“Fanfare, pomp and circumstance,” said the operatic tenor John Thomas in a recent press release.
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A Brand New You
A Brand New You, now running at the National Library in Port-of-Spain, is not an exhibition. It’s a living organism that morphs and expands with every visitor. It’s a book brought to life, its printed pages plastered on the walls, waiting to be gazed at, scribbled on, and digested.
Those of us who are used to standing in reverence before glassed-in works of art, discussing them in hushed tones, not getting too close for fear that a crotchety docent will clomp over and warn us not to touch, will probably be a little taken aback by Shepherd’s mad methods.
Not only are you allowed to touch the posters if the spirit moves you, you are invited—encouraged—to sit at the cluttered craft table to design your own addition.
A basket of multi-coloured markers, slips of paper, random bric-a-brac like twine, glitter, and bits of tinfoil, are your tools. You write a message from your heart and glue it to the poster of your choice. Your legacy to those who come after you.
It’s an invitation that’s sure to excite the latent graffiti artist inside all of us.
It comes from Rajendra Shepherd, who has a Trini mother and a British father, and who grew up in England, but returned here often to visit his family. Notwithstanding his smooth, radio-announcer’s British accent, he considers Trinidad his home, which it has been since 2000.
Explaining the exhibition, Shepherd says: “It’s another form of social media. Just not the electronic social media we’re accustomed to.”
Social it is, even immersive. The setting looks, feels, and even sounds like any aging urban neighbourhood. A child’s clothes are pinned to a line, and over the sound system you hear the hubbub of people living in close quarters.
A young girl yelling out, “Ma! I going!” People talking, laughing, arguing. Water gushing from a burst pipe. The setting evokes what we in T&T see in ourselves, our environment and the space we live in.
Even the way the display was organised is a tribute to community living. The posters were designed by a friend of Shepherd’s, Gerard Andrews of Artifex Tres Designs. Many of them feature the mischievous face of a nine-year-old boy called Ashan. Another friend of Shepherd’s mans the desk.
Now read the book
The posters are sparsely worded, with just one thought on each, or, rather, one “wisdom,” as he calls them. None ends in a full stop, as it is up to us to take each idea further. They are just a handful of the 90 “wisdoms” in his book Tilt the Gaze that Changes Everything.
“The book is about the power of ‘possibility thinking,’ not positive thinking, because there’s value in the negative as well. It shows you what you don’t want. I’m interested in people seeing potential in their lives.
“I’m passionate about media,” he says. “I study it; I love it. I understand what it does.”
What it does for many of us, unfortunately, is concentrate our gaze on the endless diet of pain, suffering and unhappiness it feeds us every day. A book such as this, and the exhibition, helps to remind us that the stories we read of aren’t the only ones out there. “We have to know that, and not take it to heart. That shouldn’t be our only focus.”
The comments, elaborately decorated and stuck to the walls, reflect the message of love and hope that visitors receive from the bright, simple posters. It’s as if they are moved to respond in kind, not just to Shepherd’s wisdoms, but to each other. And so it grows, one sticky note responding to another, engaging, challenging and supporting.
The book, in turn, holds a small proportion of the wisdoms that have come to Shepherd during his yoga and meditation practice.
He’s thinking of expanding on the display by taking it to the business and school environment, using it as a jumping-off point to talk about language of the self and how we construct ourselves through language.
Tilt–the Gaze that Changes Everything is a hand-held, pocket-sized treasure that is now available in hard copy at Nigel Khan’s, RIK and Charran’s, and downloadable from Amazon. In each copy, buyers will find a charming Easter egg in the form of a small card which, he insists, is not a bookmark. It is “a public canvas on which to share your wisdoms—words of transformation—with others.” You write a brief message from the heart, return to the store where you bought the book, and slip the card into another copy, as a surprise for the next reader.
Finding a brand new you
The exhibition A Brand New You will be up at the National Library until February 22, free of charge.
Step in prepared to have your own say. Better yet, walk with a little treasure of your own to decorate your artwork: a feather, a spangle from an old Carnival costume, a dried leaf that reminds you of the garden where you grew up.
Because this isn’t an art exhibition; it’s a collaborative, community effort that needs you to help it grow.