Bernadette Persaud 

(Guyana, b. 1946)

 

Bernadette Indira Persaud was born in Berbice, a region of Guyana. Her great-grandparents were laborers on a Guyanese sugar plantation who had originally emigrated from their native Bihar, India, out of fear that their baby could be a victim of female infanticide. Persaud’s work as an artist, writer, and teacher has been deeply affected by her personal circumstances: as a woman of Indian descent in Guyana, she has lived under both colonial and postcolonial governments. As Natalie Hopkinson explains, during the 1970s Persaud was among a very few women artists “of Indian descent, [who were] painting, teaching and raising small children.”    

  

Persaud furthered her education at the University of Guyana and at the Burrows School of Art in Georgetown. An active artist since the 1980s, she is the first woman to win the National Visual Competition and Exhibition (1985). Today, Persaud is considered one of the most influential female artists in Guyana, which is due not only to her artistic works but to her prolific writings as well.    

 

Persaud's paintings address such diverse themes as postcolonial political and ideological repression, Guyana’s complex cultural realities, and her own Indo-Guyanese heritage. Visually, her work is known for its vivid depictions of Guyanese rain forests, which incorporate elements of French Impressionism as well as Hindu and Islamic symbols and motifs. Some of her most influential works are her lotus paintings from the 1980s and 1990s—which use the lotus flower as a symbol of purity and renewal, as in Buddhist and Hindu traditions—and Gentlemen in the Gardens, a 1980s series depicting camouflaged soldiers in Guyana’s forests. Her more recent work deals mostly with postcolonial issues, such as the closing of the Wales Sugar Estate mill, which had been active since the seventeenth century and was a powerful symbol of colonialism.  

 

Persaud's work has been shown around the world, and in 2014 the National Gallery of Art in Guyana organized her retrospective As New and As Old, coinciding with Arrival Day, which commemorates the May 1835 arrival of the first indentured workers at British Guyana.