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Sailor as mas and art
Carnival is 99 days away, but that timing was not a pivotal factor in the decision by artist Richard Ashraph Ramsaram, 52, to curate an exhibit with a traditional sailor mas theme. “I am into traditional mas. It’s something I am passionate about,” says Ramsaram.
Last year he curated a similar collective showing where artists submitted work inspired by the traditional mas character the bat. “I always seek artists whose work has been influenced by the traditional mas in our Carnival.” Some of the artists who met that criteria and accepted Ramsaram’s invite to show new work are: Jackie Hinkson, Paul Kain, Che Lovelace and acclaimed masman Peter Minshall. Also on exhibit are three works by the late Embah and a print by Scottish artist Peter Doig.
Initially, Ramsaram intended for the exhibit to include photography. “As galleries we are obligated to raise the importance of photography. [Photographers] do the same thing as the painter, they document the society,” he asserts. The limitations of his gallery space lead to the creation of a companion show of photography with the same theme; that show opens near the start of Carnival 2018. Meanwhile, the current exhibit features ten artists who utilised collage, cedar, and acrylic to compose spirited perspectives of traditional sailor mas characters.
Three artists who are less familiar to the gallery scene in Port-of-Spain, produced work that offers dimension and unusual interpretations to the ‘A Sailor is A Sailor’ exhibit. “I grew up seeing his work in almanacs,” recalls Ramsaram of painter Dermot Louison, 84, who works with acrylic on board. “He was my first reference to traditional mas. His work reflects on his own childhood and has character and personality. The work I selected is a little comical and they capture the movement of the sailor masquerader.”
Miami-based muralist Wendell McShine, 45, is a former illustrator with the Guardian newspaper. He has earned commercial commissions from Adidas and prestigious awards, such as the Reuters News Foundation Fellowship. “His interpretation of a fancy sailor is not quite what we may instantly reference, his sailors bear elements of Mexico where he lived for a few years,” Ramsaram explains. “The way he painted it is stunning; he uses watercolour, acrylic and glitter.”
And then there’s Parker Nicholas, 69, the show-stealer who has already scored a commitment of a solo show curated by Ramsaram in 2018, followed by an exhibit at White Columns in New York City. Parker specialises in crafting figures out of plywood or cedar that are nearly four feet tall. For this exhibit he constructed a crew of cedar dumbwaiters: one fancy sailor, one red nose flour bag sailor, and two seamen. “Parker used to be friends with Embah, I knew he did these dumbwaiters and I knew I needed something with another dimension for the show,” notes Ramsaram. “I wanted objects. So I asked him to do fancy sailors and don’t make them the same height. That’s all the information I gave him.” Ramsaram adds, “You can’t tell an artist what to do, you could say you’re having a show of sailors and they can submit work for it, and he did. And I liked it all.”
The exhibition “A Sailor is a Sailor is a Sailor” opened yesterday and will end on December 9 at The Frame Shop—A Space Inna Space Gallery located at the corner of Roberts & Carlos Streets in Woodbrook (opposite Brooklyn Bar).