Archive for the ‘Rubadiri Victor’ Tag
A Testament to the mural’s effect lies in the fact that it has not been seriously defaced by students- a serious triumph in Tranquility where nearly every free surface area is covered with graffiti. – Rubadiri Victor 2005
The wall mural “Legacy” at Tranquillity College in Port of Spain
“Legacy” is the theme behind a wall mural at Tranquillity College in Port of Spain. The façade to the school’s new wing is tiled with a cascading emblem of the Past, Present and Future heroes relating to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. From the summit of this mural, embraced hand in hand are the individuals from the writer, C.L.R. James to the former Prime Minster, Dr. Eric Williams, united together without the turmoil of political indifference.
The eccentric dancer, Beryl Mc Beanie wears her white head tie to suit her personality and is actually holding a bouquet of flowers in unison with the painter Carlyle Chang, he too proudly clenches (black power style) a paintbrush in his right hand. Although it is left to the imagination of the viewer to wonder what part of Mr. Chan’s body C.L.R. James is actually grasping. This icons, prominent, dressed in white toddler’s garments, are the “models of distinction” perched overlooking the living legacies not yet past their prime.
A closer look at the “Legacy”
The centre of this large wall mural is anchored by an equally large Pat Bishop, and at either side of her, left to right, is a chain of gloomy black robed scholastic luminaries in embrace. The illusion here is the “union of hands” below the lip of a black concrete post. Living heroes in the art of writing, preaching or playing a pan are interspersed with sports personalities dressed in national colours; Red, black and white. Nationalism overstated and tiresome.
A few painted textbook pictograms are depicted as well, and they act as a syllabus of the vocational possibilities for students. If you dream to become a cashier or want to cook for a living, you can stare at the icons for enlightenment. Unfortunately, the “paintbrush and palette” are noticeably absent. Can this mean that Artists alike are ignored from the grander spectrum of civil achievements? Or has the wall painter not yet attained a level of proficiency to be represented in the “exclusive crème d`la crème”.
But proficiency is not the aim here, what this mural speaks of is empowerment. It is also a guide to the heroes that may influence the youth in a youth-like way. The painter – musician – writer – poet – editor – artist, Rubadiri Victor is the mastermind behind this work, and his approach through this childlike mural is to simple say; “Dream and Achieve.”
The romanticized vision of students in their school uniform, drawn and assembled like Chinese paper-doll cutouts guarding a football net
The history of mural painting inTrinidad and Tobago is a very short one. The most famous being Carlyle Chang’s master work at Piarco Airport that was unceremoniously destroyed despite protests, and the most obscure one being this mural by Rubadiri Victor. Murals by their very size and purpose are supposed to represent lofty ideals and this attempt at the Tranquility College goes about doing just that. Murals are a macho endeavour. You cannot talk about murals and not think of the master muralist Diego Reviera who was creating not just painting, but political statements. But who can forget Ghernica, arguable the most important and famous mural of all by Picasso, also a major political statement of its time and any time?
So basically the mural is something that one has to plan and really prepare to do well because of the expectations of all who see them. One wonders whether this artist was aware of the “legacy” of murals when he set out to create this one? Mr. Victor wants us to embrace the idea of many important black leaders who have died and who are still with us, along with the future hopeful leaders represented in the young people at the base of the painting. On the side of the work is created a ‘u’ shape that filters out in a Roschartesque image from lines to birds that fly off towards a sun that looks like a flower. That curve along with the background for the students and the grey that is used like a decorative element attempt to unify the work. But only succeed in making it asymmetrical. The eye travels downward to the corner of the piece, leaving the top an afterthought.
Yet this is typical of young work, the desire to pack up the space that can be seen at ground level. You see it with beginner sign painters who have to put a lot of text in small spaces, the tendency is to spread out the first words and pack in the last words. However this piece is so sincere you can almost expect to see the artist giving tours and pouring his heart out to those who do not see the need for the black man to embrace his/her icons.
Hands across a Nation
Tranquility as a school has had its rocky patches, going counter to its name, and so this mural is asked to inspire the young and was painted at the time by a young past pupil, Mr. Victor. There are many challenges in the work, least of all being technique and ability to reproduce faces convincingly. There is the need to be patriotic with colour choice, the need to stay on point with the colour for the deceased, colour for the living, colour for the youth and colour for the many options that the youth can take up on their road to greatness. Then there is the awkwardness of the space itself and the overlip of the wall for the second floor. But he endeavours to try.
My concern with this mural is its tonal quality. There is such a heavy use of black that is used in its pure state, causing the work to be very flat in nature. He tries to compensate for this by outlining the faces, but it is a little too late because so much of the work is about the silhouette and filling out the silhouette is the afterthought. What this work does do very well is pose questions about the intention of the mural in public spaces. Do they achieve what they set out to do? Are they inspiring as they are intended to be? Do the students at the school see the work for what it is, or does the piece just blend into the background? Whatever the case may be, these are some of the things that need to be looked at as we continue to explore art in public. – Adele 2005
Firstly, the mural simply represents 4 generations of Tranquility students. Williams, CLR, Naipaul, Gene Samuel, Chang etc. are all alumni. There is no ‘black nationalist’ agenda as the people depicted are of different races and are simply the alumni that constitute the school’s pantheon. It was because of this phenomenal alumni and the fact that Tranquil is one of the oldest schools in the region that I choose the Legacy theme. Tranquil however was indeed a conduit for the ambitious black lower middle class to try for college places. I myself was not a past pupil as you stated but went to St. Mary’s College. (This observation has been corrected)
Mural painting in this country comes with all types of constraints- from paints, finances, to scaffolding to time. All constraints applied in this instance. Like the simple ‘for instance’ of the scaffolding used for the mural being taken away after 4 days. This meant that the second stage of design- the overlying coat of paint with other design elements could not have been added. Thus the design could not be ultimately unified and resolved. The second set of paint with the requested colours also never materialized.
Tranquil is not a rich school, but it has pride. The colour scheme (the dominant yellow and national colours) were requested from the school- yellow is the school’s colour and is not present anywhere else in the school’s architecture or design. The bunching of subject matter in the lower 2/3rd of the piece (which you referred to as a mistake of ‘beginner artists’) was simply because the scaffolding did not go up any higher! Alas that is how it goes.
The snide shots at careers that may have to do with “cashing and cooking” and the like is classist and beneath you and not worthy of being responded to. Have to admit the oversight of no paintbrush is to blush over, but the arts were represented by music, filmmaking, books etc. I have never claimed to be the greatest technician as a painter- what I am is a person who will go out and do rather than sit down at home and complain and criticize. I am very modest and open to saying I am still growing in my craft. At the same time I am very aware of the craft and history of mural painting- from medieval frescoes, Michelangelo, Tiepolo, Egyptian painting, Inca hieroglyphics, to Mr. Rivera, Orosco and Sequeiros- as well as my local predecessors Carlyle, Hinkson, Holder and Morris. Take it from me, the conditions under which Picasso’s Guernica was created- as well as the works of these other artists- were not the conditions under which I created Legacy for Tranquility Government School- financially, infrastructurally or time wise. The ability to create under these ‘special’ types of local conditions and create work of integrity will ultimately be the Legacy of my early life as an artist in Trinidad.
My work is as much provocative as an end in itself. I want my peer group and community of artists to jump in the fray and commit to communal art. I want my work to provoke people to respond by doing. Hopefully some smart talented critic turned painter will feel the need to compete with me in the ‘macho’ world of mural painting. Hopefully some artists will feel obliged to show me how it’s really done and get off their ‘comfort zones’ and actually do some work of some relevance. Yep, I would really like for there to be more ‘fine’ artists willing to get their feet wet and hands dirty taking on community and public art projects- with all their complications of: time constraints; art by consultation; financial and logistical limitations; aesthetically resolving large surface areas and sightlines, interaction with intended populace; etc.
Whilst I did not get a chance to fully complete and resolve the Legacy mural I stand by it as a piece of work. I know it works because after it was up I used to visit the school a lot just to watch people’s reaction to it. Alumni kept visiting on afternoons, some cried, others nodded in agreement. It gave students pause. Assignments were given on it by unrelated teachers. Students began drawing more… The alumni staring down from the wall have actually started pacing some of the students… A testament to the mural’s effect lies in the fact that it has not been seriously defaced by students- a serious triumph in Tranquility where nearly every free surface area is covered with graffiti. I had factored this tendency into the mural with an 8 foot square part of the wall dedicated to student’s graffiti! This part of the wall was used to this end for about a year with a lot of poetry, smut, insults, mauvais lang, and student artwork passing under the bridge. That part of the wall gave rise to a lot of student creativity and a real feeling of legitimizing of their voice. This of course is the kind of stuff your critique would miss altogether.
All in all I feel that the work is too dense in the middle without the textures I never got to add to the black and the yellow sky is too flat without the swirls I intended. The kids themselves did their self-portraits (!) on the bottom as well as the swirls that you have tried to devalue as a football net. Those swirls were taken up by another part of the wall now painted over and were to be balanced by the swirls at the top that the incomplete scaffolding never reached. Teachers and students were a part of the entire process from the beginning to the end. It aint no Diego Rivera but with $2000., some sponsored paint, four days, unsure, unsafe, incomplete scaffolding, benevolent institutional consultation and student artists I think it works pretty good. – Rubadiri Victor
Rubadiri Victor from his Facebook profile
Rubadiri Victor is a man with a mission and that is to offer exposure to individuals who have contributed culture to Trinidad and Tobago. He is the publisher of a magazine called Generation Lion. Mr. Victor is a kind of celebrity, and has often been on television debating the fair rights to artists of all creeds and race. He is also well spoken, and can carry a live conversation in standard English without interjecting one or two green verbs.
This man’s image is not of the car he drives, (?) but of his own character, his heavy gait and above all, his baby giggling laugh. And during the carnival period, Mr. Victor sheds his casual wear, his prized carrying bag and prances in his black jockey shorts flaunting his buff body. A Rubadiri, a dark side. And for his adventures for Carnival 2008, he documented a spectrum of his experiences on route as a photo Diaspora of Trinidad Carnival those who miss home.
Meditations on the traditional image of Carnival 2k8, a publication that surpasses Rubadiri Victor’s two previous Generation Lion magazines. 1000 books were printed, 2009
Mr. Victor has produced locally a manageable pocket size book showing the aspects of his photographic archives. Just candid shots of the beauty, the architectural landscape reflecting the diverse multi- cultured Trinidad and Tobago, taken at the moment, within a spirit, and that of being proud to be part of it himself. A policeman on his horse, carnival judges, parks, traditional characters and a journey into the streets of the city.
Meditations on the traditional image of Carnival 2k8 is a gem. This small 328 glossy page book is really a keep sake, forgoing its dark reproductions and over saturated key in cyan, the photographic content has great merit. Thank you Rubadiri, thank you for showing the essence of who we are, by a man with only his eye, less the means of a $20,000 dollar camera.
Addendum: This book has the potential of becoming a classic, it should be in every major public library and institutions, Rubadiri Victor should work at obtaining his Masters or more ambitiously, his Doctorate in studies containing to Cultural Studies.
Artists Interview series
Adele, here are the answers enclosed. attached please find the answers again along with my professional bio and pics. i attached a couple so you have a choice. i hope you can use the answers at their length. let me know. if you have any questions give me a call. thanks again. yours with Respect, rubadiri 797-0949 PS the pics are fairly self explanatory but for these: blue arch- the secret squadron of blue arch angels 16ft x 18 ft; protest- 2000 march for 50% local content on radio and TV; original ncc mural is a fragment of the 900 ft mural we did around Savannah- this was one of my sections depicting ‘the life of the Savannah- Savannah lovers’
The questions are as follows:
1. You have a capacity to encorporate a number of burning themes in your work, give me a quick run down on how you started your career as you know it today.
Wow. Hard question. So many streams into that river… I was always an artist. As a child I would always draw, I started composing music at a young age, hearing it… Both of my parents sing- and my dad has a phenomenal music collection. I had an incredible childhood with a magical neighbourhood and extended family. We used to play elaborate games and invent scenarios that would last the whole day and incorporate the entire neighbourhood. Imagine an entire neighbourhood of kids from 4 to 15 all acting out roles and scenarios extemporaneously- in character- over the course of a whole day (days sometimes) over the expanse of an entire 3 acre hill!!!! Absolute madness! Or absolute genius. Lol. That’s where I come from. You can see the root of my multi-media work in that… My parents had me when they were older- they were a generation older than most of my peer’s parents. It meant that I was raised under an ‘older school’ than most of my peers- my values are more ‘traditional’… Lol. My parents were also brilliant storytellers and so I knew and saw their eras of history even more vibrantly than I saw my contemporary Trinbagonian reality. That was my first lesson about the importance and power of storytelling. I hope I inherited their gift. Of course along the way there were many divine accidents that pushed me and seduced me into this path of being an artist.
I also used to read a lot. Voraciously. Nearly everything. But I was precocious. I was reading Freud, Nabokov, John Fowles, Deconstructivism theory- in my early teens. As well as Enid Blyton and Marvel Comics! I was a comic collector and it was the mythology and artistry of that Golden Age of Marvel Comics from the 70s and 80s that I suppose cemented everything- mythology, storytelling, storyboarding, drawing, just sheer love of craft! So I had an early connection to a form that was multi-media and contemporary. I also have to thank Pearl Eintou Springer and the Library Service, because it was there I received my initiation into Trinidad and Tobago Art and Culture. It was on school field trips to the Libraries that I first encountered- in a structured setting- pan, mas, folk culture, Leroy Clarke, Peter Minshall, etc. It was at a night time lecture organised by Pearl with the great Barbadian writer and thinker George Lamming that I can say I received my ‘purpose’! Lamming was speaking about the relationship between the Caribbean artist and the People. He basically laid out that the Caribbean artist had to find the way to be true to the people, but leave the people so that you had space to be reflective and to observe- yet still embrace the people and go back to them and let the art emerge from them and speak to them and from them- simultaneously. From that moment I had my mission- and template.
In university (UWI) I realised I had a microcosm of the country as a captive audience and a license to experiment with form and content- and I took it. My collaborator was Ozy ‘Magic’ Merrique. During that period we were best friends and almost inseparable. Together and individually we wrote and performed poems and plays, created performance ‘happenings’ in unconventional locations. We painted and created picture/poems/installations and hung them all over the campus. We wrote music. Music that was evolving into Rapso. I also assisted Ozy in his performances to become the first local music lip-synch Champion of Party Time. We published the campus magazine… It was a heady period! As an artist you got an opportunity to see what will work and what will fail. You were fashioning a language that you could use and discovering your voice- in a relatively ‘safe’ environment. I was forged and formed as an artist during those years at UWI. This is not to say it was cushy. UWI is more philistine than the rest of the country- and more savage in its boos and cry-downs. But if you are an artist then that is the risk. Deal with it.
During those years I also began a complete submergence in Trinidad and Tobago culture- I went to every Festival, exploring every corner of the country, I started apprenticing to many thinkers and artists. To a great extent I am like an Independence era artist thematically- I believe in this country and region in a very old school way- but with an eye on contemporary realities- and hopefully a visionary future. My work comes from that pure idea of Trinbagonian and Caribbean civilisation. It was at that time at UWI that I figured out that I would become a pop-cultural artist- not a fine artist. I would pursue forms that would take me to the people rather than away from them. I would also not be a starving artist- I would embrace forms where my currency would be in the marketplace. It would force me to be relevant and captivating- whilst giving me the opportunity to retain my integrity of vision and message. When I left UWI I left with that mission.
2. What happened next?
I am also a child of the 90s. At the top of the 1990s the generation was exploding with beauty and creativity- as it does every 20 years. All of us came of age at the same time. It was young designers like The Cloth and First Chapter Adam, it was local underground music that crescendoed with the Kiskadee Karavan. It was Gayelle and local TV. It was the original Bagasse Company under Mervyn De Goeas with Mark Lyndersay’s photographs, Denis James’ art direction, Benny Gomes’ lights, and Steve Ouditt’s brilliant graphics. It was an elder generation of practitioners hitting their stride- from those just above us like Chris Cozier, Eddie Bowen, Irene Shaw and D Village design collaborative- to the real Elders Leroy Clarke, Minshall, Isiah Boodhoo, the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, Charles Applewhite, Andre Tanker… In the streets there was Super Blue and over it all was the absolute genius of our modern age David Rudder… I was influenced by all of these. I dived into the melee and started doing my hand-painted t-shirts and writing and performing rapso/fusion music with my band Chantwell. I also became one of the top hot-shot young theatrical actors, I did dozens of plays… We helped form Theatre-In-Education. I wanted to continue and expand my multi-media palette.
My mainstay for 7 years was I created a form of message T-shirt that was painterly and graphic at the same time. The design boundaries I set for myself enabled me to do relatively fast copies on order. I found a form that approximated the power you feel from the painting and TV frame. I explored contemporary aesthetics and events and found ways to explore and utilise folklore, ancestral mythologies, diasporic heroes, and Caribbean aesthetics iconically. I found a way to marry icon and word that made sense as a whole. The jersies were very successful. Over the course of 7 years I had 10 exhibitions, did over 800 designs and painted over 4000 t-shirts! These t-shirts were my training ground to discover my aesthetic and the themes that would inhabit my work. My exhibitions became the hub of the young scene. I used to have packed exhibition launches that would have performances by the best young bands and performers of the time. As well as speaking Elders. I held my exhibitions outside of the gallery scene in places where I could get the masses to come- as well as the slumming gallery crowd: the Old Fire Station ground-floor; an abandoned store in Colsort Mall; Invaders Pan Yard during the Australian Cricket Tour- where I did a series in tribute to West Indies Cricket called ‘Come Out in De Road, Warrior’. They were massive events. Tens of thousands of people walked through my exhibitions during those years. They are possibly- in terms of traffic- the most visited exhibitions of those times. Certainly in terms of the diversity of the audience it was unique. Ideas were flowing.
3. Talk about those ideas…
I was clear that there were huge generational gaps that kept happening in the country and I set about to try and heal it in myself. I was apprenticing to a host of Elder artist- Minshall, Leroy, Boscoe Holder, Christopher Pinehro, Charles Applewhite, Brother Resistance, Tony Hall… Intellectually I was apprenticing to CLR James, Professor Gordon Rohlehr and Lloyd Best- and many more. As a writer I was studying Wayne Brown. I don’t even know if some of these people knew that I was one of their most ardent students. Some did and welcomed me into their spaces- others it was like a distance-learning course. Lol. In the 90s I was doing mas, art direction for local and international TV and film, painting murals, watching and studying thousands of international movies, and as tent poles in this fertile period were the two Trinidad CARIFESTAS. And of course in this period my band Chantwell was performing and we released the song and video for ‘Clear De Way’. We were part of a vanguard.
I also began being a connector and activist too. In 1991 I saw that the young art scene was disjointed. Everyone was in their own little silos and never the twain shall meet. I knew that for pop culture or any cultural Renaissance to happen there needed to be a ‘scene’. All the artist, skills and classes need to meet and network. As a multi-media artist I knew people from all the scenes and decided to bring everyone together. I staged these meetings at my house which were pretty historic. In all there were over 200 of the generation’s top artists meeting for the first time. Joint Pop, Orange Sky (then called Zandohlee), Kindred, Walt Lovelace, The Cloth, Engine Room studio, and dozens more. I let everyone speak and present, then they all got a directory with everyone’s contacts and a short bio, and then we mingled. Those meetings spawned music labels, video collaborations, and the entire spew of modern underground scenes that would evolve from ‘Celebrating Revolution’ and ‘The Holy Underground’ to what we know of the dozens of underground scenes that exist today. Literally hundreds of historic collaborations that changed the face of the underground and overground Trini youth culture were created by those meetings.
The 90s were a fertile period for me as an artist. However by 1995 the renaissance began to crash. I realised- because I was around so many Elders from different disciplines- that this had happened before. I worked out it was happening in 20 year generational cycles. I figured out that because of the complete absence of support systems- infrastructure, legislation, funding and policy- no generational artistic movements and initiatives could sustain their activity in the country. It is only so far you can go on your own youthful fire and steam. Like those before us we were crashing and burning out. I was having a very successful career and knew that I could probably survive in ways that others could not. I made a decision to fight for what I call ‘The Missing Institutions’ so that generations after me will not have to live through what previous generations of creative people here have had to. In 1997 myself, Tony Hall and Michael Cherrie- the gifted actor- began compiling all the Artists Demands since Independence and creating a holistic brief of what was missing. This list of compiled demands has become the basis of many of the lobbying successes of the last decade.
Since 2000 I have been more an activist than artist- by choice. After witnessing the recurring decimal of generational collapse that happens in Trinidad I dedicated my career to lobbying the supportive institutions, legislation and policy into existence. There have been victories and there have been losses. I am trying to close off the decade with victories so that generations coming after me can make a living by their Art- and that T&T Genius, culture and Legacy is honoured, rewarded and passed on. I also want to renew my artistic career now, because I feel that my artistic voice- along with a number of others that have been silenced in the last decade- needs to be heard because there is a certain level of sophistication, passion, rooted enquiry and indigenous aesthetic resolution that has been lost by the generation under us. I think that now is the time to intervene. My career emerges out of all these passions and these events.
4. You had a music group called Shantuelle. Elaborate…
The band is called ‘Chantwell’. Lol. I have been playing live music in bands since I was an 11 year old in Saint Mary’s College. Myself and Nigel Rojas of Orange Sky were mortal enemies and then musical collaborators as kids. lol… We were always interested in original music. There were always guys who were interested in being ‘cover band’ musicians and then us who championed writing and performing your own music. Over time the music I was writing evolved- from American Folksy to Funk Rock to Hip-Hop Rock and then into Rapso. Organically. As we pushed more and more to try to sound more like ourselves we arrived at the form called Rapso- our own version of it where you will hear elements of rock, jazz, funk and folk. You would need to go on my Facebook page to see the whole list of my musical influences…
I have had the fortune to have played in bands with some of the most gifted musicians of T&T’s modern era- Orlando Pyle bassist, Graeme Granger bassist, Curtis Ruiz bassist, Sean Thomas drummer, Peter Lewis guitarist, Brendon Lacaille co-songwriter, Jeremie Charlerie guitarist… 3 Canal were my background singers in studio 6 years before there was a 3 Canal… lol. Pop culture is about the summoning of the best of the best to collaborate and I have always been clear about that. The video for ‘Clear De Way’ (a video I think that still has not been touched in terms of pure cinematic and thematic vision in the form) was directed by Yao Ramesar and his then wife Sonia Mensa from my conceptual ideas. For about 7 years different incarnations of the band and me as a soloist were a staple in the underground scene. We were one of the original signees to the pioneering Rituals Label. They produced an EP of my music with songs that are now on more than 30 compilations all over the world. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in 1994 the fightdown began against local music, Rapso and Kiskadee. By 1995 this fightdown was gaining the upper hand.
Because we have absolutely no supportive structures in place- infrastructure, policy, legislation, funding- every generation of activity in T&T has collapsed. My generation witnessed suicides, madness, burnt out wrecks, addictions and the sheer hopelessness of people giving up during this period. It is hard being a band leader under the best of times, but in the worst of times it is that much harder. In the face of zero airplay for music locally- and no local producers who could ‘hear’ the music we created- the bands imploded. I also refused to record music that was not an accurate reflection of what my music sounds like sonically. Hundreds of performers I know have suffered like this. Trinidad’s producers are safely 35 years behind the musicians. For one form of music the genius $hel$hok was the salvation- but apart from him- especially for non-soca musics, there was a wasteland. The hustler scene created by a country with only a 5% local content radio airplay has created a class of producers who are unwilling and incapable of taking the time to experiment with sound to find the right sonic fit for our music. This is a dialogue that we have never had in public, but as musicians we talk about this all the time.
Because music is the art that is closest to the Heart I could not bear to betray the music I heard in my head so I stepped away. As a multi-media artist I had options. Unfortunately for most of my musician peers who are solely musicians it has been more cruel… I stepped away from local theatre for the same reason- I could not bear what it had become, and if I could not do work of a certain integrity I was stepping away- until I could win the resources to do what I thought was right. As a musician I continue to write. There are over one hundred songs. In 2008 I found a crew of musicians who I felt could translate what I was hearing. Gillian Moor did a fantastic and loving job at Song Shine to bring us back out and I am forever grateful to her for it. It was a beautiful re-debut. We went into the studio to demo and produce a series of tracks and I am juggling trying to keep the live band alive and recording songs that are over 20 years old- as well as new stuff- done with integrity.
5. I remember you showing me a wonderful comic book on the Mighty Shadow, will you ever publish it, and can you tell me the focus behind it.
As I said I was a fan of Marvel comics of the Golden Age. I also am a student of global mythology. Shadow has both the contemporary super-heroic in him as well as the most ancient ancestral powers. He is simply the most magical performer we have created. He is so powerful and evocative. Along with Andre Tanker I believe he might be the most influential musician for at least 2 generations of musicians. He has been very special to me- as I am sure he is to many. I was going to Tobago to do an exhibition called ‘Wave the Magic Wand and Say the Magic Word’ inspired by a talk I had with George Bailey’s nephew Aldric. At the time the exhibition consisted of a series of Black Tobago Angels and a series of indigenous ‘magic wands’ and ‘magic words’. On the plane over I decided that I could not hold an exhibition in Shadow’s Homeland without paying some sort of artistic respect to him. From the moment I said this to myself images started to tumble out. A series of 11 images came to me- fully formed. It was obvious that they belonged to a greater mythology that I had not figured out as yet. Images like ‘Shadow and his Guardian Angels’ with Shadow bodyguard-ed by two gigantic Ethiopian Coptic Angels… The series was called ‘The Adventures of the King of the Wizards’. This is years before Harry Potter. lol It was extremely successful.
Then years later- in 1999- it was that magic day when Brian Lara singlehandedly defeated Australia at Kensington in Barbados with 153 not out- called the Greatest Test of All Time. I immediately decided that I would do a graphic novel on Lara. I got all my tools together to begin- then all of a sudden a voice tapped me on my shoulder and said, “He is still a Child. You must tell my story first.” It was Shadow. Or his Spirit- if you believe in such things. For the next 2 weeks I was possessed. I drew hundreds of drawings with the story taking shape around them. All of the previous 11 images now revealed their place in a much larger mythology. I could not rest until I was finished. In two weeks the entire graphic novel was storyboarded and completed. Completed! I gave Shadow it to read and he gave it his blessings. I also presented a panel I eventually drew and painted of one of the seminal pages to him at one of his big concerts. He also has one of the portrait t-shirts I did of him, which I know he wore all over the place.
I have to tell you my relationship with Shadow is strange. Shadow used to sing songs to me in my dreams- just like I suppose Farrell ‘The Bassman’ sang songs to him in his. My song ‘Morning Ground’ was sung to me by Shadow in a dream. This also points to a larger pattern in my life of how music influences my painting and my other writing and vice versa. And how dream for me influences all… People have always been on my back for ‘trying to do too many things’ and that I should ‘choose one art-form’. However I know the way all these forms work for me and I have to be true to them and their messages. I must find the way to resolve all of them. That is my path.
As for publication, I want to do the book properly where it can stand up against the best in the genre internationally- like Mike Mignola’s ‘Hellboy’ for example. I want to collaborate with this young local artist called Anthony Edwards to realise it. I think he is the genius young artist of this generation. It should come out in 2010 all things being equal.
6. You have the Generation Lion series of magazines (two tomes actually) how did the generation lion concept begin, and where do you want it to go?
The ‘phrase’ and concept Generation Lion emerged from a film I had written and which was supposed to be produced in 1997/98 with my then business partners CL Financial. The film was called ‘Mih Heart is Meh Witness’ – after a genius joint pop (then called Odd Fellows Local) song. The film centred around a group of 12 young people who were fairly representative of Trinbagonian young people. In the Treatment for the film (my notes to my team of cinematographers, lights-men, actors, etc) was a description of the Force that this team of young people embodied. That’s where the term Generation Lion emerged. I also had always seen it as a Jouvay Band… The lion mask concept had emerged from a video that I had scripted for a song called ‘D Crucial Arch Angels’ by me and genius rapsoman Ataklan. Neither this video or the film were produced. The late 90s was a time of numerous creative abortions. Hundreds of art projects conceived in that period never saw the light of day- any one of them would have catapulted Trinbago creativity to the next level. T&T does not know the suffering that is done for her in the silence and darkness…
In 1998 I also was generating the theories and ideas around a generational reading of T&T and Caribbean history with larger applications for African diasporic history and world mythology. I began touring international symposia presenting on it. These formed the theoretical basis of Generation Lion. There was a breach of contract so the film could not happen, and I sued and was involved in legal action for 5 years. In 2003 it was settled out of court and I used that settlement to start Generation Lion Magazine and the Jouvay Band. I felt that the economic climate opened the way to do the type of magazine that I- and many others- knew that was needed. But there are some important lessons…
7. What were those lessons?
I had been part of dozens of attempts to start magazines before- which all failed. I noted those lessons. I also remember encountering this shelf of magazines in UWI which were all first issues of local magazines that never got any further. Many of our greatest creators had been part of these attempts. It was very sobering. What got me was the fact that none of the books were worthy of the talents who were collaborating on the book. This was because they all believed that the magazines would have lasted, and that over time they would have a chance to show all that they could do. The lesson is: Suppose you only get one chance?
The nature of Trinidad is not evolutionary- it does not follow that if something is good it will be rewarded and graduated to the next level to continue. That is not our history. In fact our history is just the opposite- instead here Genius is attacked, blocked and hounded down to collapse. I repeat the lesson: Make the chance that you get count! I assembled the team together that I knew could render the book- some of the best photographers and young writers who cared about their subject matter. I originally saw the book like the 2nd issue- young heroes and Elders twinned- but I knew we would not get funding for that. So I began with issue #1 as my Trojan horse. It just concentrated on young heroes. 300 pages, 777 pictures and 111 features later we had our magazine. It changed the magazine landscape I think- it sank some competitors, changed some peoples plan, and inspired others to up their game. I thought that if it was my only chance it was a worthy artefact. But the book sold out in 5 months and its success enabled me to continue. Hence the second mag.
The aim of the mag is to document generations of our history- whilst still being pop, sexy and magnetic. We are also racing against time. My reading of our history uncovered that T&T’s Golden Age generation is dying and will pass mostly by 2010. We have a deadline with destiny. Our Golden Age lay between 1930 and 1950 when much of our cultural vocabulary was formed. We have lost up to 16 000 giants in the last 9 years. The other crucial part of the equation is that 70% of our population is under 35- and most have no clue about Legacy. There are no institutions to pass it on. We thus have a huge Crisis of Inheritance- which is the reason so many of our communities and traditions are collapsing. With our book we are trying to be that generational bridge and national memory bank- we are trying to create a ‘place’ where the nation exists. The magazine is also a critical part of my larger arts activism campaigning for the Missing Institutions like Museums, Academies, Halls of Fames and Heritage Sites.
We have 4 issues getting ready for publication as we speak… The global recession and local ‘belt tightening’ has made the situation required to bring them out very interesting. Lol…
8. There is also the band concept that you did…
The Jouvay Band Generation Lion was created to take part in the ritual of Carnival. It is also an attempt to get the generation back into masking as a phenomenon. I had these images haunting me of these Lion masks. A brilliant young sculptor called Sheldon Clemendore helped me to realise them. Out of the gate the masks were used to launch Carnival in New York and Toronto on ABC with TIDCO that year. I also have to thank my business partner in the early years of all this- Dexter Roberts of Mangoes Restaurant fame. Without Dexter’s support many of these things may not have been realised. Sometimes you just need that one person who says ‘I believe in you and your ideas- I got your back’…. The band is still going strong- we started back this year after taking a rest.
9. Is it difficult for you to be taken seriously because you have some many diverse ideas? What has been some of the challenges you have faced in getting your ideas realised?
I have to say that as an artist I have been more fortunate than many. I have a professional resume that’s pages long and am able to realise projects that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have been able to realise many projects that many have not been able to- so I am eternally grateful. To my collaborators, business and creative partners, and ex-girlfriends (lol- you have to give respect where its due). To my sponsors, supportive peers and Elders, my spiritual community, and last but not least my family- dad Clivin, mom Christiana and sis Nadine.
That being said, Trinidad is a destroyer of creative people and visionary talent- irregardless of race and class. I am not unique in being attacked, blocked, sabotaged and plotted against. I am aware of most of the cabals formed against me. I am also aware of the amount of projects that have never been able to be realised because of lack of support or actions taken against them. This does not stop me. I am clear that if I came from nearly any other country I would safely be a multi- multi-millionaire and the best of my work and ideas would have been applauded and rewarded. I would be facilitated to do the work I want to do and I would be afforded positions where many of my ideas can benefit the entire country. This does not exist here. Since Independence that has not been our story. There is no place in this country- inclusive of the Arts- that Genius has been allowed to be in charge and has been rewarded and allowed to blossom. We are assassins of Beauty and Dream. It is the greatest indictment I know of any country. It is the Trinidadian tragedy. And it is what is directly responsible for the absolute mess that we are in as a nation.
Personally I suppose I have always battled people’s attempts to pigeonhole me and fit me into a convenient box- but we do not have a strong enough ‘critical’ class for that to have affected me. No, I think the real enemies have been the complete lack of institutional support in the landscape- a lack of honour and consistent pathways to funding. An absence of facilitative institutions. The absence of an understanding embracing Policy. These things are the difference between a $50 000. fad and a $5 Billion industry.
And I have to speak about our secret mainstream culture- that petty culture we have that attempts to block and blot out other people’s light. Trinidad’s beauty and blossoming has been secretly murdered by hundreds of small acts of pettiness and spite that has blocked the path of Light-bearers. And my career has been no different. This phenomenon exists in the media, our corporate and political class, it exists amongst an elder generation who has been hurt in its own way- and tragically it is now alive and well amongst my peers. Because we refuse to honour and reward Light we have instead raised up darkness, fraudulent substitutes, and mediocrity. What is of greatest concern to me is that it is not done in the open, and it is not backed by Ideas. It is simply jealousy. Because of this there is no record of the sabotage, and there is no intellectual debate as to why one is not worthy- which itself could be fruitful. Instead it is coward, clandestine and seeks fraternities of cowardice with which to enact its agendas and support weakness. We have to be careful as a country that we have not created dynastic oligarchies of cowardice and mediocrity. For instance I have been a professional artist for 20 years in this country and this is the first time I have been invited to do an interview. I know of hundreds of other talents with the same lament. Generation Lion was the first publication that was interested in many of their stories. Just as how Gayelle may have been a pioneer for a previous generation…
10. What are you working on next?
A children’s movie called ‘The Princess’ which I wrote 10 years ago for my little niece… The next 4 issues of Generation Lion Magazine. An anthology of my newspaper articles and 2 books of theory. Performing live with my band and recording and releasing an album of music. Preparing for my 2010 Jouvay Band. Working on a weekly TV series and a documentary. Finishing an exhibition that was frozen for the last ten years. And getting government to: pass 11 articles of arts-supportive legislation; release the National Cultural Policy of which I was a co-draftee; consult with artist on all cultural infra-structure they are building and are yet still to build; and getting these buildings to be constructed and programmed with integrity. The battle to get the entire ecological system of art-supportive policy, legislation and institutions is the real battle.
11. Any advice for people like yourself who seek funding?
Fight. If you have been sent with a gift, a message, a duty- FIGHT to get it manifested. If you are the only one who believes in it, dig deep and fight for it to become real. Take your own temperature, put your finger to the wind, close your eyes, centre your inner compass- once you know that the work you want to do comes from that pure place of your truth then WAR FOR IT! Do this with the knowledge that you may be from one of the most creatively oppressive places on Earth, but also know that you belong to one of the most gifted people’s that have ever walked the Planet. Learn to create documents that mirror the passion you feel for your project, learn to articulate the ideas of your project well- in spoken word and in funding documents that will go to corporate, private or institutional donors. Become your own expert on you and your work and its lineage. Make use of every piece of funding you get, make it manifest in the work. Let the work be the calling card and the evidence of your talent. If the talent is only in your head and not present in your work then you have failed and it’s back to the drawing board until you get it right. Get used to failing and rejection. Then get back up and be better.
When possible make the work make money for you. Not all art can do this. But where possible there are works of art that have built in rewards in the market place for it. Your work then must win its place fair and square in the marketplace. If it does not sell, it could be because it has missed the mark- or it could just be some part of the equation needs to be tweaked. Or you are ahead of your time. Get back in your time. With integrity. There is a magic answer that solves all the problems. Figure it out. You also must have some sort of sustainable plan for you to remain an artist. Eternal mommy and daddy support is not an option. How are you going to earn money for you to continue to buy materials, create, exhibit, distribute, etc? Have you worked out that math? If not, you are fooling yourself and using Art as a crutch. Art is not a sorrow-pit for you to excuse defects of personality. Art is a hard task-mistress. Even on the best of days only the strong survive, and even the next rung of success comes with its own challenges. Get to know your landscape of supportive institutions. There may be resource people in your own life that you are not paying attention to. There may be opportunities that your work itself provides. The beginning and end point is to get serious about your craft- in being true to that ‘Call’ you will answer most of these questions. The rest is up to the fight in you and Divine luck.
Thank you so much Rubadiri – Adele Todd