OUT OF THE BLUE

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by Richard M. Rawlins

All over the world, art residencies offer artists time and space in which to make work, uninterrupted by the challenges of their daily lives. They vary in length and their output depends on how an artist chooses to use his or her time and what they choose to create. For some, it may be a time for self-reflection and thinking about projects and career paths; others use the opportunity to make work in another locale and see what comes of that; some artists might begin a process of experimentation with new themes and directions. Bahamian, Blue Curry is the latest Artist in Residence (AIR), at the Alice Yard artspace on Roberts Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain, Trinidad. Curry chose to use his Alice Yard residency to interact with and engage the wider community.

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photo by RMR

In what can be described as, ‘A Marathon Affair in Trinidad’, Curry would, in a three week period, co-curate a series of artistic actions with Alice Yard’s co-director, Trinidadian artist, Christopher Cozier.

Alice Yard’s 10th anniversary ‘project X’ is a sequence of informal collaborations between various artists, who choose to engage the art space, asking questions that seek to alter the public’s relationship to artistic investigation and experimentation. As the Alice Yard blog says, “What would happen if we dislodge the artwork from traditional forms of display/encounter and locations, dismantle mythologies of sole authorship and propose the status of the art object or action as an instigative “event”?”

http://aliceyard.blogspot.com/2016/09/out-of-place.html

 

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Curry on Charlotte Street. Photo by RMR

Curry’s ‘Marathon Affair’ started with Action #1, his mounting of Untitled, hair combs, 2013-2016 – a sculpture made of 30 plastic hair combs collected by Curry over a period of years – later moved to Charlotte Street (between Queen St and the Promenade) for one afternoon. This action in itself –moving from Alice Yard to the street – would prompt a whole series of informal engagements from passersby and Curry’s temporary street-bustling contemporaries. One such engagement involved a young woman who, rather intrigued by Curry’s ‘combs’, got stuck in a ‘time distortion loop’ of an inquiry of what the project was, what was the price and why she could not buy:

Woman 1: How much for dem comb?

Curry: They aren’t for sale. It’s an art project.

Woman 1: It’s an art project. It’s not for sale. I don’t see no price.

Curry: Well, they are not for sale. It’s an art project.

Woman 1: Oh, it’s an art project. It’s not for sale. So why I can’t buy a comb?

Curry: Well, they are not for sale. It’s an art project.

Woman 1: Oh, it’s an art project. It’s not for sale. So I could get a sample?

Curry: Well they are not for sale. It’s an art project…

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photo by RMR

Another of Curry’s ‘temporary’ street-bustling peers, would take another approach. On realizing the combs were not for sale and that they were being photographed by the artist and I, she sought to engage with the artist himself and not the art.

Girl #2: So allyuh real taking pictures!

Curry: Yes, just documenting the work.

Girl #2: So allyuh come out here to take a set of pictures? Hmmm. Well why you don’t take a set of pictures of me up in the Savannah feeling sexy, eh?

Curry: [Place speechless thought bubble right here!]

 

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Shadow and Substance, Christopher Cozier, Blue Curry. Shirma by Nadia Huggins

Curry’s other actions would engage other artists in less lascivious ways. He and artists Cozier and Trinidadian artist, Nadia Huggins would engage a shopkeeper, Shirma, of Shirma’s Daily Bread at 85 Norfolk Street, Belmont, for Action #2, “Shadow & Substance”, an exploration of the political economy of people as images. For this action, Shirma would become the subject of the image, her shop the gallery housing the image, and she the seller of the image at a price only she could determine. Shirma’s last words on this project were: ‘No cheque eh… they does bounce all over the place.’

 

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Bird Story, Sheena Rose. Photo by RMR

Action #3, an impromptu performance, would see Barbadian artist, Sheena Rose, performing  ‘A Bird Story’, on the front steps of the restaurant adjoining Alice Yard. From her perch, with bird in hand, Rose extolled the woes and virtues of being a kept bird in a cage, and the “intense, intimate relationship” with a guy who is drawn to her state of “constant agitation” at being caged and minded…

 

Mixed Blues Abstraction, James Cooper. Photo RMR

Action #4, Mixed Blues Abstraction by Bermudian artist, James Cooper. This work, sent long distance via instructions from Bermuda, saw Curry and Trinidadian designer Kriston Chen out at 5am on Woodbrook’s boundary line, painting out some rain-faded graffiti with a mix of two shades of blue named after the Bahamas and Bermuda. Taking its basic aesthetic inspiration from graffiti that has been ‘cleaned up’ or ‘blocked out’ by authorities, Curry and Chen, as instructed by Cooper, emulated this blocking pattern and created an abstract work in a public place.

 

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Resting on our laurels Version 1, Richard M. Rawlins. Photo by Blue Curry

Action #5, Resting on our Laurels, Version 1, consisting of 12 Prince and Oxford Style 0019 size 14 khaki school pants, spray paint, orange clothes line, 24 clothes pins, one mango tree and one breadfruit tree. Situated on an empty lot at the bottom of Ana Street, Woodbrook, I made this work as a social commentary on the way we utilize the knowledge that we gain in school. We are taught all these wonderful subjects, inclusive of the sciences, and of course social studies, but when we get around to being adults and administrators of our society, that education goes out the window – we go for the immediate, most compliable and often ‘doltish’ solutions to problems. So each day is the same ‘khaki pants’ in a sense.

 

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British Ballast, Tamara Cruickshank. Photo by the artist.

Action #6, British Ballast by Trinidadian artist Tamara Tam-Cruickshank. Cruickshank carried ballast bricks ( whatever that could fit) in her backpack from Lapeyrouse Cemetery (where she found them) to Alice Yard. (Ballast bricks were used to weigh down empty ships coming from England and Scotland. The bricks were off-loaded on arrival in the colonies to make way for the cargo (sugar, coffee, etc) which was being sent back to Europe.) Cruickshank took pictures of the bricks then moved them again, further displacing them, to different heritage sites around Port of Spain. According to Cruickshank, she was, “Seeking to make a visual connection between the journey and the predicament of these bricks and these sites… A subtle way of conceptualizing, visually, the existing material culture in the city. Questioning our perpetuation and celebration of the colonial presence and heritage.”

 

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Untitled, Deborah M. Caroll Anzinger. Photo by RMR

Action #7, Untitled, by Jamaican artist, Deborah M. Caroll Anzinger. Again, long-distance instructions were sent to Blue Curry, who enlisted several people (Alice Yard co-director, architect, Sean Leonard, Trinidadian artist, Shanice Gonzales and I) to help him assemble Anzinger’s piece. Untitled is a synthetic hair, fabric, aloe plants, mirror sculpture that re-conceptualizes power, gender and other social relations. According to Anzinger, “Not least social penetration and reconfiguring. The penetrated is the penetrator, the observer is observed. Everything must negotiate: Living organism with synthetic substance, the imagined with the real, subject and object, the self and other.” Assembling the piece involved the heavy kneading of dough by Gonzales, the acquiring of copious amounts of ‘hair weave extensions’ by Curry, and alas, Leonard and I camouflaged as ‘yard boys’, digging up and mounting the piece in a public place on Tragarete Road.

 

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Cool o Breeze o, Alicia Milne. Photo by Luis Vasquez.

Action #8, Trinidadian artist Alicia Milne’s work ‘Cool o Breeze o’, was a playful public gesture that utilized very familiar everyday objects (styrofoam cooler, ice, salt, pvc, a fan and plastic chair). to offer a free “breeze out” (cool down/breeze out) to passersby. The project operated from 10am-2pm on a bright and sunny Saturday at the Brian Lara Promenade.

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Cool o Breeze o, Alicia Milne. Photo by Luis Vasquez.

One amused passerby said: …yeah I could see dat’ I like that, I could see me using that at night oui, when it hot. Allyou come good there. Milne’s ingenious, low-cost air condition is a styrotex box filled with ice and fitted with a cheap ‘made in China’ fan that pumps air through the cold box and out two pvc angled pipes to create fresh cool air.

 

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OUT OF PLACE, Bruce Cayonne. Photo by RMR

Action #9, OUT OF PLACE. Trinidadian sign man, Bruce Cayonne from Arima, engaged projectX via the provision of 20 black-and-white fete style signs bearing the project’s name: Out of Place, Cayonne’s work is well known on the fete circuit and to the wider public: his fete signage is ubiquitous. In Out of Place, Cayonne “worked against the usual colourful aesthetic of the fete signs and [went] completely monochrome. Cayonne painted these works in a way he has not done before, in reverse, filling in the positive space with black paint to create the lettering from the white background.

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OUT OF PLACE, Bruce Cayonne. Photo by Kriston Chen

For him this opens up new possibilities of pushing text beyond the limits of the edges of the pressed wood sign-board. Trying it out, as a way to slow down the quick delivery of information that is expected of his work, each sign is unique.” Among Cayonne’s instructions for sign placement were: way above head height, 3 nails down the middle for trees and wooden poles, try to put holes only in the black on the signs and hang all signs at a 45 degree angle.

 

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The work of Clean Cutz Barber Shop. Photo by Kriston Chen

Action #10, [The Marathon within the marathon] BLUE CURRY SPECIALS – FRIDAY ONLY – PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD. CATCH THEM WHILE THEY LAST! Doubles with spicy pineapple sauce. George’s Doubles, Corner or Roberts and Murray Streets. Open 6.30am-1.30pm; A Unique hair mark design, Clean Cutz Barber Shop, Belmont Circular Road between Jerningham Ave. and Erthig Road. Open 10am-5pm; $100 oil and filter change, BASE Auto Mechanic, Pelham Street between Belmont Circular and Reid Lane. Open 9am-4pm; Fried arepa topped with shredded beef, fried egg, ham, coleslaw, cheese, avocado and house dressing, Taryn’s, 23 Mucurapo Road, St James. Open 7am-5pm; $20 Cafe Latte, Perfect Cup Espresso Bar, Corner of Ariapita Ave. and Luis Street. Open 7.30am-2.30pm; Free Toothpaste with any Dental Cleaning, St. James Family Dental Clinic, #6 Jerry Street, St. James. Open 9am-4.30pm; $1 off any short drop ride, Lindley’s Taxi Service, Woodford Square, St Ann’s Taxi Stand; Mango flavoured snow cone, J&K Sno Cone, opposite Memorial Park, in front of National Museum. Open 10am-4pm; 25% off storewide, Oblique Imperative, corner of Tragarete and Maraval Roads. Open 12-10pm. (All Prices in Trinidad & Tobago Dollars).

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J&K Sno Cone, opposite Memorial Park. Photo by Kriston Chen

Curry created 9 actions within one action and engaged far too many people – to possibly list here – in one 8 hour period. Suffice it to say that this action would even spark a social media shout out by noted Trinidadian calypsonian David Rudder: ‘Whenever you’re in Trinidad or in Port of Spain, check Blue Curry in front of the National Museum’, as well as new Jersey artist, Nyugen Smith’s ‘a mash up’ of the George X doubles and the Taryn’s arepa.

Blue Curry specials to the world!

 

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Untitled, Alex Kelly. Photo by RMR.

Action #11, Alex David Kelly’s, ‘Untitled’. The work – three blue oil drums stacked one on top the other, topped by a wooden palette – is, according to Kelly, “a way of visualizing the economy and our false sense of security, with the pillar of oil supporting the weight of our dependence on foreign products and foreign ideas. On close inspection it doesn’t look terribly sound and it certainly doesn’t feel like it. With today’s weather there is anxiety about whether it will collapse. It’s fate is out of my hands.”

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Photo by RMR.

This totem was installed like a thief in the night (at about 2am on the last day of Blue Curry’s residency) at an empty lot just south of the Queen’s Park Savannah and east of Cipriani Boulevard. It presents us with an inversion of an ‘oil rich culture’. Do we as a nation, as the inversion suggests, do things ‘ass-backwards’? Is this totem to oil and gas a signpost of what is to come in our recession-filled years? The piece stands there smack dab in the center of that lot like one of Arthur C. Clarke‘s Space Odyssey series’ monoliths. Much like the monoliths one day it wasn’t there and then all of a sudden it was there. When we approach, when we touch it, will we be imbued with the knowledge necessary to get out of our economic quagmire?

Sunday after we erected the totem, I went back to the site to take some daylight photographs. There were two construction workers from an adjacent work site, observing cautiously…

 Man 1: Where that come from?

Man 2: Me eh know, but I not touching no obeah thing nuh…

Then, like the man upstairs, on the seventh day, Curry rested and got on a flight headed for the Dominican Republic, having been integral to sparking a sequence of events and interactions that will continue its explorative path for the next year. Yep. There’s more to come…

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Photo by Kriston Chen

Postmark:

Untitled, Alice Yard Residency, Blue Curry, 2016, 14 artists, 1 architect, 1 sign man, 4 graphic designers, a spirit of experimentation, 30 combs, 11 business proprieters, 1 DCFA class and lecturer, 1 carpenter, 2 truck transports, a lack of overthinking, 30 signs, hair weave, oil drums, flour, khaki pants, clothes line, 2 tins of spray paint, 2 gallons of blue paint, clothes pins, cable ties, styrotex cooler, 1 fan, 4 bags of ice, extension cord, coffee, wire, nails, pvc, wood pallet, mirror, a basic desire to get things done, oil changes, dozens of hashtags, aloe plants, access, eyelashes, flower dress, chunky jewelry, incense, 3 blue lights, a plastic battery operated bird in a plastic cage, brown cotton, soil, a promise of more to come, wooden stakes, doubles, hair cuts, arepas, sno-cones, dental cleanings, taxi drops, store discounts, goodwill, oil changes, ballast bricks, heritage sites, 1 back pack, an abused cellphone and a blue plastic chair.

 

 

A Barbadian Artist, and a bird in cage walk into a yard…

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By Richard M. Rawlins. (originally published in the Sunday Guardian Arts Section. 09.10.16)

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‘But wait Sean, dats a man talking to a bird on a cliff I see there? Cheese on…’ (Bajan accent). The answer, was yes, it was a man talking to a bird.

That conversation between Barbadian artist, Sheena Rose and the chief architect and Alice Yard contemporary space co-director, Sean Leonard, some years ago would be fully realized as a work to celebrate Alice Yard’s 10 year anniversary in 2016. Rose was the first participant in the Alice Yard site-specific improvisational 24hr Residency (2009) as conceived by artist Marlon Griffith and Alice Yard’s co-director, Christopher Cozier.

http://aliceyard.blogspot.com/2009/05/town-by-sheena-rose.html

Branded Out of Place,  the celebration is actually more a series of actions than any sort of ‘big’ event.

Co-curated by Alice Yard artist in residence (AIR) and Cozier, Alice Yard’s 10th anniversary ‘project X’ is a sequence of informal collaborations between various artists, who choose to engage the art space, asking questions that seek to alter the public’s relationship to artistic investigation and experimentation. As the Alice Yard blog says, “What would happen if we dislodge the artwork from traditional forms of display/encounter and locations, dismantle mythologies of sole authorship and propose the status of the art object or action as an instigative “event”?”

http://aliceyard.blogspot.com/2016/09/out-of-place.html

Artist Sheena Rose’s fascination with the birdmen of Trinidad would inspire a performance piece called, ‘Bird Story’, at 10 o’clock in the night on Saturday, September 17th.

A man talking to a bird is nothing ‘slight’, as noted on instagram by @anikamagic3 who commented, “Doh be watching dem small cage and big man slight in de road nah… Chiki Chong does sell for 20-40k here.”

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Yes, there is no business like bird business, apparently.

Artist, Christopher Cozier (co-director of Alice Yard) has a story about once having to babysit a bird. This ‘bird-sitting’ required all the normal and pre-requisite considerations: bathing the bird, sunning the bird, walking the bird, feeding the bird sensimillia seeds mixed in with the regular seed, playing some salsa music for the bird, putting the bird outside when the lawnmower making a set of noise on a Sunday morning. Thing like that..

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Rose’s performance on the front steps of the health food restaurant at Alice Yard, came with far fewer pre-requisites than an actual bird-sitting session, but was every bit as compelling a story.

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Sheena Rose, with her recent ‘Black Obeah’ series of artworks – including mixed media pieces and performance art – have been casting a spell on us for a while now. Just type in #sheenarose #performanceart #blackobeah and watch what happens.

 

Rose is becoming known for her online performances, often involving a series of characters shaped from her own psyche such as Mr. Fox, Diamond, Sassy, Georgie Bundle, Sub Title, The Over Thinking Artist, the Serious Art Critic and She. Rose’s characters are becoming household names in their own right as they play themselves out in 10 – 45-second instagram soap opera episodes; think American artist Cindy Sherman on a dose of ‘social media bashment’ steroids and you begin to understand what Rose is really capable of.

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The performance started at 10pm, (according to Rose, 10pm is not too far from 11pm and that is close to ‘duppy’ hour). So as any clairvoyant would expect, the performance began with the lighting of a set of Black Sage incense to ‘ward of the duppy and dem’. Duppies (or ghosts) are a thing with Rose. Her last performance at the Gwangju Biennial (Korea) was about a rather rude duppy that was into oral sex. Yeah I know… but hey – all’s fair in unrequited love and art.

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On this night though it wasn’t about Rose and the duppies, but rather a new character by the name of Miss Bossy. Miss Bossy – a bird played with much aplomb and mysticism by Rose – was clad in a beautiful flower-print dress, a big wig, long nails and faux diamantes. She sat on the front step of the restaurant in the glow of a couple of indigo lights as a projected black and white video of her character with a bird cage in hand (the bird inside singing chirpity, chirp, chirp) as Bossy invited the audience into her bird cage via a little front gate. The audience, many of whom caught a vibe from the character inside the ‘cage,’ preferred to view the action from behind the safety of the short front wall and through the bars of the small front gate, with the one or two brave souls venturing in.

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‘Where he is, where he is so? I doh be here by myself this long yuh know? I always by this man side.’

What followed were some great interactions between Miss Bossy and the audience which was slowly being sucked into the spell of the performance. Rose is quick on her feet and adapts to what is happening around her in real time. So she works with what she has, as do many of the artists that pass through Alice Yard. For 45 minutes, we were party to a heated interaction with an audience member that Miss Bossy suspected to be a mongoose. She lamented about having to wait on her man to come back for her; told of her feelings of isolation, captivity and feeling used.

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You want benefits too? You want me to scream cause I feeling a lil’ agitated with all the noise around me.’

Alice Yard is located at 80 Murray Street, so it’s in the middle of some hectic nightlife at times, including bar, street traffic, prostitutes and general limers. Every time there is an artist talk, the natural acoustics and ‘foley’ of the space make for some serious attention-getting competition. Ms. Bossy would get more and more agitated and louder and louder, almost to screaming at times when loud vehicles passed by: something she said she couldn’t take. ‘Why this man have to live in a noisy place? Why he have to bring all these girls around me to be screaming and screaming so? Yuh want to hear me scream? Apparently they like it when I scream…’

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‘You feel coop up too, or is it just me?’

The bird at moments slipped into the role of an avian therapist, often inviting the audience to reveal and share. One man, who claimed to be ‘befuddled and confused’, was admonished by the bird, with the flick of her wrist, toss of her head and curl of her lip: ‘Charrr… like you need my man to straighten you out?’

‘Do I sound ungrateful to you?’

There was a lot of introspection too, as the bird questioned the nature of the relationship with her man. And yet, “I shouldn’t complain. I shouldn’t complain at all. I get pampered. I get showered and I heard I’m valuable…” When someone said to the bird that the gate was open and she was free to leave, she again became agitated, agreed that she could leave, got up off her perch and defiantly walked towards the front gate of her open cage as if to go through. But she spun around on reaching the gate, as she ‘chose not too leave’.

‘I heard many times that I could go through that gate yuh know. But I love him.’

Her actions, (reminiscent of the grand charge of a secondary school fight, think ‘doh hold meh back!’) instantly schooled the audience on the symptoms that are part and parcel of Stockholm syndrome.

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‘I need to close my eye’…

And just as quickly as it started and we got sucked in, we were unceremoniously put out as the bird declared she was tired of us all, shut her gate and continued waiting for her man. The audience was left to talk among ourselves and seek attention elsewhere, all the while questioning the sage advice of an avian philosopher as well as our own caged reflections and insecurities.

Adele Todd – NOT LETTING HER GUARD DOWN

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by Richard M. Rawlins

 

My first indoctrination to Adele Todd’s ‘Black Guard’ came, not from where it is currently on exhibition at the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago, but rather at a little early nineties basement night club in Diego Martin.

On my return from ‘school’ in Canada about ’91, I was taken to said night club in Diego Martin by a childhood friend tasked with integrating me back into life after ‘foreign’. Although I didn’t know it at the time, she would be my temporary tourist visa to this world to which I would later be denied access.

At the entrance to the club I was ‘braced’ by a rather large ‘BLACK GUARD’ and told without reason, “yuh cyah get in…” I was rescued by my friend who on realizing that I had not gone in behind her came out looking for me and told the guard, “He wid me. Steuppps. Wha’ wrong wid you?” The Guard’s retort was: “Ah dinna kno’. Cool cool, go on in, as is you.” Then came my first physical experience in about 10 years of feeling like a fly in a bowl of milk (ironic really considering that had I lived in Canada for decade before and never been faced by any sort of exclusion, racist or otherwise), and like the little lamb that Mary had, that club was white as Snow.

At the time, that club seemed like the place to be. This is a story that would be echoed throughout the nineties in a number of clubs that would have segregated nights: “coolie nights” and “niggar night” etc. It would even spark car-park-club protests by UWI students and lead to what I believe can only be described as ‘exclusivity by committee’, and secret venue clues like ‘You know where, let your shuttles take you there…’ All laughable now, it wasn’t to me then. So I set about figuring out how to gain access to this world with its exclusionary politics.

I applied for membership, something that concerned my father greatly as he wished I would just leave this alone instead of trying to make some idealistic point, (still basking in the post-university idealism glow I guess). This involved a two-page application that I had to fill out on the spot in the front office of a car rental establishment. I met all the criteria filled in the form and never got an answer or membership, after checking for two weeks. I got tired of checking to be honest, and went onto to re-integrate myself into places with people like myself and all-inclusive spaces, that were preferably outside and by the sea.

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TWO POLICE WOMEN, detail.

Adele Todd’s exhibition, Black Guard, presents us with a view of the state of security in our country. A responsibility that for the most part falls on the Afro-Trinidadian, read black people. Neatly couched in the lower front room of the National Museum, now painted red at the artist’s request (and with a National Flag at the center that turns the room into four imaginary chambers), the show is comprised of 26 pieces. The medium is embroidery, Todd’s stock in trade.

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RED ARMY, detail.

Not a new thing as a form, the use of thread or yarn in works; artists such as Irénée Shaw, Che Lovelace, Ashraph, Kwynn Johnson, Pat Farrell Frederick and more recently Brianna McCarthy, have all used thread or yarn within their work – some utilizing thread as a metaphor to examine everything from sexuality, lines of communication, to physical and meta-physical lines of access, and others more concerned with examinations of the notion of a Woman’s Work and the elevation of such ‘decorative arts’ into the realm of serious art discussion. Todd’s use of it though is more extensive, it’s not an addition, embellishment or metaphor. Todd creates drawings with thread. While much has been written about the feminine arts and domestic process this work by Todd isn’t about that or even necessarily concerned with it. The pieces can be described as a series of symbols and drawings housing a double entendre and some humor.

One such pastiche of humour is Todd’s choosing to put the viewer’s gaze under scrutiny itself by installing four security cameras within the space.

WE ARE LOOKING AT YOU LOOKING AT THE ART. WATCH YOURSELF.

Todd’s cameras are plush, stuffed cloth, and are as non-functional as a lot of the security cameras we have out there on our city streets that never seem to be able to aid in the curbing of our society’s runaway crime problems.

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CCTV

Another is a plush packet of du Maurier cigarettes and butts made by Todd out of felt and placed just under a large embroidery of prison officers entering the prison to begin their shift. There is a large sign in that drawing that lists among other ‘do nots‘ at the prison, NO SMOKING.

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CIGARETTE BUTTS

People are stepping on my cigarette box (lol) so I might make a gate.- Adele Todd

The pieces, all white thread and black thread drawings on red linen, are fully sewn in some cases and in others partly finished, revealing Todd’s process and her chalk sewing guide lines. The red linen is stretched so tight you actually see the struts of the stretcher bars through it. In this way I believe, that Todd willingly asserts her own agenda around the making of an object. Will it still be considered art if you can see the under washes and pencil lines or in this case the artist chalk sewing guides? Will it still be art if it is not neatly packaged, on canvas, or embedded in an ornate baroque frame? Is it art if it’s shown in the National Museum and not in a commercial gallery space or for that matter the other way around? Somewhere in here for me though lies a little conundrum about the stretching of works: would they have been even more effective un-stretched and hung like tapestries or maybe even shrouds? But these are ultimately decisions for the artist.

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PRISON SIGN, detail.

Hours before the opening of the exhibition, a rather well meaning ‘good samaritan’, obviously un-aware of artists and their deliberations and relationships surrounding their work, suggested to Todd that “we could get a wet rag and rub out the chalk lines and get a blow dryer and dry it off before people come. What you think?” The artist’s response: “Whattttt? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FRIGGING MIND?”

Delicate materials for delicate issues. This is not light work. If you’ve ever been involved in sewing anything (even socks), you would know that Todd’s venture here as is presented, is an ambitious and laborious one. This is not easy, in contrast to a willing acceptance of a ‘status’ quo that puts black people on the ‘outside’ of certain things that they were at one time responsible for creating. Two years of work went into this and began on her return from Glasgow where she had just finished showing an earlier work ‘Police an’ Tief,’ a visual investigation of crime and punishment in Trinidad and Tobago.

From her notes:

‘In a flash of inspiration, I saw our national flag and upon the flag, grainy images of our protective services. I felt compelled to continue my work with a new mandate. I would investigate the subject of those who take on the responsibility of keeping us safe.’

 Todd, like a number of our artists, has a close relationship to themes surrounding Carnival, specifically the disappearance of the ‘traditional’ and the use of ‘MAS’ as a platform for performance. The latter is where Todd has had many successful and successive interventions over the years with her numerous provocative incursions into jouvay. What caused the destruction of man? 2010, saw the artist carrying around a large black box containing the fall of man. One had to pay to look inside the box. This intervention set up all kinds of discourses about the nature of sexuality, females as commodites, and the nature of ‘Mas and its role in the performative moment’. In 2009, Todd took to the jouvay streets with an Examination of the Herald by Audrey Beardsley, in it she wore a huge phallus.

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Examination of the Herald by Audrey Beardsley

From her notes:

 No woman in our carnival history had attempted to ‘wear’ a phallic piece, in all this time. Surely, we enjoy making light of our politics with the satire of the ‘Bomb competition’ during the wee hours of Lunde Gras.  We wear the prosthetic breasts and bottoms, and men have extended the penis in play. But in all of the good fun, feminine imagery is blown up to an extreme of bikini mas. When women ‘play themselves’ they too seem to miss the irony of it all. So, amidst the good fun, I chose to cut a path with my attire, and the response was beyond my wildest expectations. Men were stunned and women giggled. No one passed me by without comment, and more often than not, the comments were close to me, for my ears alone. Pictures abounded, flashbulbs went off in abundance and people wanted to pose with me at every step.

 So there is no surprise that, in the exhibition, there are number of Carnival pieces that engage not the sexuality of Mas but rather the security of Mas. In one particular piece, an all too familiar scene of black men holding a rope to keep outsiders out of a band is presented for contemplation. Todd and I have had numerous discussions around this aspect of Carnival.

From Trinidad Guardian, February 10, 2016:

 Carnival experience marred

 “That aspect of our security and its extraction protocols are being reviewed. The members involved have been replaced. We are committed to serving our masqueraders and thank them for being with us,” the statement added.

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THE ROPE, detail.

We, (Trinidadians), speak about service in the country as though it were a bad word. Service and pride in your job and what you do seems to be lacking in some quarters, especially as related to our tourism industry. But this is not the case for the Carnival security. No, not at all. Quite the contrary, for there is a zealousness that comes with holding a rope, and defending masqueraders often much lighter shades of black than the security officers themselves from the on-looking crowds. Many a citizen has been beaten up by the ‘Mas Security’ (a lovely phrase, the meaning of which was not lost on Todd as it’s embroidered on to the figures holding the white rope while wearing white gloves), while attempting to cross an unwieldy band of thousands. Is the rope there to keep them in? Or keep allyuh out? Who exactly is the allyuh?

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DRAGON

In another piece, a costumed Mas player portraying a ‘Dragon Mas’ is seen in the foreground as a motorcycle police officer looks off attending to his own concerns and paying him no mind. In stark contrast to the previous piece there is no intent on securing this player here. Maybe he isn’t deemed as of the same value of the ‘Beads and Bikini masquerader’ as alluded to in Todd’s notes, and maybe, he isn’t even seen as of a high enough threat level to concern the police office.

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There is one work in the show that is literally on its own. By this I mean that it stands alone, under a glass box, on the floor of the exhibition space. There are one or two pieces of each sub-theme, maybe three within the show, (interesting considering the room size and it being painted red, which brings all the work literally pillar to post down on you in a bit of an overly intimate arrangement). The piece on the floor, ‘Guard Booth’, portrays a guard in a booth at the head of a gated community. The glass box creates a bit of magnification and at the same time gives the impression of being outside and having to look in, through a sort of force field. We can’t even think about entering there. Yuh doh see the guard?

Todd purposely stayed away from going down the road of multiple examinations with this as she felt it would lead her to a discussion toward access and gatekeepers, something she sees as a whole totally different exploration. The work is positioned diagonally to the flag, a nod perhaps to the many security guards that are often seen taking down National flags around the country at 6pm. These little juxtapositions within juxtapositions show Todd’s cleverness and her design sensibilities. Todd, an artist, educator and graphic designer by profession, understands design’s role in communicating through specific spaces and media.

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THE PARADE GROUND

There is an odd ledge like area within the gallery space. Todd uses it to her advantage. Within this she sets up five works portraying different aspects of the annual Independence Day parade. Mostly depictions of columns of different members of our protective services. Although the pieces seem static in the representations, Todd embroiders and adjusts the dimensions of the characters placed within them to such an effect as to render the idea of the lines about to march off the parade ground. The work combined with the odd space creates a visual of the Independence Day parade ground as if from the President’s box itself.

One of these works, portraying female police, or as they are known in Trinidad and Tobago (and lovingly called) ‘woman police’, sets up a discussion around gender in the works.

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WOMEN IN DRESS, detail.

Ah pullin’ way from she for she to hold meh tight
The woman police mus’ hold meh tight
An’ ah doing all of dat fo’ spite
for she to hold meh tight, tight, tight – Mighty Spoiler

There are numerous depictions throughout the exhibition of ‘woman police’, one such work depicts a ‘woman police’ weighed down with heavy tactical gear just like her male counterparts. This inclusion is very dear to me as my aunt (and coincidently, Todd’s dear family friend) Mavis Griffith was both a soldier and later the first ‘woman police’ in Trinidad and Tobago. And just as we speak of the role of the black man in the role of security so we must also acknowledge the black woman, not only their accepted roles as mothers and protectors, but also their crucial roles within our security forces as administrators, mentors, mavericks, humanists, and often the ones with cooler heads.

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LONE FEMALE OFFICER

This whole discussion brings to mind a line I once read in my early advertising days. It was for a little half-page recruitment ad for female security guards. The headline read: Are you the measure of a man? Todd’s column of white and black thread women sets up that moment just before the ‘woman police’ leave the parade ground and march down Frederick Street. The moment that follows though, which is not captured by Todd, is that ‘pore raising’ moment when they actually hit the street and hundreds of women and little girls go crazy and begin screaming for the ‘woman police’ in a show of pride, as the ‘woman police’ go marching by, sub-machine guns across their chests, trying not to crack a smile at all the adulation being meted out on them.

There is a lot to be found in Todd’s Black Guard; it’s a work like that, which sets us up with a clear way of viewing. It’s a choice really: Black Guard or blackguard.

From her notes:
Blackguard, pronounced blaggard is an old-fashioned term for scoundrel.

Adele Todd – Black Guard opened on the 22nd of July and runs through 20th August at the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain, Trinidad,