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Artist Peter Sheppard earns honor for magical,
imaginative compositions of Trinidad’s splendor

The Northern Range is sumptuous and nurturing as she cradles the western corner of the capital city.  The rainy season shaped the Range into a palette of greens that is dusted with gold leaf by the afternoon sun.  This isn’t a description of an imagined composition painted by Peter Sheppard—who’s known for condensing majestic scenes into miniature art—this is the view from his cozy patio perched on Fort George in Trinidad.

The eldest of three, Sheppard was born to be a painter.  His parents, Stephen and Margaret, painted and encouraged their children to paint.  “I remember Christmas and birthday gifts were usually three small canvases and a pack of paints.”  He would cut the 5”x7” gift canvasses in half.  Sheppard often toured Trinidad’s mountainous and coastal terrains.  “My dad used to drive me around on the weekends, not just to Maracas, but long drives across Trinidad,” recounts Sheppard.  The natural splendor of Trinidad he encounters is weaved into enchanting eco scenes that exist only in his mind.  “The quaintness of this land appeals to me.”

Sheppard_4519DRAKESIn Form 4 he studied technical drawing.  “I was doing building drawing rather than mechanical drawing; I was attracted to perspective, and box houses were one thing I used in my perspective practice.”  Those simple houses helped him develop a comprehension of perspective and sense of depth, and they became as commonplace as rivers and bamboo in a Sheppard miniature.  His paintings of box houses dressed in bright hues appealed to tourists.  Seventeen-years-old at the time, Sheppard found a niche.  Soon his 3”x4” paintings were fetching $35 at the Art Buyer’s Fair with the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago.

In the Caribbean market, the value of fine art is influenced by exhibition sales, gallery curator’s appraisal, demand from collectors, and illustrious affiliations.  Sheppard, 46, is yet to mount a solo exhibit beyond Trinidad’s shores, but last May he attained an honor that is a game changer.   The Hilliard Society of Miniaturists in Wells, Somerset, is a 31-year-old fraternity of artists who paint miniatures; the society was founded by Sue Burton.  Though Sheppard has been painting for 30 years, he says, “I discovered in the last 5 years, that miniatures are my signature.”

On his first attempt to get into Hilliard’s juried show, Sheppard’s work was rejected because the surface of his paintings was a distraction.   “I paint on canvas paper and the pores of the PeterShep4599DRAKEScanvas were a distraction for them,” explains Sheppard, “remember, they scrutinize miniatures under a magnifying glass.”  The second year he submitted a monochromatic quartet from his “Blue” show—all four sold.  “That was something that stood out,” says Sheppard.  “It’s West Indian-themed but the way it was presented was contemporary—the work used cobalt blue paint.”  In 2013 his submission was mounted on masonite board, a surface as smooth as a kitchen countertop.  He lathered them in gold then applied his landscapes.  As Sheppard describes: “I was painting with a smile on my face.  I enjoyed painting the details with the gold luster underneath it, it’s really rich [work].  I sent them to London with such good energy.”  Then he got a phone call with an unofficial announcement, that he is being awarded the Sue Burton Memorial Award for Best in Show.  Jackpot!  Sheppard’s third try, beat 80 competitors and earned him £1000 and coveted recognition.

What’s next?  Possibly a show at the TT High Commission in London, and a collaboration that pairs his passion for food and lush landscapes with his fine art.  “I love the miniatures, because it’s how I interpret nature, everything is delicate and precise and neat.  When I get into a painting I go into a trance, it puts me at peace.  The handling of the painting is very delicate, time consuming and very controlled.  All the things I’m telling you are the complete opposite of my personality type.”

Isaiah Boodhoo and Carlisle Chang are artistsPeterShep4567DRAKES Sheppard admires, but he credits the late Wayne Berkeley, who designed theatrical sets and costumes, with inspiring his technique.   “You look at my paintings and there’s a backdrop, then wings coming in on the left and right,” describes Sheppard.  “It’s always like I make paintings into a 3D stage set.  I paint the background first and I start bringing the work forward.”

His largest work measured 2 meters x 5 meters and took six weeks to complete.  “I just felt like pushing the edges of the canvas out.  [Sometimes] I feel I want to express [nature] bigger.  Everything is still meticulously placed in those big paintings, and I am still using a 000 brush.”   It’s a painstaking process.  Sheppard chuckles as he repeats a comment often heard: “Dat is mad people work.”  But to his collectors, Peter Sheppard is madly in love with creating miniatures that reflect his fascination with “all things to do with the Northern Range.”

© SEAN DRAKES

Recently published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

Powder and Personal Space

Why do people paint their neck with powder, and what is the origin of that ritual, are questions that provoked the curiosity of artist Marlon Griffith for many years.  His curiosity was deepened by derogatory comments like, ‘Yuh look like fish about to fry,’ that are commonly slung at people sporting a powdered neck.  “How does this simple thing get people riled up?” wonders Griffith.  “When I asked people why do they wear powder, most say they grew up doing it to keep cool.  And how do they feel when people make comments, a lot don’t care, some feel really hurt.”

Artist Marlon Griffith in Belmont with his Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla installation.

In 2009, Griffith, an illustrator from Belmont who lives in Nagoya, Japan, constructed a photographic project around powdered necks, titled The Powder Box Schoolgirl Series.  He cast girls in school uniforms and incorporated iconic logos into his narrative on branding Black bodies. “Coming from a Carnival background I thought it would be interesting to use it as a kind of intervention to comment on things that are happening around us, and to empower the person that is wearing the powder.”

“It was key to pick specific schools where the powder neck girls are.  I attended Tranquility [Government Secondary],” says Griffith, 35, “which is one of those schools.  Around the corner was St. Joseph’s Convent, you wouldn’t find a girl in St. Joseph’s with powder around their neck.  It comes from your background, class, the kind of people you interact

From the Powder Box Schoolgirl Series. Courtesy Marlon Griffith.

with.  Most people, when they see it, get disgusted by it.  For me, doing that part with the schoolgirls brought up a bigger dialogue with the branding.  Branding plays a very big part of urban culture here.  Everybody wants to look like the rapper on TV.  Having the student wear [a logo] image says a lot about where a young [person’s] head is at, and the kind of interactions they have with people.  It says a lot about the education system and how students and educators perceive each other, and the kind of relationships they have.”

Griffith’s Powder Box project first received attention for an exhibit at Real Art Ways.  “Right after that [curators] started picking up this image, it was everywhere, except in Trinidad,” notes Griffith.  “It was being published and written about, I won a Guggenheim, still, nothing here.”

The Powder Box series expanded and mounted with The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla. Photos: Sean Drakes

Last July, Griffith’s images finally surfaced in Trinidad, on a radio station’s Facebook page.  They were posted without credit and out of context with the caption: “Nex level Powderneck … would you wear it?”  The most vile comment Griffith noticed on that thread read: ‘These young women look like prostitutes, only prostitutes wear powder around their neck like that.’  Griffith is intrigued by “how we look at one another in this space; there is a lot of work to be done.”  He hopes his series helps the process of elevating awareness of how we interact.

In the three years since Griffith migrated, he was awarded a two-year John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and a Commonwealth Connections arts residency.  He has taken a wife, Akiko, has a son, Sora (10-monhts old), learned to write and speak Japanese, mounted installations in Japan, and adjusted to a diet of fish, brown rice, vegetables and tofu.  “Regular exercise, no KFC, no heavy starches.  There is KFC there, but it’s not that

The Granderson Lab in Belmont on opening night of Griffith’s three-day exhibit.

popular.  KFC is big at Christmastime in Japan.”  “I am very happy.  I’m not a starving artist in Japan.”

In the travel narrative The Middle Passage by V.S. Naipaul, the author is on board the Spanish immigrant ship Francisco Bobadilla bound for Trinidad.  Griffith returns to Belmont to expand his Powder Series with the installation project The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla, which references Naipaul’s narrative on relationships in uncomfortable space.  The installation is mounted from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, 2012 at the Granderson Lab in Belmont.

“I am using galvanize to keep a connection to all that galvanize you see when you look out the windows.  In the installation you have different point of views,” explains Griffith, “in the middle of the installation there’s a projection.  I wanted to simulate the idea of walking down a street or a lane.  Belmont has many tight lanes.  There’s a voyeuristic quality moving around these spaces.  Depending on where you live, if you open your window you might be looking into someone’s bedroom.  Many streets run into somebody’s house or a dead end.  Very much like the installation, you walk into a dead end.”

The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla by Marlon Griffith.

A projection of a girl applying powder takes viewers into personal space and provides a link to Griffith’s Powder Box Series.  “I see it as a performance,” he adds.  “With this [Bobadilla project] I decided to focus on the relationships of people within a particular community … navigating trying to be comfortable in an uncomfortable environment.”

Early stage of The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla installation by Marlon Griffith.

“Since I’ve been back I’ve found the environment to be much more uncomfortable.  There are more police patrols in Belmont.  Yesterday a woman’s throat was slit around the corner.  A lot of personal spaces that I am familiar with no longer exist.  The dynamics of Port-of-Spain have changed, so have the people in response to those changes.”

The Bobadilla project is a collaboration with Alice Yard.  Griffith didn’t appoint a wordy artist statement to the work because, “Not everybody is going to be convinced by what you say.  People have to experience before they can make their own assessment.  I may have my ideas about it, what’s interesting about artwork in general is, art is something that evolves over time.  As the artist you have an idea of what this thing is and what it should do, but then people make it more than what you thought it was or could be.”

© SEAN DRAKES

Recently published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

Minshall Exhibits Early Works

Peter Minshall.

Patience and persistence are paying off for art gallery owner Yasmin Hadeed.  “Year after year, for about five years, I asked Ashraph, let’s do a show with Minshall,” recaps Hadeed.  “This year, I spoke to Ashraph everyday for like a month—I’m  obsessed.”  Hadeed, 41, owner of Y Art Gallery, and Richard Ashraph Ramsaran, 46, artist and owner of The Frame Shop, finally got the timing right.  When Ashraph approached Peter MInshall around the Independence holiday with a proposal for a show, Minshall was receptive.

But when they finally got the greenlight, they would have only three weeks to explore the treasure trove at the Callaloo Company warehouse, survey works in Minshall’s studio, research, edit, sequence the show and produce a catalog.  “It was never about doing a Carnival show,” affirms Hadeed, “it was just about doing a show by him.”  The show they’ve choreographed offers viewers an abridged chronological journey of the artist’s career, but bypasses his impressive imprint on the Olympic Games.

“There are about 45 pieces for this show,” estimates Hadeed.  “I have always been interested in seeing the works of Minshall, and have more or less always kept abreast of what he has done.  It was not necessary for me to preview the work to determine which to choose, since, in my opinion, they are all breathtaking.  However, due to the time frame and scale of what we wanted to achieve we decided on this amount.”  Hadeed anticipates “an overwhelming response to this show.”  “This is a pivotal moment for an art collector, gallery owner or someone who appreciates the arts generally.  We are showing another side of Minshall.  It is important for us to give our appreciation to him for his contribution to the art community as a whole, not just as a mas man.”

“Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” by Peter Minshall.

Minshall Miscellany loosely traces the career of a versatile artist who earned an Emmy Award for his designs.  The exhibit is intimate and has an ebb and flow that befits a designer of drama and queens. The show includes paintings for commissioned works and the mas band Tantana. FIve decadent renditions of elegant and intricate designs for Jaycees Carnival Queen contestants open the show.  They date from the 1970s, and are set beside illustrations of stage designs Minshall executed during his years in London, which preceded his involvement in the Jaycees pageant.

Like many artists, Minshall believes comprehension of design principles is transferable to other creative disciplines.  “Because you didn’t really have any understanding of what art was,“ reflects Minshall, in the second person, on his youth, “everything was everything. Hollywood, Esther Williams, Ziegfeld Follies, The King and I, and art exhibitions were all one and the same.  You had absolutely no sense of discrimination.  So there was this Jaycees Carnival Queen, there were costumes for it and dresses, and you were hardly 16 or 17 and you had a bash.  And you did it in the style of the time.  And it was like designing the colours for jockeys who rode horses at races.  The Jaycees Carnival Queen was like a horse race.  It didn’t matter that most of the horses were fillies and white.  The whole of the country bet on them as if it were a horse race.  The evening gowns had to have a theatrical, dramatic edge.  These weren’t gowns that young ladies would wear to a cocktail party.  These were gowns on a very large stage, so they had to have evening gown fashion-theater about them.”

“I do feel anxious,” admits Hadeed, who has been a gallery owner for 20 years, and has exhibited most of Trinidad’s prominent visual artists.  “It has been an amazing opportunity to showcase Minshall at my gallery.”  “Angel Astronaut stands out to me, it represents a complete embodiment of what he is about.”  The most challenging aspect of the edit process for Ashraph and Hadeed was reducing how many of Minshall’s ‘heads’ are included. That outlined profile of a bald man’s head set in a circle is synonymous with Peter Minshall.  It seems he has produced hundreds of works, each unique, around that head which he found in a photograph on the cover of a 1966 Carnival supplement.

“Mask of the Peacock” by Peter Minshall.

“Everybody thinks it is me.  No it’s not me,” declares Minshall, 71.  “I was so fascinated by this head.  I don’t know who he is, but it connected with me in a visceral way.  He became my ‘everyman’ and I call him The Coloured Man.   My first exhibition of paintings, many years ago, ran by that title, The Coloured Man.  He reappears in this exhibition.  That is why the exhibition is called Minshall Miscellany.  I have returned to him many times during my life and he has not in any way lost his potency.  And it’s amazing that people absolutely think it’s me.  It’s some person who I don’t know who is my ‘everyman’, and ‘everywoman’.  The face so lends itself, chameleon-like, to become whoever or whatever.  He becomes a macaw, he becomes Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, just give him the right accoutrements and he plays his mas perfectly.”

The work that ends the show’s sequence is a self-portrait.  Minshall reserves the backstory to the piece.  “People are going to go into the gallery and see the work, I don’t want to destroy the magic of the work,” explains Minshall.   “The name of it is Face-off: The Artist Sober and The Artist Drunk.  That says it, doesn’t it?  I am there contemplating myself.”

“Please look at the exhibition and when you look at it understand how complex each and every one of us as human beings are, from the beauty queen to the two gentlemen sitting on bar stools contemplating one another—one sober, one drunk.”  “I have to thank Ashraph and Yasmin for bending my arm,” adds Minshall.  “My one contribution to the exhibition that makes me sit pretty and happy is the unpretentious title that I gave it, Minshall Miscellany.”

Exhibit runs Oct. 21 – Nov. 5, 2012 @ Y Art Gallery, 26 Taylor Street, Woodbrook.

  © SEAN DRAKES

Recently published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

Related articles:

Peter Minshall: A Living Work of Art

Almost Famous

Abroneka is aiming to become R&B royalty

Unknown girl group Abroneka wants to become a household name, but they won’t sing soca.  They have been writing, rehearsing, and perfecting their harmonizing skills for over seven years, now, they’re being shopped to US record labels and are banking on becoming Trinidad’s first R&B export.

The kids-from-the tough-inner-city-with dreams-of-stardom storyline is a  familiar script.  The reason Abroneka’s first chapter is worth your attention is largely due to the credibility of the accomplished team that grooms their sultry vocals, arranges their music, and polishes their tracks.  Champion Sound Studios has mastered Road March and Soca Monarch-winning tracks for Machel Montano, Iwer George, Fay-Ann Lyons, JW & Blaze, and Shurwayne Winchester, while patiently preparing to introduce Abroneka to the North American market.

METRO went in studio with Crissy Abigail Fraser, 23, Rhonda Bobb, 26, and Kandis Dyer, 28, before they set off on their version of an Olympic quest to earn platinum and popularity.  A chance meeting in 2005 on the set of Synergy Friday Night Live brought the trio together.   After each girl displayed her vocal chops, Rhonda secretly noted who she would team up with to form a group.  “Then I took a breath and popped the question: Allyuh want to start a group?!”  Junior Lewis coached and produced them, then brought Abroneka to Martin Raymond at Champion Sound Studios.  Abigail says Albert Bushe, their former vocal trainer, called their sound “soca pop, a mixture of R&B, soca and dance music.”  That was 7 years ago.  Today, the tracks they have shipped to US record labels are strictly in the R&B and dance genres.

What will distinguish Abroneka from EnVogue, Spice Girls or Destiny’s Child is yet to be determined.  At the moment it’s not lyrical content.  Abigail, Rhonda and Kandis summarize that though their ballads are sung with vibrancy, they tend to write about “heartbreak, a first time crush, and bad experiences.”  But for good measure, they paired an uplifting message with an upbeat tempo for a track titled “Dancefloor Ain’t Gonna Be Lonely”.

Abigail and Kandis hail from the Beetham, and Rhonda is from Maraval.  By day they’re retail sales clerks.   But when dusk descends they’re in the studio breathing life into their lyrics.  They’re disciplined and determined to realize a musician’s ultimate dream.  “We all come from a musical family, it’s in our blood,” shares Rhonda.  “The area where I grew up is a bit hostile,” explains Abigail, “there is a lot of heartbreak, a lot of poverty, a lot of negativity that could make you either go negative or positive.  I take [all that] and use it as a positive and write a way that people can get out of it.”

Their singles “Close Your Eyes” and “I Like It with the Lights On” are destined to attract contracts and airtime in America’s key urban markets.  To get Abroneka in the mood to convert lyrics into groovy tracks simply requires a beat.  “When we hear a beat we flow with it,” shares Abigail.  When arranger Gregg Assing played a beat for the girls, they instinctively felt it was “sexy, nice” and directed them to close your eyes.  “We started harmonizing, once you have the feeling the words flow,” adds Rhonda.

When they attain success they have another mission:  “My community made me grow up to be a very headstrong young lady,” admits Abigail.  “I want to give back educationally.”  To become recording champions representing T&T, Abroneka dismisses the “comfort zone” mindset they say Trinis enjoy, and embraces the Jamaican hunger to win.  “They [Jamaicans] push harder, they really fight for what they believe in, what they want they really go for it,” asserts Abigail.  “There is talent here, not just soca and wining.  They can write, produce, sing any kind of music…they have the talent, they just don’t have the hunger the Jamaicans do.”  Yet, Abroneka will fly the Trinbagonian flag when they mount that Grammy Awards podium.

© SEAN DRAKES

Recently published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

The Polished Canvas

Shalini is one of the luckiest underexposed artists I have met.  She has a work studio larger than the average one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, and it’s set on sprawling acreage behind her family’s house in the Central plains on the island of Trinidad.  The spicy, curry aroma that greets us on this Friday afternoon, signals the savory feast her housekeeper has prepared for grateful guests.

Few know that Shalini Seereram, 36, is relentless about being recognized as an original.  To safeguard that objective she fervently budgets how much art by other artists she consumes.  “I don’t mingle much with similar artists.  I would go to [their] show, but I’d rather get to know the people rather than the art.  I don’t really like to hobnob at certain shows.  I would go the day [after opening night].  I don’t want their style to entirely influence me,” she reasons.

The subjects in the paintings she dreams up to illustrate magazine editorials and to realize her imagination, bear three trademarks: intense colors, bold, crisp lines, and yoga-like contortions.  Shalini considers herself “mostly self-taught,” though she studied jewelry design with precious metals and graphic design at John Donaldson Technical Institute in Port of Spain.  She explored “everything from sketching to photography” during her enrollment.  “I got exposed to so much that it was overwhelming.”  She adds, “The commercial art program encouraged me to be adventurous.  I was influenced by Christopher Cozier; he was my tutor for two years at John D.”  Shalini was 20 when she graduated to pursue a career.  “I had this passion for art without [a] specific direction.  I just knew art would be a part of my life.”

Studying jewelry design grew from wanting to create three-dimensional work, but she was unwilling to subject her creativity to the compromise that comes with making bangles and chains based on someone else’s vision.  “[The] perception [that] we are still people who are toting water all over the place, living in old chattel houses, hanging up washed clothes while looking at barren cane fields … I am not into that (she smirks).  We are more than that.”  You won’t find humble wooden homes and sun-kissed clotheslines in a Shalini original.  “I am not going to sell myself that short.”

Two years ago Shalini noticed her work started to reflect her East Indian heritage.  “My subjects are not entirely distinguished as Indian or African, at first.  I started to paint people not regarding ethnicity as much  All of a sudden the fine detailing that I like started to creep out of me; and I [became] more exposed to fabrics and colors of the Indian culture,”  She explains.  “That’s where I am in 2007 with my process.”

Among Shalini’s 19 exhibitions, her 2006 “Rite of Passage” show that was installed in Trinidad then Washington, D.C. is a stand-out because with that collection she “explored a sensual side of Indian culture.”  That show also offered her the most memorable exhibition experience:  “A guy came up to me and told me he sold his Jackie Hinkson to buy my piece [for about U$1,500].”  Shalini admires Gustav Klimt‘s use of gold in his work, and Modigliani; she discovered both artists after receiving compliments that likened her style to those icons.  She also admires how Carlisle Harris uses color and Glasgow’s application technique.  Shalini defends her approach to abstract painting as original, and questions why she should “feel proud” that her work invokes Matisse or Picasso for some.

Ashraph, a fellow artist, Renelle, Shalini’s confidante, and I browse unframed early works as Shalini opens shutters as gentle rains drift from Chandernagore Village.  Some of her 12 adopted dogs stretch near the door.  She says they each strolled onto her yard, one after another.  And claimed a piece of her warm heart.  A work-in-progress awaits on a tabletop easel near dozens of bottles of vivid nail lacquer.  Larger works hang near a shiny, black boxing bag.

Shalini believes she has crossed  the starting line during the 15 years she’s been in the marketplace, yet she is restrained.  “I could be holding myself back not knowing the next step.”  She wants to be a serious player in the fine art world, but is yet to refine and train her strategy on a prize.  “I get up in the morning and I sketch.  If I leave home I carry a sketchbook; I sketch, I sketch, I sketch.”  Few sketches reach completion without delay or the catalyst of an exhibition deadline.   Ashraph confronts her anguish: “You need to step out of your comfort zone.”  “I don’t know how to,” retorts Shalini.

The creative chi that fuels Shalini’s work usually emerges in the dark, lonely night.  She is eccentric, modest, and Hindu.  “I pray for the higher power…the electricity going through our body, and peace and sustenance,” she offers.  “There are others who do deity celebrations.  I don’t, though I would reference the stories and background that deities represent.”  That odd boxing bag is another agent in Shalini’s cleansing and spiritual regimen.

“My dad used to get into fights with me,” she recounts.  “We always butt heads and I would get angry and hit a wall, which is not good for somebody who should insure their hands instead of damage them.”  She found the bag in a mall two years ago and also gets a good cardio workout with it.

Shalini envisions exhibiting across the Caribbean region and beyond, but what her work evolves into and how that work translates are the first evaluations she’ll need.  She notices, “People see my pieces being broken down into stained glass.”  Her urge to explore her creative potential and find durable canvasses for her nail polish paintings, led her to toy with glass panes then old chattel windows.  She found a good fit for what she calls “fusion pieces.”  “I started using $3 nail polish because it was more affordable than paying $46 for a tube of acrylic.”  When working on paper she employs oil and iridescent acrylics, and reserves nail polish for accent areas to satisfy any concern about durability.

Shalini trusts her go-with-the-flow spirit will continue to serve her imagination and career as it did one slow afternoon:  “I was [a graphic artist] at McCann-Erickson Advertising.  One day, I went downstairs to a drugstore and noticed the beautiful colors of nail polish. I bought some polish and started to [paint with] it on matte board.  One polish led to two; before the end of the week I bought 15 colors,” recalls Shalini.  During a later purchase the sales clerk asked: “I am noticing that you come in every day, buy two or three bottles of polish, and you don’t have any on your nails?”  Shalini replied, “Yeah, because I have them on my toes.”

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com  ]

In the Mas Camp with K2K

Trinidad Carnival attracts thousands of spectators and has offered inspiration to creative teams at Disney and Cirque du Soleil.  This year, a couture-centric masquerade band presentation by a pair of newcomers sparked hopeful dialogue around the return of innovation to the festival.  Before unleashing their inaugural band onto the streets of Port of Spain, bandleader Karen Norman, one-half of the K2K Alliance creative force, shares a few insights.

Karen Norman at K2K mas camp.

WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR AT THE START OF THE BAND DESIGN PROCESS, WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST FEAR NOW, THREE WEEKS BEFORE SHOWTIME?

One of the most compelling parts of the design process is stretching our imagination to create a palatable and exciting concept.  Putting pen to paper was the easiest part of the journey.  Exposing the mas and the story to the public was the hard part and one of our greatest fears.  Such thoughts like: ‘Would the concept of fusing mas with fashion be accepted?  Would the onlooker appreciate the story?’ were some of the concerns we shared.  One of the greatest challenges we face today is getting the mas community to sign up for change.  Even though change is one of the things that is constant, it is not always the easiest thing to accept nor, is it the easiest thing to sign up for.  Thus, even three weeks before showtime we are asking those masqueraders who have put away their “mas-shoes” since the dilution of [Wayne] Berkeley and [Peter] Minshall to pick-up their dancing shoes and to revel with K2K.

Masquerader in The Waters on Carnival Tuesday in Port of Spain.WHAT WOULD YOU NOT DO AGAIN?

I was once told that all experiences whether good or bad, leads us to this point in time; to this moment; to the present. Thus, while we would not like to relive any of the challenges that have presented itself over the past 5 years, we would not change anything.

WHAT DOES THIS BAND HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH, OR WHAT MESSAGE WOULD YOU LIKE MOST TO RECEIVE FROM YOUR ENDEAVOR? 

The band hopes to return mas to traditional splendor.  We would like to take our brand to the international runway – open both national and international fashion shows.  We would like to showcase our designs in musicals on Broadway and even in concerts. Maybe one day, when you see Machel [Montano] in concert you will see his team dressed by K2K.  On the international arena, maybe one day we will be the opener for Lady Gaga.  The possibilities are endless.  Minshall showed the world who was Minshall through exposing his talents on several Olympic platforms, we hope to be those Trinidadian twins / women who expose Trinidad mas design to a new arena.

Runway-ready costume prototype at K2K mas camp reception weeks before Carnival.

HOW WAS THE BAND’S NARRATIVE BORN?

In 2012 “water” is used as a metaphor to describe the psychological journey of man.  Life is not just dependent on water, but life is water.  The same way the oceans and seas yield and change, man, too, must adapt as the social and political environment changes.  The same way that water has different temperaments similarly, man is not always even-keeled (e.g., sometimes water is rough and choppy).  Similarly, sometimes we are driven to anger.  Interestingly, while the storyline for “The Waters – Seas of Consciousness”, starts with River Jordan (Birth)–which means when man comes into the world, he is naive.  He is unaware of the social environment and even the political landscape.  On a more personal level, the storyline, our story for 2012 started at the Dead Sea (Ruin).  Ruin is a state-of-mind and can be defined as “the deepest darkest place that man knows”.  And for Kathy and I, ruin was real; it was lonely and dark.  The last two years in New York City has been extremely challenging professionally and emotionally.  In 2010 we each felt like we hit rock bottom.  Creating the band was therapeutic.  It was our redemption.  It helped us to re-assess who we each were.  It also made us realize that while we are shattered, we are not unrepairable.  The band is our re-discovery; our re-invention of self, which is coined as The Saraswati River.

Masqueraders present the band at Queen’s Park Savannah on Carnival Tuesday.

WHAT TRADITIONS(S) IN CARNIVAL DOES YOUR BAND REFERENCE OR USE AS A GUIDELINE/FOUNDATION?

We look toward the great masters such as Minshall and Berkeley for a constant reminder, that you are never too old to dream, and mas design is built by exploring your imagination and not being afraid to dream.

WILL POLITICS OR CURRENT AFFAIRS EVER FUEL YOUR BAND’S NARRATIVE?  

Over the next three years the storyline does not reflect the political environment.  In terms of storytelling we hope to constantly bring a relatable, yet interesting storyline to the table.

Model displays costume and makeup for section of The Waters Carnival band.

WHICH ELEMENTS OF YOUR BAND ARE MANUFACTURED IN T&T, AND HOW MANY ELEMENTS WERE MANUFACTURED IN CHINA?

Much of the costumes are being produced locally.  The goal is to encourage greater use of our locals and employ the talents on the island.

UPON FIRST SIGHT OF YOUR MAS, IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE THE HIGH-FASHION POINT OF VIEW IN YOUR DESIGNS.  WILL THIS APPROACH BE A STAPLE OR WILL THAT SENSIBILITY SHIFT?

Mas, like art, is contemporary.  It should reflect the time.  With that said, the goal of our brand is to keep the designs forward-thinking, fashion-forward and chic.  The fashion arena is not static.  It is constantly evolving and similarly, our brand will morph / evolve as we grow in the arts.

Details of the The Waters mas band by K2K Alliance & Partners.

Band presentation: The Waters – Seas of Consciousness

Bandleaders: Kathy & Karen Norman (K2K Alliance & Partners)

Band size: Medium with 8 sections  |  Membership: U$416 – U$900

Mas camp: 51 Cornelio St., Woodbrook, PoS  |  868-767-9655

© SEAN DRAKES

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

Designer Apprentice Scores Project Runway 9

I was an accidental tourist,” recaps Anthony Reid of his first encounter with women’s wear designer Meiling .  “The association with Meiling grew out of me running an errand for her in New York in 1996.”  That led to an invite to her show.  One of his brutal and honest critiques of a Meiling collection made its way to her ears.  She responded by asking Reid to ‘come see the next collection before it’s shown and offer ideas.’  Soon he was styling for Meiling.  He says he was “humbled and magnified” by Meiling’s gesture.

Anthony Reid menswear shot at Erotic Art Week TT. Photos: SeanDrakes.com

A decade later, Reid, a flight attendant since 1991, is also a designer apprentice.  “Four years ago [Meiling] encouraged me to step onto the ramp to say this is who you are,” reveals Reid.  They’re now a dynamic fashion duo.  Their process: Reid distills his collection from the essence of Meiling’s women’s line, and they often show in immediate succession.  Reid builds his brand on exquisite tailoring and select fabrics, and embellishments are rendered with ribbon, intricate stitching or layered fabrics.

The other breakout apprentice from the Meiling camp is Anya Ayoung-Chee.  She launched her Pilar label in 2009 with a youthful, vibrant and afrocentric collection influenced by the Bobo Shanti.  For her sophomore collection, Anya trained her eye on uniformity.  This collection melds the functionality and notions attached to conventional, rigid and loose-fit uniforms to “make a statement about uniformity and what uniformity is about,” explains Anya.

Bobo Shanti-influenced collection by Anya Ayoung-Chee. Photos: Sean Drakes.

“I grew up with this idea that you must wear jeans and a tank-top to go to the mall,” shares Anya, a native of New York based in Trinidad.  Her mission is to challenge the encoded dress code.  “I am committed to informing Caribbean women that there is no need to dress by occasion.”  She designs clothes that are separates with multiple applications, “it’s the essence of what I am trying to do to encourage individuality.”

Anya's inaugural collection at Fashion Week Trinidad 2009. Photos: SeanDrakes.com

“I’ve had the extreme benefit of having Meiling as a mentor, she’s been my foundation when it comes to figuring out the process.  She doesn’t steer me creatively [and] she’s extremely open,” attests Anya who has a degree in graphic design.  “If Fashion Week TT can mimic that…maybe a mentorship program is something they could look into.  I stand to shoot myself in the foot when I say this, I think the standard for entry (into FWTT) has to be strict.  If I apply this year and get rejected because of certain standards, then there should be programs or resources to help you figure out how to go from A to B to C.”

Designs from Anya's 2010 collection, shot at Erotic Art Week. Photos: SeanDrakes.com

Anya encourages established designers to realize the value of giving back.  “It’s very important that they open their doors to young designers, the most important contribution to the industry is their knowledge and experience.”

Crystal Cunningham with designer Anya Ayoung-Chee. Photo: Sean Drakes.

Crystal + Anya. Photo: SeanDrakes.com

“My inspiration continues to be drawn from [the streets],” says Anya.  “The Sartorialist has made street fashion, the fashion!  What he was seeing is what I’m seeing, but I’m seeing it in an environment where it’s not cognitive.  As opposed to the streets of Manhattan, Paris, Milan and Tokyo where it’s entirely cognitive.  At the same time, I remain committed to finding it where I’m from and merging it with elements I have the opportunity to see.  Being on the streets of New York, Paris and Tokyo is always inspiring, but Trinidad continues to feed me with the best material I could ask for.”

Last night the edgy and exotic former beauty queen stitched her ass off in the first challenge of Project Runway season 9 on Lifetime, and secured a slot as a contender to watch.  And eyeballs are glued to her.  Anya’s Project Runway Facebook page has clocked 5,500 fans, while other contenders are yet to score 500.  Perhaps viewers support Heidi Klum‘s faith in the apprentice who may be fashion’s rising star.

(This essay was updated and expanded on 8.1.11)

Erotic Art Week credits (from top left):  Jerome wears black jumpsuit with hand-dyed hoody.  Installation: “Cc: Everybody“ by Rodell Warner & Brianna McCarthy, shot at Brooklyn Bar.  Pictured right: Keive wears black suit with base stitching paired with black and claret polka-dot shirt with pleated organdy trim, designs by Anthony Reid.  Installation: “Mine“ by Chris Alexis, shot at Bohemia.

Denim half-corset with camouflage detail, silver triangle bra with velvet lining and black net circle shawl by Anya de Rogue, necklace and bracelet by Chejo.  Installation by Lisa Moore for Lismoore Drapery & Interiors, shot at Alice Yard.  Pictured right: Black net hoody and black triangle top bra by Anya de Rogue.  Patterned pleated mini skirt by Pilar by Anya.  Makeup: Kirk Thomas. Installation: “selfphone” by Palaver Pachenko Machocher George & Nadella Riley.

Erotic Art Week in Trinidad, curated by choreographer Dave Williams, is an art festival  conceived by visual and performing artists to provoke exploration and discussion of sexual identities.

© SEAN DRAKES

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

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