Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 28th 2013 Contents A9
July 28, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
Two Michel Jean Cazabon paintings worth
$250,000 each were stolen from the National
Museum s collection in August 2012, the T&T
Guardian has learned. The paintings, whose
identities were withheld by the museum, were
recovered just weeks after the theft when an
art dealer, whose identity was also undis-
closed, tried to sell them back to the museum
There are still doubts amongst art experts
as to whether the watercolours now hanging
on the museum wall are in fact the originals.
The theft has raised concerns about security
in the gallery that holds some of the country s
finest artworks, in particular the Cazabon col-
lection, which sits in a separate air-conditioned
room on the top floor of the museum.
The theft has been known to the art com-
munity in Port-of-Spain for some months.
Artists and local gallery owners have discussed
the matter in private and at an event hosted
by the Art Society of T&T on July 18, LeRoy
Clarke became the first artist to speak about
Clarke said, "Do you know what is happening
to your museum right now? Do you know the
rumour around that so many pieces of art are
missing? People steal and then the next day
a print comes back as if it were the original,
and we do not have the facilities to check or
The theft occurred whilst former museum
curator Nimah Muwakil was on maternity leave.
Tej Ramlogan, cultural arts officer at the Min-
istry of Arts, was technically in charge of the
museum at the time, deputising for Muwakil.
Ramlogan confirmed to the Guardian that
the stolen paintings were from the collection
of works by Cazabon, Trinidad s best-known
19th-century artist. A museum attendant
noticed the missing painting on a Saturday
afternoon last August and reported it to Ram-
logan, who closed the Cazabon room for some
months and asked the curatorial team at the
gallery to produce a report.
That report never materialised, however, and
the incident was not reported to the police
until January, when Muwakil returned from
maternity leave and produced a full report on
the incident for the permanent secretary of
the Ministry of National Diversity and Social
Integration, Jacinta Bailey-Sobers. Muwakil
then reported the theft to Belmont Police Sta-
'Art dealer not reported
to police for questioning'
It is unclear why the art dealer was not
reported to the police for questioning when he
visited the museum with the painting in his
possession, amongst several works of art he
was trying to sell on behalf of a client.
In May, Muwakil resigned to take up a posi-
tion at the Central Bank museum. The Guardian
asked her for a copy of the incident report,
but following professional protocol, Muwakil
said it was the ministry s responsibility to dis-
close the report.
Speaking to the Guardian last Tuesday, Bai-
ley-Sobers said the ministry had only become
aware of the incident when the Guardian told
her what had happened and she was "not pre-
pared to accept that a theft has happened."
In a seemingly contradictory statement she
also said the matter was being investigated by
the police and a media statement would be
released in the next two days.
When pressed for details of the alleged rob-
bery she said she could not disclose details
while the matter was being investigated.
She said, however, no arrests had been made.
Asked about the length of time it had taken
to investigate, she said the police had spoken
to the ministry on July 6 to say "administrative
problems had delayed their investigations."
Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn
Richardson told the Guardian, "I m not aware
that they stole anything from the National
Museum, but now that you re telling me this
I will look into it."
It is not the first time artworks have gone
missing from the museum. In the mid-90s a
collection of ancient West African art disap-
peared and subsequent investigations revealed
that the pieces had not been properly docu-
mented when they were acquired. It is unclear
whether the curatorial procedure has improved
around $250,000 each'
Geoffrey MacLean, owner of the Medulla
Gallery, estimated the paintings were worth
around $250,000 each. He said, "Part of the
problem at the National Museum is the inven-
tories. Important collections should have a
detailed inventory---titles, dates, sizes and pho-
tographs. There is very little control over what
goes on in the museum generally.
"I do not blame the curators, they are not
assisted in terms of resources. It s a mess and
typical of the whole attitude to conservation
in this country."
MacLean, LeRoy Clarke and Diana Mahabir-
Wyatt, a director of the Art Society, all said
they hoped publicising the incident would help
raise the important issue of preserving and
protecting the nation s public collection.
The gallery has been understaffed for some
time. At one stage in her tenure, Muwakil sin-
gle-handedly ran the museum. She had been
deputy under curator Vel Lewis and was pro-
moted when Lewis was made deputy perma-
nent secretary at the Ministry of the Arts and
Multiculturalism. She acted not just as curator
for the gallery but for the whole museum,
including the natural history collection, whilst
also acting as administrative director.
Responsibility for the National Museum has
been passed between three different ministries
in the past five years. Senior figures in the art
community told the Guardian they feel the
Ministry of National Diversity and Social Inte-
gration will now be persuaded to fully staff the
museum with assistants and trainees and pro-
vide sufficient funds to run the museum cor-
Limited access to Cazabon room
...after art stolen from National Museum
Artist LeRoy Clarke
In the wake of the security breach the Na-
tional Museum upgraded its security camera
system, installed infra-red detectors and intro-
duced new measures preventing unaccompa-
nied access to the Cazabon room.
Previously, visitors could simply walk in to
the air-conditioned room by opening a sliding
There is now a swipe card system and visi-
tors must be accompanied by an attendant
whilst inside. Under former curator Nimah
Muwakil's instructions, the museum increased
staff employing five attendants, five security
guards and one 24-hour unarmed MTS officer
following the thefts.
However, when visiting the main gallery this
week, the Guardian saw just one attendant on
duty in the main gallery and no security
The National Museum
and Art Gallery, Frederick
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