chaz guestNoted and talented artist Chaz Guest has been chosen as the U.S. National Spokesperson for the upcoming 2014 International Roots Festival taking place in the Gambia, West Africa on May 9-17. Guest was chosen because of his notability, his creative genius as an artist and because of his love for Gambia and its cultural heritage. He attended the last Gambia Roots Festival in 2011 on behalf of His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A. J.J. Jammeh, President of the Republic of The Gambia.

It was during a precious occasion as a visiting American artist with President Jammeh that Guest suggested Gambia’s James Island be renamed Kunta Kinteh Island. This indeed became a reality, and the historic renaming ceremony took place during the last Roots Festival in 2011. Guest was among many dignitaries and honored officials to attend along with a delegation from the United States.

The idea for renaming James Island came to him after viewing the slave dungeons there when he was moved to tears. “In my reality, I knew how the dominant culture down through history named things and put their marks on them. But the island was not representative of the people who named it. I knew inside that I could not leave with the island still being called James Island,” he explains.

Guest believed that Kunta Kinteh, a young male inhabitant of the island who was captured and sold into slavery, should be honored because of the great resistance that he displayed during the inhumane slave trade that saw uncountable number of healthy black Africans shipped to America and Europe. Commissioned by the Gambian Government, Guest has sculptured a replica of the statue that will to be erected on the island in honor of Kunta Kinteh. The replica of that he created with outstretched arms represents how the 30 feet Bronze statue will look as a monument on the island.

chaz -Guest-Holding-replica-of-statue-to-come-224x300Guest has continued to support Gambia’s president in bridging the gap between Africans and African-Americans through the Roots Festival because he believes that such a move is very necessary. The International Roots Festival institutionalized by President Jammeh in 1996 has attracted hundreds of Africans from the Diaspora to reconnect with their African ancestry and to immerse themselves in the culture. President Jammeh wants Africans throughout the Diaspora to be recognized for their contributions in spite of the trials and tribulations that their ancestors endured through the Transatlantic Slave Trade. "I am promoting the Roots Festival to my colleagues, friends, and fans and supporters of my art in America because it is all about spreading the world to encourage people to attend," says Guest.

A document on the Roots Festival entitled “Kunta Kinteh Island: Coming Home without Shackles,” was created by filmmaker Elvin Ross, where Guest was featured sharing some of his experiences and feelings about the Roots Festival, African culture and the renaming of Kunta Kinteh Island. Ross’ film captured the pride and spiritual essence of the Gambian people. A purpose of the film was also to instill a sense of pride about their African culture heritage in blacks around the Diaspora and to encourage them to attend the Roots Festival.

Prior to the 2011 Roots Festival, Guest presented a portrait that he painted of President Jammeh to him for which the president gave him a gold bracelet and two books from his personal library - one is called "The Gambia" the other is “Civilization or Barbarism” by Cheikh Anta Diop. President Jammeh expressed that he was impressed by Guest’s talent as an artist and his willingness to assist with cultguest and prezural heritage endeavors.

Guest is an excellent national spokesperson for the 2014 International Roots Festival, not only because of his ties to the Gambia and his love for the African culture, but also because as an artist, he has been recognized as a social change agent. Through fundraisers for charitable causes, and through his artwork representing the need for societal change, Guest has been an effective social entrepreneur. Continuously inspiring communities through advocating the importance of education as well as through his art work, one of his platforms is to see more art education in schools. He would like to make art a possible career path that is more accessible to inner-city, high-risk youths.

As a celebrated artist, he has painted portraits of both Presidents Barack Obama and His Excellency A. J.J. Jammeh. His portrait of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall hangs in the Oval Office of the White House. Five of his paintings were purchased by American media mogul Tyler Perry. Victoria Rowell, Norman Lear, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Robert De Niro, Vanessa Williams and Naomi Campbell are among the celebrities who are private collectors of his artwork. Guest’s artistic creations hang in art galleries, institutions and public buildings throughout the United States, Asia and France. Some of his paintings are now widely recognized as very important works in the realm of figurative expressionism.

Because he creates original paintings, sculptures and drawings that are awe-inspiring, breathtaking and most of all thought-provoking, Guest has been labeled a creative genius. One of the most impressive things about some of his paintings is how he is able to achieve a three dimensional effect. His ability to put his inner consciouchaz and obamas in his work in such a way that elicits intense emotional reactions in viewers is what sets him apart in his field. The replica of the statue of Kunta Kinteh is a reflection of the creative genius of Guest.                      

The New York native, who calls both East and West Coast United States home, was honored to do the statue of Kunta Kinteh because he believes Kinteh he was a real hero. He also believes that art such as this can be used to bridge cultures and bring people together. “I would like for my art works in some way to represent freedom, and promote global understanding and peace,” he says. “It is my hope that the art that I do will instill a sense of connectedness in everyone who is touched by it. I believe that the art process can be an avenue for people to learn to respect each other’s cultures. Through art, I can promote some of my beliefs about how society can take a look at itself and become better,” explains Guest.

”As US National Spokesperson for the 2104 Gambia Roots Festival, Guest feels through this position, he can help to bring people together for the betterment of society. “This is an opportunity to promote culture, of which art is an integral part. So being involved with the Roots Festival is very much a part of who I am and what I do. I accept my responsibility for the power that I’ve been granted as an artist, a social change agent, and as a sustainer and promoter of culture. This is my gift to future generations.”chaz g

Photos: 1) Guest in his home studio 2) at renaming of Kunta Kinteh Island 3) w/ Gambia's President Jammeh 4) presenting U.S. President Obama with portrait of Justice Marshall 5) w/ replica of stature for Kunta Kinteh Island and background painting of Stevie Wonder.