Located on the northern fringe of South America, Guyana is a land of seeming contradictions. Upon first seeing its man-made dams and canals, green fields and razor-sharp horizon cleaving an expansive sky, you might think that you have arrived in Holland. But as your eye focuses against the shimmering humidity, you see that the green fields contain rice and beans and that scattered villages lie between groves of cocoanut trees gently swaying in the warm breezes of the Atlantic Ocean. This is Guyana, a land that bears the imprint of many cultural and historical influences. From this environment comes Philip Moore, one of the most original and creative artists of the region.
Born in 1921, in what then was known as British Guiana, Moore had little formal education but received a school-leaving certificate in 1938. His childhood was filled with images of friends and neighbors working hard in the fields by day and playing animated games of cricket in the evening. Moore sometimes accompanied his father, a rubber-gatherer, on his expeditions into the tropical forests. The forest was an enchanted place, said to be filled with a sentient spirituality. Today, looking into Moore's cherubic face surrounded by gray peppercorn hair, you might think that you have been given an audience with an African chief rather than a South American artist. Moore himself believes that his is an ancient spirit reincarnated in a modern body.
About 1940, Moore converted to Jordanite Christianity, which teaches self-help, personal pride, communal life, hard work, and study of the Bible. But his intense love for God by no means conflicted with his belief in the influence of spirits. About 1955, Moore dreamed that a large hand reached down to him from the heavens, and a voice commanded him to begin his career as an artist. This is the reason Moore considers himself "spirit-taught."
The dream was a decisive moment in his life. He began modestly, refining his skills by carving wooden canes and quickly developed proficiency in manipulating tropical hardwoods such as purple heart and cocobolo. His early subjects included portraits, animal figures, sports heroes and stylized magic drums. Eventually, he turned to other forms of art, such as painting and poetry. By 1964, his intuitive carving abilities came to the attention of local authorities at the Department of Culture, who hired him to teach craft and arts.
Motivated by love for his native Guyana and assisted by the government, he got the chance to create what would be the largest bronze sculpture in the region. Moore's 1763 Monument, nearly 25 feet tall, dominates the Plaza of the Revolution in Georgetown, Guyana. A defiant African warrior, with pre-Columbian-like helmet and African breastplate, stands at the ready to march against any enemy who dares to desecrate his homeland. It reminds one of the pervasive African belief that the spirits of oneâs ancestors continue to exercise influence upon the living. Though controversial at first, and neglected more recently, the sculpture is a powerful though enigmatic work ÷ combining traditional African motifs such as the stylized masks used for leggings and breastplates as well as its non-Western sculptural proportions.
Fellow artists in Georgetown often treated Moore with some hauteur, am