Horizon at Sandy Point

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A little Minshall

For many years, most of us got accustomed to a regular infusion of Minshall. We waited, responded to and received it like a blessing, every year (almost). From 1974 until 2003: mas presentations from the pure and lovely Land of the Hummingbird to the sardonic Ship of Fools, not pure in white. We had two Summer Olympic openings in Barcelona and Atlanta, and a winter games too, a peace march in Washington DC and many other international performances. In 2006, a surprise lagniappe, a Sacred Heart like an army returning to reclaim turf. And then, that was that.

The mask: Smoke and Fire, how many faces do you see?
It is therefore a pleasing surprise for Minshall fans to be invited to view a Minshall Miscellany in late October 2012. We are told that this conceptualisation, selection and framing of 45 pieces for the Y Gallery took place in a record 18 days! Good work Ashraph and Yasmin in leaping to the opportunity and seizing the day!
Model for set of Errol Hill's Man Better Man

Elegantly finished and displayed, these surrenderings from an archive that might fill a university library are intimations of the output over 50 years of design art. Here are the Jaycees' Carnival Queens gowns and costumes, debutant-ish and stylish, and timeless as beauty queens garments go. Here, theatre sets for Edward Albee's Virginia Woolf and Errol Hill's Man Better Man, rendered in spare line, spare form.

We meet again the "everyman" profile that people assumed was a self-portrait; used as the logo motif for Callaloo, and over the years to carry different ideas and paraphernalia. My favourite is the "thousand twangling instruments," reference to Shakespeare's The Tempest given a contemporary interpretation. Lovely too the "fan-like" preliminary views of Callaloo Dancing Tic-Tac-Toe.

Allusions to bands are few. Here are four of the colour sketches for Tantana cloths. What this exhibition clearly says - like the drawing shows held in New York and at the Clico Art Gallery in 2005 -  is that Minshall's two-dimensional templates are more than indicators of the drama whether of stage or mas. They are expressions worthy of consideration in their own medium; each with a story to tell, a piece of history to relate.
Mask of the Peacock

Mask of Bird of Paradise Spirit God
A sample showing the technique of hanging sequins to create an image is offered. This technique was applied on costumes such as the tree of life behind The Serpent (1976); with greater precision in several characters in Papillon (1981) and many other local and international presentations (the fans of the Feria del Toro Pamplona comes to mind); and in the construction of the finished mural Jouvert - the Rising Sun, installed in the Sagicor building on the west side of the Savannah.

So many of Minshall's drawings are ideas or instructional. Each allows a peep into the workings of the artist's mind. Some are conversations with himself, some stepping stones on the path to some dynamic integration of costume, sound, light, movement, space and time that we have come to know in the performance of Minshall bands. And we look to the pieces that are more three-dimensional for the spirit of the mas: but the masks conceal more than they reveal. They speak of an on-going occupation with duality; such as is also demonstrated in the sketch The Artist, Sober and Drunk.

One view of the mask Two faced

Another view of Two faced

This exhibition tugs at the heart strings of those who have participated, seen or experienced Minshall on Carnival Tuesday. Fortunately, the street works are extant in extensive archives of photography and videography held by their creators not only in Trinidad and Tobago but around the world. Hopefully some of these will be organised into books, films (see Dalton Narine's Masman) and even museum events - whether in the artist's lifetime or not is moot.

This brings us to another question. How does the artist who has served his community well continue to survive? It is a challenge equally for the society as for the artist: to continue to appreciate and to derive on-going benefit especially when that art springs from a deep and communal wellspring, and has a living context. It applies as much to calypsonians as to panmen as to mas-makers.

How shall we imagine and innovate a Cup of Life for the arts?

Where is the Bele Queen in contemporary Carnival?
Made by Minshall in a raku course conducted by Bunty O'Connor

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