Trinidadian artist Marlon Griffith is creating processional art with a strong base in Carnival mas all over the world.
Most recently, he produced Ring of Fire, a 300-person procession on August 9 celebrating the Parapan Am Games in Toronto.
Commissioned by the Art Gallery of York University, this project has been two years in the making and was a collaboration with many groups from the disability community, youth centres and aboriginal groups.
Griffith's first major exhibit, Symbols of Endurance, is currently showing at the Art Gallery of York University in Toronto until December 6. It will have a central focus on the Ring of Fire procession, but will cover Griffith's entire career.
The themes of the designs Marlon Griffith created were based on the First Nation of Ontario traditions of seven key principles: Wisdom, Courage, Respect, Honesty, Humility, Truth and Love. These became the seven sections of the band.
The project was a unique collaboration with the Ojibwa community, the disability community, the spoken word community, and various youth community groups.
As the project description noted, the project involved "interlocking circles of performative forms of colonial cultural resistance from across the Americas–from pow wow to capoeira to spoken word to Carnival."
Two years ago, Emelie Chhangur, the assistant director for the gallery, came to Japan to meet with Griffith; he became curator, working closely with Griffith on both the procession and the exhibit.
The project was heavily influenced by the unique vision of the Art Gallery of York University.
"We present international artists from a Canadian point of view and develop innovative projects with [local disenfranchised communities]; projects that are not only defined as outreach but "in-reach" as well. Our intention is to extend the public intellectual role of the contemporary art gallery...through advocacy and engagement with large, yet marginalised communities and ... diverse audiences through contemporary art."
When Griffith and Chhangur realised that the procession would be happening at the same time as the Pan Am Games this summer, they focused on building a relation with Toronto's disability communities who were participating in the Parapan Am Games.
Griffith noted this presented a whole new way to consider issues of accessibility and opportunity for participants and audience with disabilities.
They worked with dance/performance groups in the disabled community such as Picasso Pro, an integrated dance group, and Equal Grounds, a fairly young wheelchair dance group.
As the project developed, Marlon Griffith made many trips to Toronto. He was there all summer in exhausting sessions, going from one "mas camp" to another at various community centres all over the city.
The procession had many layers created by different groups. The costumes were produced by the Sew What! Program at Art Starts and other visual arts students from Sketch. The larger mas pieces were created under Griffith's supervision by sculpture students at York University.
The audio portion was supplied by First Nation drummers, and seven spoken word artists created poems for the seven themes of the procession.
The two spoken word poets acted as orators, sentinels of the band sections, and performed with megaphones at stops on the procession route, with deaf-signing of the poetry.
Marlon Griffith grew up in Belmont and worked as a Carnival designer as well as an artist. He worked for several years with Patrick Robert's Trinity Carnival Foundation.
He later worked for Peter Minshall's Callaloo Company and his career exploded after his residence in Johannesberg in 2004, and Mino, Japan in 2005.
For the last decade, from projects in Japan–his current base–to South Korea, South Africa, Belgium, the Bahamas, and at the Tate Modern in London, Griffith has established an ever-widening reputation. He has been in exhibits and performance projects all over the world.
His recent Trinidad night mas project from 2014, Positions of Power, is part of the En Mas exhibit that was at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans.
He has worked extensively with curator Claire Tancons on that project and several others.
He received both a Guggenheim and a Commonwealth Award in 2011, which has raised his profile and his travels. Like all mas making, he has developed a collaborative mas with a wide base of other artists.
His recent work with the Tate was No Black in the Union Jack, a performance inspired by the 2011 London Riots. The performance took place both in the museum and on the Millenium Bridge across the Thames. Griffith has also worked with Paddington Arts for whom he designed two bands for Notting Hill Carnival.
The exhibit Symbols of Endurance is showing at the Art Gallery of York University from September 23 to December 6, 2015. A book based on the exhibit is to be published next year.