A Decade with Minshall

Why does the world need a book that explores the contemporary works of mas by Peter Minshall in the Carnival of Trinidad and Tobago? This is a valid query. It is more important than questioning the size of the audience for such a book.

The encyclopedic book that chronicles the design career of Emmy®-winning artist Peter Minshall came close to being realized. I was a contributor to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper and correspondent for Black Enterprise magazine when the invitation to submit photography arrived in 2006. I shipped off a thoughtful collection of 35mm slide duplicates that happened to span the 1990s. I wasn’t around to document previous T&T Carnival seasons. About three years later, that image collection was returned with a thank you, six proofsheets, and a note advising that the massive book project, funded by the Prince Claus Fund, had collapsed.

When a career in photojournalism steered me to Trinidad in the 1990s, fate organized a chance meeting for my curiosity and camera. Instead of joining the Caribbean ritual of Sunday lunch, I committed Sundays to documenting Minshall’s process of grooming performers in his Callaloo Company theatre workshops. The result is a collection of rare portraits which complement the history captured in a first-of-its-kind limited edition titled The Last Mas. The volume has been accepted into the peer review process of a university press in the U.S.

The author Patricia Ganase observes, “during the 1990s Trinidad and Tobago was of particular interest to academics from overseas,” many of whom were researching for a thesis or book. In Trinidad and Tobago, the 1990s opened with shocking news of the Muslim-led insurrection in the capital city, then cricketer Brian Lara scored his first world record. Harvesting oil continued to bankroll the GDP, and Wendy Fitzwilliam crowned Trinidad and Tobago with its second Miss Universe win. In the midst of those moments, pioneering mas designer Peter Minshall positioned the Carnival arts center stage at the Olympic Games—twice.

The idea to produce a chapbook—a publication formed from one chapter—was anchored by that collection of photography that was returned. It took on a new dimension when Mrs. Ganase sourced two accomplished academics who invested in researching Minshall during the 1990s. Scouring the Internet soon led several other scholars to our radar.

Minshall’s thought-provoking mas bands reflect and examine the realities of Trinidad and Tobago society in that moment of time; they are historical records. Generations of academics would be at a disadvantage, if the wealth of knowledge and talents that produced such magnificent works of performance art was not intellectually surveyed and archived in book form.

The goal is not just to produce a pretty object to adorn coffee tables. This collaboration assembles thought leaders in the arts and academics, whose unique experience in Minshall’s world during the 1990s provides stimulating creative and critical analysis. Generous support from First Citizens, Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts under Dr. Nyan Gadsby-Dolly, and the Minshall Mas Foundation, recognizes the valuable inspiration this book will provide to generations. But the work of securing corporate sponsorship is not done.

Minshall offered his blessing to this book via email, then submitted a strand of eloquent prose to support a pictorial. And days after his 2020 Band of the Year win for Mas Pieta he recorded an interview.

Along with the insightful interrogations and provocative analysis presented in The Last Mas by scholars at Cornell University, Trinity College, and the City University of New York, researchers will be compelled to contemplate observations by Philip Scher, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oregon. He writes, “Minshall’s Hallelujah trilogy, although casting its thematic net globally and universally, still reflected issues of contention within Trinidad. For instance: the unspoken issues of class, the postcolonial condition of identity in relation not just to England and the U.S., but to Jamaica, Barbados, and the Caribbean as a whole.”

The Last Mas does not intend to be the definitive book on Peter Minshall in the Carnival of Trinidad and Tobago, but with your support it will expand interest in this topic and open the door for other books to celebrate the brilliance of T&T Carnival.

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