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Saturday, 24 July 2010

Caribana Art Exhibit on now at the ROM

Couple created 14-foot Caribana costume as part of exhibit

Walk into the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) these days and front and centre, in Chen Crystal Court, is a massive 18-feet wide by 14-feet tall costume straight out of Caribana.
The piece, which is created by Clarence and Jackie Forde, is featured in From the Soul: Caribana Art Exhibit, which runs at the ROM until Aug. 3.
Caribana Art Exhibit on now at the ROM. Clarence and Jackie Forde and their mas art costume creation are featured in the largest juried display of African Canadian art, which is being presented at the ROM during Caribana. Staff photo/ERIN HATFIELD

Creating Caribana costumes is an art form for the undisciplined who are willing to challenge the system and create way outside of the box, Clarence said.
Clarence was literally born into the craft, he said. A native of Trinidad, Clarence was raised in a mas yard.
"In Trinidad terms, wherever they make the costume they call it a mas yard," he explained. "I was literally born in it because I was born at home."
Even though he came from a strongly religious family that tried to deter him from getting into the trade, Clarence said he broke away because he has a deep appreciation for the art.
"I like the glitter and the splendor and the glory," Clarence said. "I don't really like to play it, but I like to build it."
Made of a frame and deep-sea fishing rods, the centre of gravity must be in the middle so that the person who plays the costume can bounce it off their hips as they dance along the parade route.
"Clarence is very good with the structure and he does all the welding," Jackie said.
It is a feat of engineering as much as art.
Jackie and Clarence Forde, from Scarborough, operate Cajuca Mas Arts Producers.
"I'm the mas, she is the art," Clarence said. "I can do the mechanical work because I am a millwright by trade, to put everything that is needed together and she can do the art and design."
"Sometimes we get in some divorce-level fights because she designs something and doesn't understand I cannot do it," Clarence joked with a laugh.
"But I want it," Jackie chimed in with a laugh.
Jackie, who has a degree in fine arts, was enlisted to draw for a mask-making team that Clarence was on.
"I was asked to come and draw for Clarence and a now-deceased band leader called Wallace Alexander because the two of them couldn't get their ideas across to the other members," Jackie said. "Over the years I got more and more involved in actually making the costumes."
The From the Soul: Caribana Art Exhibit represents the largest single juried display of works of art by African-Canadian artists. Curated by renowned African-Canadian artist and activist Joan Butterfield, the exhibition is produced by the Association of African Canadian Artists, in conjunction with Scotiabank Caribana and the ROM.
Butterfield, who splits her time between her home in Brampton and her condo in Liberty Village, came to Canada in the 1960s from her native Bermuda. She has been an artist and curator for more than 20 years in Canada and the United States. She is also the art director at the Association of African Canadian Artists and sits on the board of directors for Caribana.
There are 50 artists from all over Canada participating in the exhibit this year.
"Normally because of the space, in previous years, it would only allow for paintings on canvas," she said. "This year they have given me the Bronfman Hall, which is 7,000 square feet."
The exhibit has expanded its territory, so to speak. There are more than 100 works, mostly still canvas, but there are also several Caribana parade costumes, 3D bronze sculptures and award-winning ceramic pieces.
"Once you walk into the exhibit it is going to arouse your consciousness and I hope steal your mind and sooth your soul," Butterfield said.
"What you are going to see is the artists bring their history, their struggles," she said. "You are going to learn about us as a people and I am hoping that we can have a better understanding of what we are about."
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