Market Street, Victoria The Seychelles
Written by Nick Walton, illustration by Marion Vitus
Since arriving in the Indian Ocean paradise in 1972, acclaimed painter Michael Adams has walked down lively Market Street and through its bustling namesake, looking for inspiration.
Anyone who has explored the streets of Victoria on the way to the island resorts of the Seychelles will testify to the tiny city’s tranquillity. From the colonial-era High Court, under siege by ancient double palms, to the miniature replica of Big Ben, which sits in the centre of Victoria’s first set of traffic lights, the sleepy capital moves at its own, rather languid pace. But delve further, down narrow alleys and between clapboard trading shops, and you’ll come to Market Street, the city’s epicentre of colour and sound. Here, calypso-esque music plays from ramshackle CD stores and competes with the bellows of fishermen and middlemen selling the day’s fresh catch at makeshift stalls.
“When I first arrived in the Seychelles, there was a beggar I used to paint who lived in the car park [off Market Street],” recalls Adams. “He always asked for a modest one rupee to look after my car. Each year the amount he asked for would increase, until the last time I approached it was 50 rupees! Back in those days, both sides of Market Street had an open drain to add to the aromatic atmosphere.”
The Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Markets, named for the former colonial-era governor, take up a full city block and heave with commerce and gossip. The corrugated iron roof sits atop pillars of brightly painted timber, while far below on the market floor, men sell seafood of every colour and size, including translucent squid, brightly hued reef fish, and massive tuna, which rest on beds of crushed ice. In the early morning sun, women in tropical church dresses and straw hats fan themselves under the shade of rainbow umbrellas. Heaped before them are bananas (there are over 30 types in the Seychelles), freshly cut coconuts, and brick-sized mangoes. Beyond, old men sell homemade salsa laced with fiery chilli, vanilla pods, local tea wrapped in yesterday’s Nation newspaper, and trinkets made from coco de mer shells that have washed up on the beaches of Mahé, the main island of the Seychelles.
“Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market echoes from the top to the bottom of the street,” says Adams. “It’s now revamped and nicely painted and looks bright and cheerful, but the stalls loaded with fish and fruit and vegetables retain all the unique atmosphere that was there before.”
Adams finds inspiration for his paintings, which have graced the uniforms of the national airline and were used to decorate the Seychelles’ pavilion at last year’s Shanghai Expo, in the bustle of this traditional marketplace. The people of the Seychelles – descendants of everyone from British and French colonialists, to pirates, Arab traders, and freed slaves – as well as the tiny nation’s colourful history – lend themselves to his bold, distinctly tropical pieces.
“I once did a painting of Queen Victoria brought back to life and mingling with Seychellois shoppers. I believe this painting now hangs in Balmoral Castle, surrounded by Scottish landscapes.
“At the bottom of the street is Kanti Jivan’s shop, a historic corrugated iron, wood, and brick construction. Kanti lived there for nearly 87 years until last November, like a friendly hermit crab with an inexhaustible curiosity about, and love of, humanity. His spirit remains there.”
Acclaimed artist Michael Adams was born in Malaya in 1937 of English parents. After years of carefree exploration of the jungles surrounding Ipoh, he went to the UK to study, attending the Falmouth School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London.
After a stint teaching at Makerere University in Uganda, Adams turned to painting full-time, roaming East Africa from his base in Kampala. His work has been exhibited across Africa and Europe, in parts of Asia, and in his own gallery in the Seychelles, where he lives with his wife Heather and an assortment of animals, including two horses, two giant tortoises, and thousands of fish in a jungle pond guarded by a greedy little heron.