thea: home stretch

dear reader,
whether you've been following our blog since we began or are just here to check us out pre-performance, I just want to say, thanks. As Hab and I wrap up, finalize, hammer out details and generally near the finish line we realize how much we appreciate the support and encouragement of our mentors, our friends and the artists who have taken time out of their busy lives to speak with us, influence us, and impart precious knowledge to us. We would not be where we are now without you.

today we had a rehearsal/brainstorm during which we went over details, finalized our script, and staged our performance. We had a lady open second story door over looking the yard and give Haben a standing ovation after she belted out her song. Paul came by and gave us some encouragement (and helped me undo a problematic screw). Susan Nunez came around and we grabbed lunch and shot the shit. Chris, as always, gave creative critisism that both frustrated us and pushed us in new and better directions. Chris, you have been an absolutely invaluable resource. We would not be where we are with out your constant pushing and prodding, your challenges and your expanding of our artistic and intellectual horizons. You know by now how to push our (specifically my) buttons and aggravate us, and we by now know that you do it with the purest of intentions and for the best results.

this is not my final post but close to it. please excuse the cheesiness, its par for the course when the end is in sight.

thea: my music video debut

Alice Yard is a special place, my favorite in Trinidad and definitely top 10 internationally. From the first time I walked in to the space I knew I had found something important and I have tried to spend as much time there as I could whether I was just liming there with Haben and whoever else came through or working on this project. Simply being there has given me all sorts of cool experiences, meeting awesome artists like Greta Mendez, bands like 12 and 3Canal, and last weekend, I even landed a spot in the music video of Hot Water by Gyazette .
I had been there all day painting tables and chairs for our performance, I was wearing my Jouvey shirt and all in all I must have looked pretty special. But when the band and video crew rolled up they would not let me fade into the back ground, instead pulling me in as an extra. We had a great time, dancing along to Hot Water, which is an awesome song. I met a bunch of the other girls and the band members and a few expressed interest in maybe coming out our show on May 8th. All in all it was a pretty great experience. Sean Leonard seemed to have fun too. He could not get over the fact that a music video was being filmed in the Yard. Apparently this was only the second time this has happened and he was simply delighted.

Moral of this story? Lime in Alice Yard guys, you never know what will come of it, but it will be excellent.

Haben: Changes

As you can see there have not been updated photos placed on my flickr. My focus for this project has shifted to the major performance piece. Soon I will be able to post images of my performance costume and its movement(i.e. in rehearsal). My original plan to paint a canvas series has changed due to my Trinidad experience. I have met several artists that have shown me the strength of live performance. Visual arts have always been a part of my life but only recently have I truly paid attention to my growth as a singer. I want to share this with the Alice Yard community.

Part of my motivation is the youth. I want Alice Yard to become a space for young people as well. My generational lyrics, as well as Mother Mas are meant to be heard by all, not only the artistically inclined folk. Hopefully we can incorporate young people on performance night. Keep posted for pictures.

Haben: Updated Lyrics (in Progress)

This is playing off of the call and response style. I dreamt this in my sleep.
And I actually imagined a Mother Mas, mimicking Ma Rainey in stature, singing in a blues voice:

(Begin with a portion of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Chile)

Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Chile
Sometimes I feel like a motherless Chile
Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Chile
A long, long way from home
Sometimes I feel like Im almost gone
Sometimes I feel like Im almost gone
Sometimes I feel like Im all alone
All Aloneeee

How could you leave me?
Im Mother Mas
How could you hide from me?
Im your protection
How could you run from me?
Im your education

How could you forget me?
Im your memory of what was and what can be

Slavery has had its turn on me
Its torn me down and broken me apart
But Im giving you the key to suceed my child
You are stronger than the whip and the struggle
Meet tomorrow with open arms and heads lifted
Live to make your ancestors smile
Reject denial
Live to make your ancestors smile(2x)

Haben: Visit to Chaguanas Primary School with Rape Crisis Center

This past Saturday I attended and volunteered to teach a "What a Girl Wants" symposium at Chaguanas Primary School with Amanda Persad, a fellow Trinity College student. The event was funded by the Rape Crisis Center of Trinidad where Amanda is an intern. The program was designed for teen boys between the ages of fifteen and seventeen years old. The program lessons entailed advice and instructions about safe sex, teen pregnancy, STDs, dating and healthy relationships.

Amanda and I set up short skits for the young men to act. The vibrancy and energy of the room was amazing and they received the performances well. As desired, a cross dialogue took place and notions of patriarchy, peer pressure and masculinity were made evident through their questions and frustrations. I observed how the 'popular' notions of sexuality, masculinity and relationships had taken affect on the young people. Programs such as these are needed across the country, ideally on a global scale as well. Notions of patriarchy, violence and abuse can be linked to the way our children are raised, what they are mentally fed on a day to day basis, the lack of needed support to override these notions.

Teh Rape Crisis Center work brought an inspiration to my writing. As a conscious performer I wanted to become well acquainted with some social issues facing Trinidad. In combination with Kywnn Johnson's exhibition, meeting other artists, readings by Walcott, Walker and Paul alike, as well as my volunteering at Chaguanas I am finding more material to incorporate into my song/spoken word piece as part of the final performance. Im taking Chris Cozier's advice of doing more 'showing' and less 'telling' in terms of my purpose or my message for the song.

Haben: My Responses to Red, appropiated (Art Exhibition) by Kwynn Johnson

busy with notes 2
Kywnn Johnson's art exhibition was an "investigation of red in art, literature and advertising as it intersects notions of ethnicity,[economics] identity, gender, and violence in Trinidad." The overwhelming use of redness is a symbol of bloodshed in Trinidad as well. (This concept relates to my social piece, involving what the members of this community witness through news and everyday life).

1) Embroidered Images
My favorite embroidered image is the lips.
The use of reflection and lighting is amazing really bringing the piece to life.
I only suggested that Johnson try to expand that use of light in several other pieces; specifically the animated cartoon-like images.

2) Embroidered Texts
Through all means and red depictions you connect politics of race, nation- economics- the body-violence within the embroidered texts and images. This is the work of conscious artists, the embroidered texts you have made ARE your own, fully embodying your consciousness and style. It is clear that embroidery is a major part of your art experience as well as a reflection of how you see the world.

3) Watercolours
The watercolours, accompanied by the fish wire presented a different tone and aspect to the RED series. The implications of physical injuries and their healing processes is what I was intrigued by the most, especially the implications of hybridity/contradictory tendencies.

4) Digital Screen Prints
The screen prints, in my opinion, were not the strongest part of the series, however it does contribute to the strategic process of the exhibition. However I did enjoy the many uses of the word 'red' which undoubtedly is a part of everyday speech and ultimately symbolizes human connect and disconnect.

5) 3 Newspaper Collages
I enjoy the found art aspect of the newspaper clippings. The concept of 'RED' power was heightened through the clippings. The collages and essentially the entire series captured **Johnson's statement: "Bloodshed is everywhere in Trinidad...even blood money, blood diamonds...mixed blood and blood relatives".

6) Rose Installation
The dried rose installation was the first display that caught my eye upon entering the Soft box gallery. Initially the installation fits with the Red theme but it was not until I made my way around the exhibition, going into both rooms, until I understood its exact purpose and dynamic.
7) Short Film: 'At a theatre near you'
I found the graphic film to be an interesting component though I agree it would have a made a stronger piece had the split screen dynamic been implemented to show both the artist and doctor at work. The focus on the hands could have been more evident. There is fluidity nonetheless that convey the message of ‘stitching’ oneself, identity and so forth.

Hi Haben,
Many thanks for your response to my work, as your time taken to do this is much appreciated.
It continues to be truly surprising with each viewer's comment, when I read/hear which of the works engaged the viewer the most.
And to think I almost left out the lips!
Yes the screen prints contrast a lot with the rest of the show, basically because it is handmade vs machine made.
But these text-sayings was one of the platforms that spearheaded this body of work. The collages, yes, can fall into the catagory of found objects, but it is also how history is written. But some viewers felt it was too 'unfinished'.
I looked at it as grounding the rest of the show, in that it presented lived experiences of the audience/landscape that I was presenting in red. Thanks you for stating the obvious yet that which is over looked, that this is my experience and my lens. Moreover, I continue to be pleased that I was able to communicate my ideas; in that your comments show that you and many others 'got it', via my visual language.Feel free to pop in the gallery this week again so we can meet, if not, I wish you every success with your work/research here. Kwynn Johnson

thea: red

Last tuesday, Haben, Chris and I went to visit Kwynn's Red Project at the Soft Box Gallery. There was a comment form that detailed each aspect of the project and below are my responses. If you intend to see the show, I suggest you do so before reading this. Consider this the gallery show version of a spoiler alert.

My Responses:

Embroidered Images:
I am absolutely in awe of the immense amount of skill it took to "draw" with thread, especially in the case of the lips, the wine, and the Red Stripe Lager. I could not help but look at them over and over to check that I was seeing right and that they had really been done with thread.

Embroidered Texts:
Gets the true point about race across that could not have been conveyed otherwise. Provides a nice balance to the images and the array and choice of authors is fascinating.

I am not sure I completely understood all of the watercolors but I particularly enjoyed the POrt-of-Spain series as it's reference to violence was clear and the content (sort of) prepared me for the video.

Digital Screen Prints:
Initially underwhelming especialy when contrasted w/ the rest of the show, but once I got past that I actually enjoyed the calming visual repetition and the driving home of the "red" phrases. I would have preferred to see these stiched as well if only to provide continuity or perhaps displaying them in a non-wall context in order to fully shift away from the embroidery display.

3 Newspaper Collages
I get the point but they were simply not as visually stimulating as the rest of the show [perhaps if the actual newspaper clippings had been used it would have been more powerful]

Rose Installation:
This part of the show intrigues me. I am not sure what the intention here was but to me, dried roes imply accomplishments that have passed. A rose recieved upon graduation or the opening night of a play is one that is dried and kept, not for itself but for what it represents. Also, the roses bring the show into reality, without them, everything seems very sterile. Wait, just found the "get well soon" card. Hospital reference, ah.

Short Film: 'At a theater near you':
Graphic, gets the point across, STOMACH WRENCHING

The choice of red pen responses also shows the comprehensiveness of the red theme.


Needless to say, this was a really phenomenal, well executed, awesomely thought out show. I was glad that the concept of red was not extended to communism except for one small hammer and sickle image. It was sort of refreshing for the metaphor of "red" to be distanced from that cliche.

Maybe art students should do art critiques in T'dad's n/papers!
Instead of "I fine" and "I feel" . Nah, its part of our landscape, for now.

Hi Thea, many thanks to you also for taking time out to critique this work.

Indeed, it has been a way to present drawings via thread.
Moreover, to present mataphors of red with blood; blood-lines and blood shed.
The stitchery actually takes the same amount of time as do the watercolours.
The collages: I collected press clippings which I scanned and imported in an Ai file. This was done for conservation purposes, in that the spray I have to remove acid from paper is not as good as I thought, and I hope for this work to last a number of years, and too that I priced them. Not too sure if this is a good thing,
but these clippings from our newspapers are compiled in my journal, to which I will submit with my portfolio and thesis.
Someone also found the clippings were too neat as well. Also too, you did get it, yes the idea of flowers sent to a patient saying 'get well soon', also how it contrasts with the association of red roses and love.
However, the installation begun with fresh roses, to which I have seen them dry, which is what you saw.
So beautiful fresh red roses hanging upside down presented a different imagery to viewers in the opening week.
So I am happy to have been able to present two types of installations.
The film is a technical failure, I know, when I was about to render the transitional effects were not exporting etc, it is still the same. But it was a hell of an experience filiming in our A& E. Surgial suturing is so interesting, in terms of the causes, the stitchery, and the scar / marks left. Also too how contrasting it is for a male Doctor stitghing versus a female embroidering. But as you saw it was an attempt to tie the works together.
However, the singers in the film Dr Chevannes was part of a Socialist movement in the 70's in Jamaica.
So I actually did touch on communism, in that I asked him what he thought of when someone raises a red flag, and immediately he sung "Le internationale", the classic 19th cent socialist song.
But this was only obvious to Jamaican viewers and those familiar with that song. That's why I chose that music for the film. However in Trinidad a red flag is emblematic of nationalism, public protests, Soca Warriors (Nat football team), and also says 'danger on the beach'. yet another way Red is appropriated :-) Enjoy your stay here, maybe you can pop up to Maracas Bay and see all the red flags, try our Red mango preserves at the Maracas bay Lookout, and sip a Red-Rum and Coconut water. Hope all goes well with your research here, and thanks again. I will include your comments at as appendix to my writings as well. Kwynn Johnson



".......It's complicated because so much of the culture, in my limited perception, appears to be mas or performance in itself. The culture is a performance. How does photography, capturing this performance-in-action, play into this? What's behind it all? I don't believe I've accomplished this investigative approach yet, but I would like to."

thea: where there's a will there's a way

We have determined that our performance will be on the 8th of may. Today is the 19th of April. I'm not brilliant at math but that gives us about 19 days to finish the script, prep Alice Yard (including some table painting and decoupaging) and rehearse, not to mention finish the mas that i have begun and collected most of the materials for but not yet finished building. And this is in addition to 4 other classes that I am currently finishing up as well.
I know it will get done, it is simply a matter of when. It was my intention to spend the better part of this weekend in Alice Yard, working. However I failed to remember that Alice Yard has the misfortune to be located in Port of Spain, a part of the country that has been all but shut down since Thursday. I was informed that it would be silly to even try to get near Aripita. So I lost this weekend. I will attempt to make that up during the week, spending evenings after class there if possible so come by and look for me if you want to see me working frantically to pin plastic bottle labels together (that's all I'll say, I wouldn't want to give away too much).
Speaking of which, you may have noticed that I have stopped posting pictures to Flickr. This is because I am no longer concerned with the actual objects but more so with what I can make them do. This change has two roots: 1) Haben has to actually wear the result which was not originally part of the plan. To that end, the "sculpture" must be practical, light, and fulfill certain physical requirements. 2) after the cleaning lady threw out all my original stuff and my plan changed, I was inspired to treat the objects less as individual bits and more as part of a whole. It is now less about the scavenging and more about the artistic result. Will that work? I don't know. Come be the judge in 19 days.

Haben: Meeting with Sean Leonard and Generating New Ideas!

As I predicted, meeting with Sean Leonard from Alice Yard to discuss logistics and lighting for the performance became a mix of explosive ideas and energies. As we approach the finalizations of the project we are experimenting with ways to incorporate guest attendees within the performance. The cocktail party, decorated with a few table treats and invitations into the performance are great ideas. Meaning from the first mingling moment that takes place our audience becomes actors. As the audience members find their place in the yard, whether it is a corner, a table, a room - that space will become a part of the live stage where portions of our blogs reflecting our project process will be read aloud by the audience members. Providing another insight into the creative process and production that most audience members never understand unless a question and answer session is provided.

New ideas as to how we will provide the reading at each table were presented as well. We have decided pasting these blog portions at tables create art pieces outside of the Mother Mas performance and costume. Thus enveloping the audience in the art, where they are constantly surrounded my the message we want to convey through our blogs and the creation of the Mother Mas character. I will draw up a sketch of the layout ( in terms of placement for the blogs etc) after I collaborate with Thea for clear logistics and materials. This will be added to my flickr.

NICE POST ERIN! Im happy you have joined us!

Photo intro

Hi, I'm new to posting but it looks like I'll be joining in some of your discussion as we start wrapping up the final projects. As you all know I've been photographing various events in Trinidad this semester, trying to finalize a final concept for a presentation. You can view my photos so far through this link.

Something I've been contending with, and that I discussed with Chris, is the problem of how I approach certain events: what am I trying to accomplish, what am I trying to say, and how can the photographs be read? During my internship, I've been trying to focus on portraying events in a photojournalist/documentary way: setting up the event, allowing the event to control the camera. But underneath this runs the problem of process, or how I engage with the subject(s) and perceive them, and how the photographs reflect this negotiation of comfort level, understanding, and control. I know that I've been struggling with finding the right form of composition in an unfamiliar environment. I don't really know or understand what I'm looking at, being from a different culture, and I want to resist relying on tired stock imaging of that the Caribbean should look like, or a sort of 'orientalism' of Trinidad carnival, as an American outsider. It's complicated because so much of the culture, in my limited perception, appears to be mas or performance in itself. The culture is a performance. How does photography, capturing this performance-in-action, play into this? What's behind it all? I don't believe I've accomplished this investigative approach yet, but I would like to.

Perhaps one of my favorite moments while photographing here was when I attended a Catholic funeral in Santa Cruz. I was completely caught off guarded, in a state of culture shock, having never before attended a funeral that pulsed with so much energy and diverse interaction. I got caught up in an adrenaline rush and I felt immersed in the space. That sort of feeling of transcendence is what I want to translate into images. I'm attempting to compile a series of final photographs, one about pan and steelband players, and the other about religious rituals of death and dying. But as Chris pointed out, there is more than just what the photographs objectively represent, there is always a narrative and a discourse underpinning the photos, in my case, it might be about the process of reconciling culture and control of the camera, and rendering images in terms of color, shape and form.

Haben: Start of Vocals

This has a blues feel to it- using plenty rifts and shifts for emotional purposes

Ive been strugglin' real hard
Tryna make ends meet
Ive been strugglin' real hard
Tryna feed my seed
But whose gonna feed me?

You dont know- you dont know
my story
You dont know- you dont know - my glory


(song portion melody)

"government hands no where to be found
Unless your name is Obama- then theyll come around"

Haben: Reclaim It!

Greta Mendez performance is phenomenal- from political commentary to MAYBELLINE- she covers various themes all devoted to the incorporation of the body (her canvas) and globalization. Through this work Mendez reclaims her body from the tyranny of commercialization(despite its aging, its changes and flaws), she uses it fiercely and simultaneously forces her audience to embrace and celebrate her body with her.

Performance artist Greta Mendez
In connection with our own creation Thea and I were both captured by Mendez's use of space in which "taking up space" has been a constant theme throughout our own piece. We exercise this theme of space through our own collection of materials and building of the costume by linking its pieces to the Triniland as well as brainstorming the many ways in which we can take up space at Alice Yard through performance- the many positions we can incorporate both on and off stage like Mendez.
We were inspired to blur the performer versus audience ideal a bit more as well because Mendez's performance was beyond interactive. Interestingly Mendez stated that when she is seen in public/offstage she is in hiding and while peforming I saw an entirely different spirit emerge through her Madame Glo character. Also Mendez shared with us the way in which her character was created( by the tale of Madame D'glou and its link to Trinidadian folklore). Madame Glo was a sight to see indeed. Her costume as well is made of recycled and found art like my Mother Mas character. Both characters providing a sense of transformation and reclamation through movement and vocals. There are several commonalities between our pieces which allowed inspiration to come as strongly as it did.

thea: Greta's impact

Greta is an amazing performer and talking to her and watching her work sent Hab and I into an inspiration frenzy. get ready for a cocktail party at which strange things occur. get ready to blur the line between audience and performer, you are not off the hook. Greta's use of the WHOLE space had me literally climbing the walls to see what our limits were. Her use of character got me thinking about the characters we will play, and her 100% free and recycled costume reminded me of the environmental implications of playing a found art mas. She is political but not preachy, funny without being laughable, intimidating without being scary and she is absolutely brilliant. even as she sketched in her character during the rehersal we could see so much as though an entirely different person was coming through her skin. she has such control of her body, her stance, her presence. Hab and I were simply in awe and so dissapointed that we won't see her final performance. if you have the opportunity, go and see her tomorrow night, it will be worth it.

Conversation with Greta Mendez

greta and haben 2
This evenings rehearsal delayed by rain. Greta shares her thoughts.

Multi-media performance artist, Greta Mendez based in London, takes time off from rehearsals for her work Ndulgence ( to be produced in collaboration with Robert Young of the the Cloth and Paul Kain ) with Haben & Thea at Alice Yard.

thea 2
Label collecting for performance skirt in progress while listening to Greta in the Yard.

Haben: Vocals and Ideas

In terms of vocals---

I have been experimenting with sounds and tones that Ive never tried before.
Ive contacted a friend of mine that studies vocals and is also a spoken word artist in hopes to shape this vocal portion a bit more.

Soon I will be able to post lyrics up so that you can have a sense of the its direction- I was considering singing a portion of a Motherless Child as part of the introduction but I might also rewrite an older verse Ive kept.

The Mother Mas charater should be viewed as this culture savior- whose vocals are to be felt The topic is consciousness- allowing room for debate and discussion but most importantly influence and truth.

Vocals outlining social woes and conflicts is at the heart of it all.

Haben: AlterNATIVE and Space

Meeting with Annie Paul(The Repeating ALTERNATIVE) and student Alicia Milne was an interesting time- especially given our recent readings on Jocelyn Gardner's pieces on the duality concept of colonizing persons and post-colonial feminist (White-Caribbean) identities taking up the island space.

This movement of artists and Caribbean natives returning home to work are met with opposition- an aspect of the art world I would not have covered had I not read Annie Paul’s work. In a sense these alterNATIVE artists fit into this duality concept Gardner expresses.

Interestingly the internal refugee concept is very much alive in the artworld. An even greater obstacle is the concept of race within the artworld. For instance still “race is and remains a thorny issue in Caribbean artworlds” which is a concept Id like to pay better attention to in terms of our own work and this truth of the Caribbean Id like to incorporate whether in speech or the costume make up itself. Our meeting allowed more self reflection as to why Ive embarked on this project to begin with or why I feel the need to make changes and additions depending on the people I meet throughout the process. Really allowing influences to do their part, educate myself on the Caribbean and how I can take up my own space here.

Not only incorporating what Ive heard and experienced but using this project as a stepping stone towards awareness and further reflection is final.

Annie Paul visits from Kingston

studio with annie paul
L-R: Alicia Milne, Thea Button, Haben Abraham & Annie Paul
Alicia Milne, artist and student at UWI, stops in to join and lead the conversation about Annie Paul's idea of the "alterNatives." Artists who find themselves on the outside of nationalist narratives about visual art and about the idea of being "mythless and storyless." ( see: The Enigma of Survival’: Travelling Beyond the Expat Gaze”, Art Journal, Volume 62, Number 1, Spring 2003)
Annie Paul is also an editor of Small Axe, a Caribbean Journal of Criticism.