art in all its forms

art in all its forms


'Black Rock' by Amanda Smyth nominated for NAACP Image award

Novelist Amanda Smyth. Photo by Lee Thomas.

Her first novel, Black Rock, was this month nominated for an NAACP Image Award for best work of fiction by a debut author. Trinidadian/Irish novelist Amanda Smyth will vie for the honour alongside the likes of Whoopi Goldberg and Marlon James (who are also nominated in the literature categories) not to mention dozens nominated in other categories like Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Sandra Bullock.

As she celebrated, Smyth took a moment to tell PLEASURE about the writing life, her highly anticipated second book, her past career as an actress and the toll of being split between Trinidad and the UK. Her interview is the tenth in a series of interviews on this blog featuring Trinidad artists.

FIND the full interview here. READ an extract from Black Rock here.

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I was born in Ireland, on the west coast. My father was a musician and my Trinidadian mother was young and in love, but she was also homesick. When they broke up, my mother decided that we (my brother and I) should go back to Trinidad. But it was the early 70s and there was trouble brewing. So instead, she hopped across the Irish Sea to England.

I grew up in Yorkshire, but the three of us came to Trinidad every summer to see my grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts. I always hated leaving. I still hate leaving.

I’m really pleased that my husband, Lee, loves Trinidad, too. That could’ve been tricky.


I’m sure there was a high price for this kind of life – one foot in England and one in Trinidad. And in some ways we’re still paying it now. Our family is scattered, and that’s tough when something happens - good or bad, because you want to share it with them.

What to do?

I was an actress in my twenties, in TV and commercials. I was in a movie called Savage Hearts (1996) starring Oliver Tobias, Richard Harris and Jerry Hall. When I was about 8, I had shyly asked Oliver Tobias for his autograph, and here I was playing the role of his wife. It was a big moment for me. But at the London premiere, I realised my acting was pretty awful.

I decided to give up and concentrate on writing. At the time, I was living in Trinidad, and my aunt suggested I go along to Wayne Brown’s creative writing workshop. I didn’t want to go; I think I was probably depressed. But thank goodness I did; Wayne changed my life.


Writing is hard, there’s no two ways about it, and it’s easy to avoid it. But when I’m writing, working hard on something, it somehow makes everything seem okay. I’ve noticed, whenever I’ve been in any kind of crises, I slope off to my computer and bury myself in a piece of work. It always sorts me out.

Can I steal something that made a lot of sense to me? Jean Rhys once said, you have to earn your death. And I think it’s true.


I’ve just started working on my second novel. It’s also set in Trinidad, but unlike Black Rock it’s contemporary. I feel excited about it, which is great. This is unusual for me.



Amanda Smyth's Black Rock was named one of O magazine's 25 Best Summer Reads for 2009. The novel--which was published in America under the title Lime Tree Can't Bear Oranges--was this month nominated for an NAACP Image Award for best work of fiction by a debut author. This is what Amanda looks like:
Author photograph by Lee Thomas.

You CAN buy Black Rock at local bookshops like the Reader's Bookshop, St James. READ an extract hereThis/discourse/has/no/start(middle)nd is an interview series featuring the responses of Trinidad artists to a set questionnaire. FIND out more and see the full list of interviewees here.

An extract from 'Black Rock'

The novel's cover is a detail from 'Grand Rivere' (2001-2002) by Trinidad-based British artist Peter Doig. 

"There were no answers. I had nothing. There was only heat and the bright light that made that kind of heat. There was no shade, nowhere to rest, nowhere that the sun was not. You follow your life, you don't lead your life. I could sing with pain. Sing so high, high, high. Would my mother hear my singing? Once I had nothing. Now I had less than nothing. My whole life. My whole life I wanted to know my father. I wanted him more than anybody. More that Dr Emmanuel Rodiguez. I shall never know happiness. The light was on the other side of the world, in Southhampton, England. All my life I stepped towards it, little steps. I was halfway there and then I sank. The light pulled me from my darkness. I remembered the light when everything was bad. And now you put out the light. Just like that. I had less than nothing. It couldn't be like this. It couldn't be this way. God is good. They say God is good. How was that so.

When Aunt Tassi came home, she found me in my room, sitting on the floor looking at photographs she had given me. When I told her what had happened, she brought her hands up to her face..."


FROM Trinidadian/Irish novelist Amanda Smyth's Black Rock, Chapter 35. The book was this month nominated for an NAACP Image Award for best debut fiction and is available at the Reader's Bookshop. READ and interview with the author here.


FILM REVIEWS: Clint Eastwood's 'Invictus', Guy Ritchie's 'Sherlock Holmes'

The film allows Eastwood to cast a major white actor alongside Freeman

Back in 2008, acclaimed black director Spike Lee accused Clint Eastwood of not having enough black actors in his films. Eastwood had made two movies about Iwo Jima back to back and not a single black soldier was featured in either, Lee noted. Eastwood's response? "A guy like him should shut his face," he told The Guardian. He then went on to direct Gran Torino, a film about an elderly, racist man, who learns to overcome his racial prejudices. That film, which is actually Eastwood's finest after Unforgiven, appeared to be a response to Lee's allegations.

It's in this context that Eastwood's latest, a biopic of South African legend Nelson Mandela, arrives. Why we haven't seen a major Hollywood Mandela biopic up until now is baffling. After all, some far less important and obscure people have had films of their lives made. Perhaps marketers did not think they could find a way to sell the story?

We get some clues about this by examining the film's poster. There's a smiling Matt Damon in the foreground, with Morgan Freeman (as Mandela) literally in the shadows. The film is about Mandela, but from the angle of how he embraced forgiveness as a mantra and how he moved to heal his divided nation through sport, particularly the white-dominated sport of rugby. It's a convenient angle for Eastwood, for sure. The film allows him to cast a major white actor alongside Freeman, and to follow the issue of apartheid South Africa through the vehicle of a feel good sports movie.

The film does work. There are some great performances and funny moments. But all in all it is somewhat pedestrian. Eastwood clearly has no gift when it comes to filming sports sequences. He does not belittle his subject matter, but he does it no special favors. But at least he got this film made, where others have failed. Even if it was not quite the fine Nelson Mandela biopic we were expecting.

Sherlock's six-pack.

Neither was Guy Ritchie's entertaining take on Sherlock Holmes. There's a spunk and energy here that replaces the tired old period piece action/adventure crap that's come out in recent years. That said, there's nothing really original. But Robert Downey Jr is ridiculously charming, even with his road-kill eyes and weird British accent.

Much fuss was made over the suggestions of a strong whiff of homoeroticism in his relationship with Watson (Jude Law in his best performance since The Talented Mr Ripley). The fuss was justified. Half of the movie is about their relationship.

I can't remember what the plot was about, and at times I found myself craving for some of the moodiness of a film like From Hell (which starred Johnny Depp). The fight scenes were rather paltry (though wonderfully analysed by Sherlock in slo-mo before each takes place) and there was no real ratiocination (the 'clues' are all perfunctorily linked in the denouement). But it's fun.


Afro Modern

Detail from Blue Shade by Romare Bearden 1972
© Romare Bearden Foundation/DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2009

An exhibition, featuring artists ranging from Trinidadian Christopher Cozier to American Kara Walker,  opens today at the Tate Liverpool, UK.

"Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic explores the impact of different black cultures from around the Atlantic on art from the early twentieth-century to today. The exhibition takes its inspiration from Paul Gilroy's influential book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness 1993. It features over 140 works by more than 60 artists.

Gilroy used the term 'The Black Atlantic' to describe the transmission of black cultures around the Atlantic, and the instances of cultural hybridity, that occurred as a result of transatlantic slavery and its legacy. Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic reflects Gilroy's idea of the Atlantic Ocean as a 'continent in negative', offering a network connecting Africa, North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe. It traces both real and imagined routes taken across the Atlantic, and highlights artistic links and dialogues from the early twentieth-century to today"--Tate Liverpool.

FIND out more here . READ more here . CHECK out Cozier's Tropical Night, which is featured in the exhibition, here .


Chris Ofili at Tate Modern, London

A Tate employee looks at 'Afro Sunrise' (2002-2003). Photo by Felix Clay.

Trinidad-based British painter Chris Ofili has a show at the Tate Modern in London this month. The exhibition features 40 paintings as well as pencil colours and watercolours and opens today. SEE more images here. READ more here.

They called it Jamette Carnival

3 Canal's Wendell Manwarren 

Carnival used to have an edge. It used to terrify, fascinate, enrapture. Go back in history and witness the “Jamette” carnival.

“Around the 1860’s the Carnival came to have a distinct character, the ‘Jamette’ carnival,” notes historian Bridget Brereton in The Trinidad Carnival in the Late Nineteenth Century.

“The jamettes who were the band members were the singers, dancers, stickmen, prostitutes, pimps and “bad johns” in general. They boasted of their skill and bravery, verbal wit, talent in song, dance and drumming, their indifference to the law, their sexual prowess, their familiarity with jail and sometimes their contempt for the church. In short, they reversed the canons of respectability, the norms of the superstructure.”

Rapso band 3 Canal has, over a decade, built a strong following with its distinctive blend of socio-political soca and rap. Amidst the increasingly anonymous soca now being produced annually for Carnival, the band has become a rare voice; an alternative to the purely ornamental dance music that often proliferates on the fete scene. But it has, ironically, done so by always going back to the basics of what Carnival was and should be, while at the same time experimenting with new melodies and musical forms tones.

This year, the band will maintain this tradition, but will also take a step in a new direction...READ more here .


They made a Bollywood film in TT called 'Dulha Mil Gaya'

The stars: Shahrukh Khan and Sushmita Sen (who was robbed of her Miss Universe jewels on a visit to TT more than a decade ago)

The synopsis for Dulha Mil Gaya--which was filmed on location in Trinidad--on the Movietowne website reads: "Dulha Mil Gaya is a heart-warming take on four individuals each of whom have different takes on relationships in their lives. When paths cross for these four characters, fireworks go off and they not only land up influencing each other with their outlook on relationships but also get influenced themselves and learn a whole new meaning of the term. Through the interwoven love stories of Donsai, Samarpreet, PRG and Shimmer, Dulha Mil Gaya with the help of humour, music, emotions and style attempts to unlearn the norms of love and relationships in the present day world. A satiating romantic experience that promises to bring more than a smile to your face."

That's right folks, there's a character named Shimmer. And she literally shimmers. And let's not even discuss Donsai.

This is an entertaining movie that is exactly what you'd expect it to be.  It's no worse than the typical hackneyed Hollywood romantic comedy. It's just that this one has LOTS of singing and dancing (and some really, really bad songs).

Trinidad and Tobago locations are used to Bollywood (and not dramatic) effect, there is one crassly sketched character that made me want to walk out of the cinema immediately, of course the plot is laden with hegemonic tropes about gender roles, and the entire island of Tobago is relegated to a place where people in Trinidad are banished to. And let's not mention the weird dimension of race in the film, with an opening narrative making it clear that  there are lots of "people like us" (Indians) to Indian audiences.

Of course the Bollywood style is something to be admired, but often--as in the case of this movie--it's nothing more than a series of well-edited music videos stringed together. It certainly all brings more than a smile to your face.

Word is that Machel Montano is making a Bollywood film which will be filming scenes in the streets of Carnival this year. Maybe there is now a vogue for films like this (especially post-Moulin Rougue). Soon all manner of folk will be rolling on hillsides amidst flowers and jumping into bales of hay as they extoll their love, for our entertainment.

There is light under the cones

READ more here.


The private family paintings of Derek Walcott

'At the gate, Petit Valley', circa 1980, watercolour.

They linger in the shadow of his accomplishments as a poet. These delicate watercolours and oil paintings that drape the walls of this small room. Many have come out today to listen to Walcott do a reading across the street from here, but few have ventured to the the principal's office of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad; to this small exhibition of private family paintings by a man whose reputation as a world-class poet bedazzles.

But the private family paintings here are far from all of that. They tell a different story; one rarely glimpsed and appreciated. For while Walcott--who at the date of this post celebrates his 80th birthday--may be remembered for his poetry, these pieces, I think, deserve to be rememembered for their quiet stylistic flair and their testimony to the talents of a man perhaps more read than understood. Undoubtedly he is more of a poet than a painter, but he is a painter of some merit still.

Witness the achievement that is his 2001 oil painting 'Country Fete'. Here is a rural scene of an old-fashioned fete in which nobody seems to be having any fun. Observe the poet's flair for detail: we have a drummer, decked in a red cap, looking more in pain than in rapture as he beats a rhythm, he has placed his hand on his heart, one of his fingernails is painted white. In the same picture, a violinist strumms out a tune, but is baleful; a woman in a red dress and a yellow hat is in the background, her face pale; her body oddly transfixed in the distance.

And then 'Petite Valley' (2000, watercolour), a kind of companion piece to the earlier 'At the Gate Petit Valley' (c. 1980, watercolour), demonstrates the power of the landscape under the right painter's brush. At first glance it appears to be a snapshot of a hill over-looking the northern Trinidad suburb that lends its name to the piece. But by being faithful to what he saw before him, Walcott captured something much more: a landscape in transition; being trammelled upon by unregulated development. Observe the large houses, not noted before in the 1980 painting, looking like scars on the hills. To the top left-hand corner are two forlorn cobos, almost penciled in, signalling something else amidst the green vegetation and houses. 'To Anna, Love Daddy' reads an inscription on the piece which is testimony to Walcott's not inconsiderable skills as a landscape artist.

The principal's office, UWI, St. Augustine, hosted private family paintings done by Derek Walcott.

As is 'Queen's Park Savannah Horses' (1995, watercolour) with its tell-tale balcony just within the frame of the composition; and 'Santa Cruz landscape' (2001, watercolour) with its blossoms of blood red and its horrifying mountain of shadows.

The exhibition included paintings from the collections of Margaret Walcott, Anna Walcott-Hardy and Elizabeth Walcott-Hackshaw. Additionally, there was a piece by Walcott's father Warwick and another piece from the UWI library which had been donated to the library by Hester Ismond in memory of Dr Patricia Ismond, former senior lecturer at the university.

All underlined how the poet continues to produce paintings consistently, in between his major poetic works. For example, Walcott exhibited several pieces in New York in 2005, including 'Portrait of Claudia in Yellow Armchair'. For David Dabydeen's 2008 novel Molly and the Muslim Stick Walcott was persuaded to do the book-cover. The covers and dust jackets of Walcott's own books often feature his own work. Tiepolo's Hound, published in 2000, is a book-length poem that combines the stories of two painters—told in verse—with Walcott's own watercolor and oil paintings.
Details of 'Portrait of Claudia in Yellow Armchair' (2005, oil on masonite) and 'Malo' (1993, water colour on paper) from Walcott's show at the New York June Kelly Gallery. 

Detail from Walcott's cover of David Dabydeen's 2008 novel Molly and the Muslim Stick.

The paintings, then, are a part of Walcott's output which cannot be ignored. But while they are nowhere near as accomplished as his poetic works (the New York Times once famously declared that it's safe to say that Walcott will never win a Nobel Prize for visual art) we cannot ignore the value they add to our appreciaition of Walcott's artistic sensibilities. The reading across the road is packed, but there is enough room in this gallery for a small, but beautiful, gathering.


Election gimmick

Detail from 'Election Gimmick', one in Sean Thompson's series, Political Landscape.

"Elections in Trinidad is really interesting. We beg politicians for basic necessities for years but only around election time we would see these issues being 'halfway' addressed. They pave roads and clean streets in an attempt to silence us and convince us to vote for them, but isn't it ironic that the same index finger they use to silence us, is the same finger we use to vote for them..." 

FROM Sean Thompson's blog. What can I say? Elections are in the air this weekend.


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I am the fourth child, the only daughter among five sons. I like to blame my outgoing and aggressive attitude on my brothers. I sometimes call myself by the artist name AMMA. It stands for 'Ancient Morals with Modern Attitude'. I was born in Paradise Heights Morvant, but lived most of my life in St. Joseph, Trinidad.


I hope someday that my work will be identified simply by the mention of my name. Until then, I am interested in paper sculpture, glass mono prints and film/photography. Connectivity is my mantra - it is how I develop my concepts.


I started my affair with art at age seven. I always knew that I wanted to be an artist, but it has not been easy. I went to El Dorado Secondary School-yep, think of the brown uniform! I decided against ‘A' level art and entered the University of the West Indies in the Visual Arts certificate programme. I hope to graduate this year with a BA in Visual Arts.

I have been around for years, taking part in several joint exhibitions. In 2008, while preparing for my final year design project, I meshed my paper research and my concept of connectivity, and decided I wanted to go to Japan to complete this research. I organized a solo exhibition in the St. Joseph Community Centre and sold just enough of my art pieces to purchase a ticket to Japan, where I had my first apprenticeship under the Japanese master artist Chiba Shinji Sakuryu san. Thanks to the help of many precious individuals the experience was a young artist's dream come true.

I am currently preparing for my exhibition called CONES. CONES is an interactive exhibition of colour and light transparency. I would like to consider it my first art residency. It takes place at Alice Yard, opening night 22nd January. The public are invited to participate by painting their own cone from the 20th - 22nd January at Alice Yard between 12 and 7pm daily. The materials for this exhibition are inspired by the Japanese festival Nebuta.


I cannot help it. I have observed my parents who started a family very young having to create or invent a way to live at times by using their hands. Craft has always been a part of my life. My mother once made shoulder pads and had us children sit around her feet. As she stitched, we would package them. That’s just one experience of many I can remember.


I am an artist because I cannot stop, I am submitted to it, so much till it controls me. Because we exist we are creating art, art is everything.


Where do you see yourself in the future? LOL. The typical interview question. I have always seen myself as a travelling artist and I would say that I have started this. In the future I hope to participate in many global art activities.


You can participate in Jemima's upcoming show CONES at Alice Yard, Woodbrook, by visiting the space at 80 Roberts Street between the 20th and the 22nd from 12 to 7pm. This is what she looks like:

Jemima Charles, 27. Photos by Andre Bagoo.

CHECK out a flyer for CONES here. DISCOVER more about the event at the Alice Yard blog here. This/discourse/has/ no/start(middle)nd is an interview series featuring the responses of Trinidad artists to a set questionnaire. FIND out more and see the full list of interviewees here.


From the set of Yao Ramesar's 'Stranger in Paradise'

Actress Jiang Jie in a production still from film-maker Yao Ramesar's latest project Stranger in Paradise. Photo by Wayne Cezair.(Below) On location with Ramesar.

FIND out more about the film in an interview with Ramesar here.

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I was born in Tamale, Ghana, in West Africa to a Jamaican mother from Kingston proper and a Trinidadian father from Rousillac in south Trinidad. Yao is the first name I was given in life by the Twi nurses in the hospital. It means Thursday born, but it is now a joke to my new Chinese friends because it reminds them of Yao Ming (who appears to be, for them, the most famous person after Chairman Mao, which is, incidentally, what Derek Walcott insists on calling me).

My father was driving a cane truck and weighing cane at an age which would nowadays fall foul of child labour laws, and had his first pair of real shoes at 19. My mother and her siblings at that time were rubbing bread on the glass of a locked safe containing a block of cheese that they could see through one pane....

So, I am that. My mother has traced her roots in the Caribbean to Ghana (she hadn't known about this when she first made her way there) to one sole person: someone by the name of Addo, who eventually came to a plantation on the island of Barbados.


I'm a film director who has/had the luck (and burden) of having too many films to do at this or at any point in time. Right now, I'm on an undisclosed Caribbean island directing a feature with an lead actress who speaks only Mandarin (like her character). I'm feverishly learing a few words and phrases in Mandarin so that I can direct her gow da! (bigger!), hun gow da (bigger still!), shang sing (sad) and hun seeow(play it much smaller).

The main set is done by Cuban Leandro Soto in a Kubrick-meets-Caligari-meets-Cuba-in-the-seventies-on-one-too-many-rum-and-Cokes fashion and we're, at the time of writing this, awaitng the arrival of Bobby Dreadful , the male lead....


I'm in the present, running out of time before take-off (which, as I write this section, Monday January 11th , 2010). One of the hardest points is getting a feature airborne. A smooth take-off is rare because of how so much is coming to that point in time. You have to be as calm as a cosmonaut.

But, I've pretty much completed the choreography for the camera (which has a sweeter resolution than typical 35mm film) and laid down an aesthetic to complement and collide with the story or (dare I say?) the narrrative.

I hope to go to another phase with this one, you know, side step self-parody and frankly move on i.e. plenty dialogue and storyline in this one.


I really have no idea. I guess I always loved pictures. But, I've simply been unable to shake this spirit since 1984. I've been in a marriage with film for about 25 years and  friends, women and others have come and gone but I'm still with cinema. For better or for worse.


Art is! There can never be any satisfying definitions. Those who seek to chain it to rules or modalities are suffocating the child in its sleep. We also have fed on a mass media diet to the point of cranial oblivion, so it's frankly iffy between the environmental meltdown and minds being scrubbed out with blue soap if we can physically survive.


How come you've never gotten serious backing from your own country for your films? Speaks for itself.


Yao Ramesar's last film, Sista God II, screened at last year's Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF). This is what he looks like.

Yao Ramesar receieves the Saraswati Devi Award in 2000. Photo courtesy the artist. Header photo by Andre Bagoo.

FIND out more about Yao here. READ a Q&A at the TTFF blog here. CHECK out stills from his latest film, Stranger in Paradise, here.


FILM REVIEW: George Clooney's Up In The Air


Cover of Walter Kirn's novel, on which the film is based.

Up In The Air follows American Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney; a near-nomadic, outsourced downsizer (oh the times we live in!) who travels all across the lower 48 states doing the dirty work of serving employees severance packages while glazing over the shame of termination, all with the charm and charisma of the average, garden-variety, talking snake.

It is 2009, the recession has hit and business has never been better; Ryan loves his job. Charming and sophisticated, he is a man unfettered who comforts himself in his ability to not only diffuse the worst of situations, but to walk away from them entirely.

Enter Alex (Vera Farmiga), a beautifully seasoned, condescendingly intelligent, career-oriented woman; a love interest so convenient it's almost masturbatory. She herself is caught up in a web of cross country flight paths and can barely bring herself to be tethered by anything at all. They interact with the disarming, competitive cynicism you'd expect from any character played by George Clooney; wearing their detachment like medals of honour. They soon find themselves forging a relationship of...convenience, synchronizing their schedules for the next enviable sexual tryst. Alex, wise to the game and patently unconcerned about the details, serves as Ryan's sexual and intellectual equal throughout the film.

Meanwhile, there are changes to be had back at headquarters. Ryan is summoned back to base to discover that young college graduate and consummate upstart, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), aspires to revolutionize the business by instituting lay-offs via teleconferencing, decreasing budget expenditure dramatically and, inadvertently, pushing Ryan just a little bit closer to obsolescence. Offended (and just a bit threatened by the prospect of being grounded), Ryan challenges Natalie's proposal and quite swiftly illustrates to both her and their boss (Jason Bateman) that she hasn't the faintest idea of what is really takes to let workers know they've been 'let go'. Ryan, however has little time to be satisfied, his boss, undaunted, proposes that Natalie could be brought up to speed under Ryan's expert tutelage.

As Ryan begrudgingly accepts, what develops from here is a film that explores the value of human connection; friends, family, relatives, clients, names on file and the inflated emptiness of our relationships and the power they possess to redeem or lay waste to our best established concepts of ourselves, our environments and any semblance of meaningfulness we can scrape together.

Genre-indicative cinematography aside, the film is unmistakably comedic. The movie is funny because the characters are funny. It shies away from relying heavily on absurd situational comedy but instead focuses meticulously on the interplay of personal philosophies and displays of keen wit and crass tongues. If nothing else, the film's dialogue is agile. It deftly avoids the typical constructions and aims for something organic while doing its best to retain its refinement.

The on-screen chemistry between Clooney and Farmiga is very convincing- a not-so-secret game of one-upsmanship which each time ends in orgasm. Kendrick portrays Natalie's generationally transcendent youthful naiveté in a way that makes you wonder whether or not your ambitions and priorities are still so blind. A wide-eyed idealist fresh out of college, Natalie represents the perhaps distinctly modern feminine disillusionment of the initial conflict between professionalism and her socio-biological imperative.

Ultimately, the film shapes up to be something beautiful, between the aforementioned and the very personal meta-commentary on unemployment and cooperate downsizing, it's genuinely worth seeing. It is a post-modern reflection of 2009 all sliced down to just under 2 hours and a couple moments of quiet contemplation.

*Lesedi Tidd is a socialist existentialist (aka a university student) living in Trinidad. This post was originally published on January 8, 2010.

WATCH the Up In The Air trailer here. FIND out more from the Movietowne website where the film is currently playing here.

Signs of the times?

From Luis Vasquez la Roche.

ENTER the hospital here. WATCH a therapeutic video here.


He took this in Haiti

The unspeakable grief. What you can do. Image a detail of a photo by Christopher Cozier on a trip to Haiti.

Jemima Charles is making cones

Flyer for upcoming art installation at Alice Yard (incidentally done by your trusty PLEASURE blogger Andre Bagoo).


CONES: an interactive exhibition of colour and light transparency.

Two consecutive days before opening night visitors will be given the opportunity to design and paint on cones.Wednesday 20th and Thursday 21st at ALICE YARD , daily 12pm - 7pm. Walk with a paint brush.

The cone is one of the basic building blocks of form construction and seeing is one of the processes of visual art. CONES is a visual link between the cone shape and seeing, an interactive exhibition of colour and light transparency.


My nights at the Republic

The Republic has hosted people, art. Photo by Andre Bagoo.

Just off the insane asylum in St Ann's, at a bend on Sydenham Avenue, is a small gingerbreadish house with a red door. The fretwork is painted primary school green, the walls are the colour of body lotion. There are burglar-proof iron grilles and wooden louvres.

'The Republic of Sydenham', which opens up inside into several rooms, including an incredible attic, has, over the last few years, been a home for art, music, dance, critical discourse and fete. It is currently the home for New York/Trinidadian based dancer Makeda Thomas and her Roots and Wings Movement which has hosted a dance and performance institute there. Last year, the space opened a modest art gallery. Countless musicians, including LAZA beam, Coreysan, Sheldon Holder and Sheldon Blackman, have also performed in its walls.

For many, The Republic has been a regular stop; an alternative to places like Zen. I've attended  some great limes and parties there,  met new people, encountered new music; bands. But now, this is all about to change. After years of support from a private landowner, The Republic has now found itself on the verge of being homeless. Its lease is up, and it is in need of a home. 
Dancer Celia Weiss Bambara performs in the attic at the Republic last Saturday. Photo courtesy the artist.

I've written about the need for spaces for the arts in Trinidad in the past. For me, The Republic's predicament is yet another stark example of a lack of support structures for the arts generally in this country.

Private funding and the support of private landowners can only go so far; arguably there is a need for State bodies to also offer assistance to artistic projects which, because of their very nature, may be noncommercial in orientation. The Republic has been a home, yes, but it has also been something else; something quite special. It's a shame that when endeavors like this find themselves in difficulty there is no standard avenue for Government aid.
LAZA beam(Keshav Singh), one of countless musicians to have  performed at the Republic.

The Republic HAS a Facebook page here.


'I hate being called a Belarusian poet'

Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort in discussion with editor Nicholas Laughlin

“I COME from a Russian speaking family so I grew up speaking Russian. But I never wrote in the Russian language, I always wrote in Belarusian,” explains Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort as she stands at the centre of a crowd gathered at Alice Yard, the contemporary arts space.

“My big issue was being situated in-between Russian and Belarusian. For me, language is something that should be overcome in poetry and that’s why the disadvantage of being torn between languages later becomes an advantage because it helps to focus on trying to go beyond it and I think that’s what poetry does ultimately.”

Mort, one of the first—if not the first—Belarusian poets to visit this country, was chosen to be among the first two writers in residence at Alice Yard which has hosted events featuring poets, musicians and other artistes for more than three years at Roberts Street, Woodbrook.

On Wednesday, Mort and fellow writer in residence, Jamaican poet Ishion Hutchinson, gave a reading, reciting old and new work. Both poets also discussed the perennial issue of the relationship between the artiste and home.

“There is a tendency to label, to categorise. It’s very hard to escape. For me this is something that I would like to escape, this label of being a Belarusian poet because I truly don’t know what is Belarusian about my poetry and when I come to a reading, I feel people have some kind of expectation that I will not be able to fulfil unless I wear a national costume!” Mort, who is currently based in the United States, says.

“I hate being called a Belarusian poet,” she adds. “I often think that being a poet is a nationality itself and that it does not need an adjective standing in front of it. There is no such thing as a Belarusian poet. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a Jamaican poet; there’s a poet, a good poet or a bad poet and there are no other alternatives.”

Mort was born in 1981 in the city of Minsk in Belarus, a land-locked European country which today still betrays its history of Soviet occupation. Her first book, I’m As Thin as Your Eyelashes (2005), was a collection of poetry, prose, and selected translations from Polish and English. She is a writer in residence at the University of Baltimore and has also been a writer in residence at the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin and Sylt-Quelle in Germany and at the International Authors’ House in Graz, Austria. Her second book, Factory of Tears, translated by Mort from Belarusian to English in collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Franz Wright and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright, appeared in 2008.

But while Mort is keen to avoid the limiting implications of nationality, this does not mean that her work does not reflect national issues. Among the poems she reads on Wednesday is the opening poem from Factory of Tears, ‘Belarusian I’:

we grew up in a country where
first your door is stroked with chalk
then at dark a chariot arrives
and no one sees you anymore
but riding in those cars were neither
armed men nor
a wanderer with a scythe
this is how love loved to visit us

“The history of Belarus is a history of a series of occupations,” Mort notes. “Every time a new occupation happens, the political, social and economic systems change.”

She notes that writing in Belarusian, as she does, is significant in itself.

“It is a language that’s not favoured by the government,” she says. “They call us the last dictatorship of Europe.”

READ more from Newsday here.


Strange developments at Ashraph's studio

One of the baffling notes at Ashraph's studio in Woodbrook, Port of Spain.

The studio on Roberts Street, Woodbrook, is filled with picture frames. A group of people, fresh from a red wine-infused literary event at the nearby Alice Yard that evening, are looking around, playing with things. 

But on a table at the far end of the room, laying like the abandoned robe of the bad witch in The Wizard of Oz, is a costume of some sort. What strange things this man, framemaker and artist Ashraph, has in his studio! The robe is like a graduation gown, meets vampire cape, meets barrister's court costume.

But there are disturbing little clues about this mystery, too, all over the studio. What is going on here? On the wall at another end of the room are cryptic drawings, small frantic notes, with diagrams and slogans.

Has Ashraph lost it? No, he has not. It appears as though he--and a band of mysterious confederates--are bringing out a Carnival band for 2010.

Last year, he brought out a band of cows. This year, it's a band of cobos. Robes, then, are really wings, are really pleated capes in which masqueraders hide or will hide or have hidden, and then reveal themselves. More later.
He has many fans, as this note on the wall of his studio reveals.

SEE the cows from 2009 here.


FILM REVIEW: Moon (2009)


Sam Rockwell is Sam Bell

Fans of the sci-fi genre usually further subdivide their genre into two parts: Hard sci-fi, which focuses on scientific accuracy as it usually doesn’t venture too far outside of the earth’s sphere, and, you guessed it, Soft sci-fi, which usually explores the fantastic theoretical aspects of the genre to elicit a sense of wonder in its audience. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Of course it does. The aforementioned standard is usually good enough for the average moviegoer but all it takes is about a few mouse clicks to be proven very wrong. (View’s 'Mohs Scale Of Science Fiction Hardness' article, or Kheper’s scale and you’ll get the idea on just how ridiculously complicated it all gets.)

Whether or not sci-fi’s categorization, classification, alien abduction and subsequent dissection are actually necessary, the genre is, for the most part, a matter of taste or a matter of one’s particular flavour of autistic obsession. It doesn’t change that fact that whether with producers or consumers, hard sci-fi is a genre seemingly dwindling in popularity. The films are commonly adultered with high-adrenaline action or horror elements, giving birth to the Surrogates and the Gamers (neither of which are by any means terrible movies) of the genre rather than films like Gattaca and Children of Men. Enter: Moon, directed by Duncan Jones: The story of one lunar miner’s solitary descent into madness on the eve of his return home.

As an employee of Lunar Industries, the largest provider of clean lunar energy, protagonist Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) has been contracted to remain on the lunar base Sarang for three years. His duties range from running minor tests, to mechanical repair and monitoring, to loading the shipping shuttle with the ore recovered by the automated harvesters- the type of thing that could become monotonous very quickly. Due to a failure in the company’s communications satellite, Sam has very little contact with the world below. When he does communicate, it is often in the form of video messages, varying between directives and words of corporate support from company CEO’s to words of emotional support from his wife, Tess and images of the 2 year old child he has left behind.

But it’s almost over. There are two weeks left and Sam is excited to return home and be the lover and father he always needed to be; his perspective on their relationship renewed by their separation and primarily by his isolation. Sam, however, is not in the best of health. Pale, gaunt and emotionally erratic, the three years on the surface of the moon have taken a toll on his body and mind. He hallucinates, at one time seeing a teenaged girl on the base with him and again later on the surface on the moon while doing a routine rover collection from the lunar harvester. Confused, Sam remains transfixed on her image. His attention drawn away from his driving, Sam crashes into the harvester, depressurizing the cabin and sending him into a panicked rush to switch over to life support.

Without giving away too much of the film, what follows is a virtuoso performance by Sam Rockwell, showing amazing emotional range and professional bravery, fearlessly dissociating himself in a myriad of ways. While Rockwell is, for all intents and purposes, the only actor in this film, occupying quite probably over 90% of the screen time individually (and for good reason) one hardly notices. His performance is so riveting that when other actors do appear they never approach personhood in the mind of a viewer, just devices which either fill out Sam’s persona or progress the plot.

Sam (Bell or Rockwell) is not completely alone, however. He is assisted by GERTY, the lunar base Sarang’s automated AI assistant (voiced by Kevin Spacey). GERTY, though important as a character, is less acted and more simply voiced. That being said, not nearly enough credit is given to Jones’ usage of GERTY as an emotionally relatable character. Spacey’s monotonic delivery stands in deliberate contrast to GERTY’s ability to show concern, empathy, sadness and loyalty and even solidarity.

A monitor on the front of the main console displays simple representations of the emotion GERTY may be ‘feeling’ at the time, often smilingly as it contently meanders itself across the base helping in any way it can. Jones brilliantly employs this feature in the most emotionally charged moments of the film’s progression as GERTY, often in the foreground or background (usually in wide angle to depict the emptiness of the base/set), silently emotes as Sam cannot help but take his silicon heart for granted.

Make no mistake: Moon is hard science fiction- really hard science fiction. Harder than the lunar soil the intricately modeled helium-3 harvester grinds through to provide earth with the materials for controlled nuclear fusion. Check the science, it’s actually quite plausible. But honestly, I only imagine how difficult it would be to pitch a movie like it to a distributor. “A man on the moon slowly loses his mind from loneliness…WITH A TWIST!” and yes, the movie is that… but it is also so much more! So much more than that which gives the movie its unique character while showing reverence to its influences (Kubrick’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris etc).

As a result, the set design for this movie is endearing, eschewing the modern standard of lavish and sometimes overly-ambitious amounts of CGI (yes, I am referring to Cameron’s Avatar) for the old beauty model creation (yes, I am referring to Cameron’s Aliens). The film’s realistic plot juxtaposed against the slightly internal set design and the slightly-cartoonish design of the lunar surface keeps the viewer right on the edge of suspension of disbelief, while simultaneously prompting the viewer to appreciate the reality that it is, in no uncertain terms, a film.

As far as the Academy Awards go, apparently the movie isn’t getting much backing from Sony Studios, and it’s a real shame; the critical reception was high favourable. The movie is a hidden treasure that I am certain would have received more public recognition, had it been given a larger advertising budget. Did the studio think the viewers couldn’t identify with the sci-fi themes, or did Sam Rockwell just not have enough star power to push the film on its own…or were they just concerned about turning a quick profit? I don’t know. Should you see it if given the chance? In my humble opinion, yes. To make an almost unjustifiably simplistic comparison, think of it like Tom Hanks in Castaway where instead of his plane crashing into the ocean, it veers slightly off course and crashes into the Sea of Tranquility.

But then, of course, something like that would be soft science fiction.

*Lesedi Tidd is a socialist existentialist (aka a university student) living in Trinidad.

Martin Parr @ Abovegroup

Parr: "I'm an obsessive photographer and I get my obesssion from my father who is a bird-watcher."
"I would go during the weekends when the litter was worse. I wanted to exaggerate; you're trying to create your own personal fictions in the realities in front of you."
"It's so boring that it becomes closest to the truth in years to come."
Martin Parr (centre) and Abovegroup's Gareth Jenkins (right) and Alex Smailes at studiofilmclub last night.

FIND out more about Parr hereSEE his photos at the Magnum site here. CHECK out Abovegroup here.

Town 2

Detail from 'And Evil Eyes Can't See Their Own Hell' (2008) by Sandra Brewster, in the latest issue of TOWN, which also features poems by Ian Mc Donald, Nicolette Bethel, Ken Edwards, Alex Houen, Vivek Narayanan. Btw you should CHECK out Nicolette's blog here too.

He febrezed his dog

Tanya Marie Williams explains.


***TONIGHT: 12 the band at Thamnak Thai

Sheldon Holder of 12 the band. Photo by Richard Rawlins.


People of the World! Supporters of 12 the Band,

See yourself, be yourself, free yourself.

Friday January 8 2010, 12 the Band and special musical guests Blue Emperor, Gyazette and Stop.Motion.

Venue: Tham Nak Thai Thamnak Thai (13 Queen’s Park East, Port of Spain). Ticket price $150.

12's raising funds for their upcoming performance at Rockstone and Bootheel : Contemporary Art from the West Indies, which takes place in February in Connecticut.

Get a discount on concert tickets when you purchase 12's 'Streets and Avenues' CD from the Alice Yard Shop Check out the link for more details.


I'm Not There

Screening tonight at studiofilmclub, 7pm-ish, Fernandes Industrial Estate, Laventille. Free. FIND out more about studiofilmclub here.


Guess who's coming to Show & Tell?

You really don't want to miss this. The amazing photographer

will be the featured speaker at Abovegroup's 'Show and Tell' show on Friday at 7.30pm.

 FIND out more about Parr here. VISIT this site. CHECK out Abovegroup here. Photo: Martin Parr's 'New Brighton' from The Last Resort (1985).