GEORGETOWN, May 13, CMC – Philip Moore, considered the doyen of Guyanese art, who immortalized slave revolt leader and national hero Cuffy in the bronze 1763 Monument in the capital, died on Sunday, media reports here said.
He was 90 and died at his home on the Corentyne River in East Berbice county.
A self-taught artist who considered himself “spirit-taught”, Moore credited his earliest sculptures to a seminal moment in his life somewhere around 1955 when he received a vision of a hand reaching down to him from the heavens with a sculptor’s tool – a image he captured on canvas with ‘Receiving the Gift’, now a part of the national collection.
But the visionary artist is best known for the highly-stylised, 33-foot-high, bronze monument to the short-lived slave revolt led by Cuffy, or Kofi, an Akan slave from West Africa who working on the sugar plantations of Berbice, then a Dutch colony.
On February 23 1763 – now celebrated as the country’s Republic Day and the annual Mashramani festival – Cuffy led 2,500 slaves into a rebellion against their white masters.
The statue merges the torso of a defiant African warrior with a pre-Columbian helmet and African breastplate, poised to march against the enemy who dares to desecrate the homeland.
Moore’s bronze sculpture commemorating the man and his moment now stands at the centre of Georgetown’s Square of the Revolution.
The work is fundamental to Moore’s own ideas that the spirits of ancestors continue to influence the living and that his body was merely a modern reincarnation of an ancient spirit.
Shortly after reaching his 90th birthday last October 12, Moore was honoured in the national awards with the Cacique Crown of Honour, the second-highest award for service to Guyana, limited to 100 living Guyanese.
In 2006, the Guyana Cultural Association honoured him with a lifetime achievement award for his contribution to the nation’s cultural heritage.
In January, the National Gallery of Art – located in the shadow of the monument – staged a retrospective of the artist’s nearly 70 years of painting and sculpture.
National Gallery curator Elfrieda Bissember described Moore as “this most influential of Guyana’s artists” whose “lifelong creativity” produced hundreds of paintings and sculptures.
In 1940, he had converted to Jordanite Christianity, which stresses personal pride, self-help, hard-work and Biblical studies.
In the 1950s and 1960s, working alone with homemade tools, he perfected his sculptures mainly in Guyana’s tropical hardwoods, including purple heart and cocobolo but also painted and wrote poetry.
In the years shortly before Guyana’s independence in 1966, Moore taught arts and crafts in the Department of Culture.
Up to the time of his death, Moore was a resident tutor of the Burrowes School of Art, the Demerara Waves online news service said.