CARLISLE CHANG (1921-2001)
Born to parents of Chinese descent in San Juan, Trinidad in 1921, Carlisle Fenwick Chang spent most of his life as an artist in Trinidad and Tobago. His first job was as a photographer in Trinidad and he later operated a photo studio in Jamaica. It was during his schooldays at Tranquility Government Boys’ School in Port of Spain that he first started painting. He began his art studies under the tutelage of Amy Leong Pang, founder of the Society of Trinidad Independents, a radical group that encouraged the development of an artistic style reflective of Caribbean society.
In 1950 Chang received a scholarship to study mural painting and ceramics at the LCC Central School of Arts and Crafts, London. This scholarship was extended to three years and was followed by another scholarship to study ceramics for one year at the Instituto Statale D’Arts per La Ceramica, Faenza in Italy. He returned to Trinidad and Tobago in 1955 where he worked until his death in 2001. Chang created a dynamic career through his involvement in theatre, dance, advertising, photography, interior designing, painting, carnival, pottery, and other crafts. His myriad activities are reflected in the collection which spans the period 1948-2001.
Carlisle Chang’s art has had great impact on the Caribbean and from the 1940’s his name made headlines in art reviews and the newspapers. These early reviews mushroomed into high acclaims throughout his life and are well documented in the newspaper clippings held in the Carlisle Chang collection at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. Chang, in a brief autobiography which is also available in the collection, indicates that he pioneered the use of vinylite or plastic paints in Trinidad and Tobago, a piece of trivia which has been substantiated by the exchanges he had with several paint companies and the experiment script he created for the use of the paint.
Arguably two of the most valuable gifts Chang has given to Trinidad and Tobago are the designs for the coat of arms and national flag for independence from Britain in 1962.
Chang served on eight committees charged with the responsibility for preparing the events to usher in the independence. He had the honour of chairing the National Flag and Coat of Arms Committee. Prior to this, he performed a similar task of designing the flag and arms for the failed West Indies Federation. In the Carlisle Chang collection, documents on the two sets of designs are being preserved as part of the region’s patrimony.
Over the years, Chang was commissioned to do several public works of art. The best known of these was “The Inherent Nobility of Man”, a forty foot long and 15 foot high mural in the arrival hall of Piarco Airport, painted in 1961. Art historian Geoffrey MacLean describes it as having been “possibly the most important work of art in the Caribbean”. The Piarco mural was demolished, to public outcry, when the airport building was extended. But many of his other murals remain, such as Conquerabia, cast in cement, outside the Port of Spain City Hall.
Chang’s engagement with the history and culture of Trinidad and Tobago is evident in his extensive resume. Selected highlights include the costume designs he produced for carnival bands from 1964-1985; his membership on the Board of the Carnival Development Committee 1966-1972; his service as a handicraft judge with the Prime Minister’s Best Village competition 1966-1984; his stewardship as President of the Trinidad Art Society 1984-89 as well as his attempts to create a viable local craft industry.
Carlisle Chang passed away in 2001. The Carlisle Chang collection was inscribed on the Trinidad and Tobago Memory of the World Register in 2010.
- The West Indiana and Special Collections, The Alma Jordan Library, The University of the West Indies
- “Carlisle Chang” by Judy Raymond, Caribbean Beat Issue 31, May/June 1998.
Mas’ Pioneers: Carlisle Chang
Gender: MaleMembership Status: Deceased
Past Exhibitions & Projects: