Castellani House: A Sanctuary For Guyanese Art

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The Castellani House has stood the test of time and, today, it stands as a safe haven for some of Guyana’s most thought-provoking pieces of art and craft.
With many of its 19th century features still in place, this landmark still exhibits much architectural appeal and continues to serve as a platform for the growth of imaginative and artistic ingenuity in Guyana.
The Castellani House, which can be found on the corner of Vlissengen Road and Homestretch Avenue in Georgetown, once served as the official residence of government officials, pre- and post-independence.
The edifice was actually designed and constructed between 1879 and 1882 by the Maltese architect, Cesar Castellani, after whom it is named. Cesar Castellani was considered one of the most prominent and prolific architects of the colonial era in British Guiana.
The Castellani House was originally designed as a residence for the government botanist, George Samuel Jenman, who occupied it in 1882. He was transferred from Jamaica to British Guiana to supervise the conversion of the area into a botanical garden and to beautify Georgetown via landscaping.
After he died, Castellani House was used as the official residence for Directors of Agriculture. In 1942, the house was extended with the addition of a third storey to the original two.
In 1965, further changes were made to the structure of the house by the Guyanese architect, Hugh McGregor Reid. From then to 1985, Castellani House was the official residence for Guyana’s first Executive President Linden Forbes Sampson Burnham and First Lady, Viola Burnham. During this time it was known simply as “The Residence”.
For Burnham, it was the perfect, huge wooden house, bordered by the country’s National Zoo.
Years on, after a major refurbishment, Castellani House was re-opened as the home of the National Art Gallery in 1993. The Gallery’s first curator was Everley Austin, whose tenure ended in 1996. She was followed by Elfrieda Bissember. Ohene Koama is currently acting in the capacity of curator.
Since 1993, the National Art Gallery has seen been the home of priceless Guyanese art and it stands ready to serve as a platform for new comers in the industry and even old friends.
After ten years, the Art Gallery saw for example, the return of selected works by one of its dear friends, Bernadette Indra Persaud, under the theme ‘As New and As Old’ which happened to be one of the poems written by renowned Guyanese poet Martin Carter.
Her paintings are bursting with life, filled with vibrant colours and exhibit allusions to her East India heritage. The Guyana Women Artists’ Association’s (GWAA) have also had its members’ work on display at the location.
Over the years, the former Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, which has responsibility for the Castellani House, hosted exhibitions there too.
In fact, the former Ministry last year opened in grand style its “Spirit of Revolution” expose. It was said to be in keeping with the intellectual aspect of the Mashramani celebrations. Each year, the exhibition focuses on a different aspect of Guyana’s Republic status, and for 2014, attention was on the resistance and revolts by slaves.
Based on the numerous art exhibitions it has hosted, the then Culture Ministry had observed that “Resistance” in Guyanese art has been quite evident and is seen in a number of ways. It noted however that the depiction of physical conflict is not a popular motif.
The Castellani House has seen from the former Ministry’s exhibition, paintings and sculptures by notable artists such as E.R. Burrows, Stephanie Correia, Stanley Greaves, Phillip Moore, and Winslow Craig.
The art gallery has also played home to contemporary displays from emerging artistic groups such as Bravo Arts. Their displays included eye-catching body art models.
There are still many more who continue to benefit from the use of the art gallery whether it is to showcase their work or to observe the astounding beauty of Guyanese art. Either way, the Castellani House, remains a cherished landmark as it continues to capture hearts through the exhibition of untamed art.

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