Art of carnival at Nuit Blanche

By RON FANFAIR

Self taught artist Ras Stone has been building and designing Caribana costumes for the past two decades.

However, he never got the opportunity to sit back and relish his creative work.

“After Caribana, the costumes are discarded and you don’t get to enjoy your product,” he said. “So one of the things I wanted to find out was how I could cherish and appreciate my work.”

Combining his innovation and imagination with the help of associates in Toronto’s artistic community, Stone produced Mas Hysteria, a first of a kind inter-arts exhibit that was launched for Nuit Blanche last Saturday night.

Stone is a member of the “Six Ah We Artists Collective” that created the twilight scene mimicking life and displaying the art of carnival costume making.

Using 35 intricately sculptured galvanized wire frames wrapped and painted in a variety of fluorescent colours, Stone and the rest of the collective introduce the public to the process that turns wire into animated characters dressed in everything from papier-mâché to vibrant fabrics, fashionable clothes, hats, feathers, trinkets and beads.

Incorporating drawing, sculpture, painting, photography and deft craftsmanship in the creation of the life-sized fluorescent costumes, the collective’s artists conjure up the carnival experience of wild abandon with performances by steel pan players, drummers, soca and calypso dancers. The exhibit offers audiences a sensory interactive experience of a carnival at twilight and depicts street scenes that focus on real and mythical contemporary and historical themes.

“Instead of wire bending, as we call it in Trinidad & Tobago, I call it wire sculpting,” said Stone, whose signature paintings of elongated, sinewy female figures, award-winning carnival costume designs, playful children’s book illustrations and sculptures distinguish him as one of Canada’s innovative multi-medium artists. “This show represents the wire sculpting art form.

“Carnival covers all the elements of art yet the artists, in my mind, don’t get the recognition they deserve. Artists sit down and design and construct costumes before they come on the street and all people see is the finished product coming down the road. Looking at this, I see my canvas come alive and I feel like signing it. This is out of the box…I hope the artistic community and the public will agree that what we create at carnival time – our designs, the art and the craft – should live and not die.”

More than an exposé at twilight, Mas Hysteria is an appeal to art lovers, collectors, curators, artists and the public to ignite a debate about preserving the work of mas visual artists.

“Nuit Blanche is the perfect venue to launch the discussion about the birth and death of carnival mas costume art as thousands of people pour into Toronto to see the various installations, many of which will live only for one night,” said “Six Ah We Artists Collective” co-founder and executive director, Ato Seitu.

Seitu said Mas Hysteria is the first in a series of shows leading up to a major exhibition, Point of No Return: The Question of Diaspora and Identity, to be held in 2015.

“We wanted to get the attention of the Art Gallery of Ontario and we were told that we should start making some noise now,” said Seitu, who was the featured artist in the 2006-2007 Genius Loves Company exhibit. “So we have started with Mas Hysteria and next year we will put on Retro Revisited that will focus on the sneaker culture. The theme the following year will be, The Art of Survival, where we will be looking at how agriculture impacts art forms.”

“The collective is hoping that Toronto lands the 2015 Pan American Games so the major exhibition could be held around that time to attract visitors, including those from the Afro-Latin community who will have a large representation at the Games.”

The other artists involved in the Mas Hysteria exhibit that will be showcased at York University Eleanor Winters Gallery until October 18, are spoken work artist and photographer Dwayne Morgan, Tafewa Turner, Ashley McKenzie-Barnes and Suritha Wignall.

 

 

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