In this installation of Our Stories, visually impaired Nigel Griffiths explains how he paints to remember this beautiful world. For many people, Jamaica is pictured as an island paradise- white sandy beaches, a beautiful and vivacious culture, rich and wholesome food, and attractive people. And while that image is not far from the truth, if the lens is focused on the inspirational stories of ordinary Jamaicans, you’d find a sharper, richer and truer image of the Jamaican experience… this is Our Stories!
Meet Nigel Griffiths – Painter
At the age of 12, Nigel began having problems with his sight. The young boy had recognised a gradual change in the shapes around him; it was if he was looking at his surroundings through a sheet. Now at 53 years old, Nigel is considered to be legally blind and only has the ability to see shades of colours through his left eye. However, this doesn’t stop Nigel from being the community artist he is today.
- Tell us a little about your upbringing.
Well, I was born at 67 Woodrow Street in Jonestown with my father, his wife and her children. Growing up I was very quiet, curious you know, like any boy growing up them time there. When I was turning 9, my father and his wife and her children migrated to Connecticut in America and leave me with my fathers’ sister in St. Elizabeth.
2. Why didn’t you migrate with your father and step-mother?
She[his stepmother] and her children go up first and file for my father and he was supposed to file for me, but it never work out and him leave me with him sister and promise to try bring me up at another time.
3. Where was your mother at this time, why weren’t you left with her?
My mother fell sick and died when I was still a baby. So it’s my father alone I know, she had family all over town but my father thought it was better I stayed in the country with his sister.
4. When did you begin having problems with your sight?
Well, one day I wake up and the place just looked dull, like it was going to rain or something but it never rained. Every day I wake up is the same thing, the place just look dull. When I was at school my eyes would strain to see the board, I couldn’t even make out what I was writing in my book and I started staying inside more because the sun bothered my eyes.
5. How did you and your aunt go about trying to fix the problems you were facing with your sight?
When I told her, she said it was probably because I sit so close to the television and I go to my bed too late. So for a year I just tried to ignore it but it got worst and after some time it felt like a sheet was over my eye, everything was foggy. One of my teachers, who noticed how bad my sight was, took me to an optician and he said I have something name juvenile cataract and said I would have to get surgery to remove it. We told my aunty who told my father and he provided the money to go do the surgery.
6. How was your sight afterward?
After the surgery, things seemed a bit better and I thought ok, that’s over. But less than a year later I started see say I couldn’t make out nothing clearly and tell my aunty, and couple days after that one afternoon I’m standing up outside her door and hear her talking. She must have contacted my father about the problem and he had explained that he wasn’t able to afford to take on any more expenses at the moment cause he wasn’t working. She start curse about how much of a bother I had become and how she wasn’t interested in taking care of a blind child. I packed my bag and left St. Elizabeth that same night.
7. Where did you go after you left?
I hitched a ride come to town. I said I was going to find somebody from my mother side of family and stay with them. But that never work out because I don’t even remember my mother full name or where anybody else live. So I went to Jonestown near where I used to live and slept on the steps of an old shop. I was there for about two weeks and one day a man say “Ayee boy why you no in a school.” I told him everything that happened and he took me in.
8. Tell us a little more about this man.
Well, his name was Mr. Lambert. Teddy Lambert and he was a teacher at Jonestown Primary. He took me in and clean me up and when I begged him not to carry me back to St. Elizabeth he and his wife decided to let me stay. He took me to see some eye doctors to see if they could help me, but by now the retina in my right eye detach and I was blind in that eye. I can’t tell you how much surgery I have to get on my other eye so I wouldn’t be completely blind. Now I’m only able to see shadows and faint shades of color.
9. How did you get interested in painting and carving?
In his spare time, Mr. Lambert would carve some little statues and sell them. After he passed away, I stop take interest in school and took up the hobby and taught myself how to carve.
10. And what’s that been like for you?
I love it man. Doing something productive make me feel like I have some use. People in the community support me sometimes and buy a few. They know they[the paintings] not perfect but they see how I work hard on them. I paint every day, I stop carving though cause I had cut myself a couple times and I realize it’s better if I stopped.
11. What does painting mean to you?
It’s everything to me. I paint to remind myself how beautiful everything is. I sit on my floor and paint whatever comes to my head. When I’m done I stare for hours at the streaks of colors and I know it’s beautiful.
12. What’s your relationship like with your family now?
Well after Mr and Mrs.Lambert died, their daughter moved in her husband and her in-laws and I didn’t feel welcomed there so I left and rent this likkle place you see I have her. My father and my aunty now, I can’t really say I ever hear or talk to them after that. Maybe I did, but I can’t recall, and I don’t necessarily wish to. My life is good for me. Me happy.
Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, Nigel!
To support Nigel, contact Shana-Kay Rankine at email@example.com