that in the long run what fuels her vision is the struggle to “find a new colour and an authentic God”.