‘Hummingbird’ Flies Again – 50 Years After Landmark Minshall Carnival Presentation

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By Kimberly Wallace

From the legendary mas man who famously said, “Mas only happens with the permission of the people”; this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition, which will run until March 9, is intended to reach as many people as possible.

Visitors have an opportunity to travel back in time and feast their eyes on images and archival videos of the Carnival presentation which stunned audiences, won prizes and hearts, impacted Carnival and the way mas was produced, and catapulted Minshall and his career into the spotlight.

The exhibition’s curator, Kathryn Chan, said the show is on par with other international contempo­rary art shows; in the days prior to its opening on January 23, the team at Baachacs Collective, along with the Minshall Mas Foundation, worked feverishly on finalising details for the production of the show. Lighting, graphic designs and furniture that was specifically designed for the exhibition were installed.

The process of doing the exhibition has been a whole piece of work in itself, in terms of interacting with people, sourcing stories and building the show, with a lot of Trinidadian talent who have demonstrated wonderful ways of approaching work and resolving little creative problems that have come up. It’s been really fun, we’ve been carried—somehow—by the universe that’s just dropping things on our lap,” said Chan, who has been working as assistant designer to Minshall since 1987.

The visual artist had been contemplating staging an exhibition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “From the Land of the Hummingbird” for quite some time. At the core of the exhibition is a presentation of Minshall’s drawings—65 in total. Chan found it fascinating that Minshall studied the human body and the nature of the hummingbird and did the drawings, which were then translated into works of art.

To truly understand the signifi­cance of “From the Land of the Hummingbird”, one needs to have context; on display at the exhibition are artefacts, articles, information about Minshall, about mas and about Sherry-Ann Guy, who played the mas.

The exhibition communicates the backstory of “From the Land of the Humming­bird” said co-curator Austin Fido. It’s essentially a story of a family: Minshall’s mother asked him to create a costume for his 13-year-old sister (Guy). Minshall, who was in his early 30s at the time, went all out, working with his team to create something that had never been seen on the big stage up until that moment.

Guy was ecstatic with the final result and excelled in the presentation, which was received with rapturous applause and enjoyed enormous success. She was crowned Junior Carnival Queen and named Female Individual of the Year.

“Then there is another thread—which is the role that experience played in Minshall’s career and life,” added Fido. “In 1974, he was a theatre designer who occasionally made mas. We know who he is now and what he has done since, but none of that was really in his head at the time. He assumed he would carry on working in the theatre in London, and if things worked out for him, maybe he would go to Hollywood.

A celebration of Minshall

Minshall’s “From the Land of the Hummingbird” Carnival presen­tation took five weeks, 12 people and 104 feathers—each one made of 150 different pieces of fabric, and was the start of an era for Minshall and those working with him.

While it is true that the way many bands operate today is vastly different, the meticulous skills and methods employed by Minshall and his team are still being used; there are still costumes that require close collaboration between experts to fulfil the designers’ vision, said Fido.

The venue chosen to host the exhibition, Castle Killarney, did not come by chance. Heritage site manager at Castle Killarney Domi­n­ique Inniss collaborated with Minshall on the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and understands what it’s like to work with the national icon.

Minshall’s team thought Castle Killarney’s location was also appro­priate in relation to the events that took place in 1974. In the ’70s there were houses around the Queen’s Park Savannah in which dining room tables were being used to make the feathers for the costume; at the LJ Williams’ family house, the costumes were put together, placed on a truck and taken to the Grand Stand, which is across the road from Castle Killarney.

“Having the exhibition at Castle Killarney is an homage to Queen’s Park Savannah, the heart of our city, 50 years later,” said Chan.

“From the Land of the Hummingbird” spread joy when it took to the stage in 1974 and through the process of the exhibition, it’s spreading joy again, she said. There is a tremendous interest in the exhibition, which is already being described as “a worthwhile contribution to the cultural landscape”.

“It’s very important to honour and recognise the achievements of people while they’re still here to receive it,” added Fido. “Minshall is still very much alive; he is very aware of the show which is about him, but not by him, which gives us license to talk about Minshall in ways he wouldn’t be inclined to talk about himself. It’s a celebration of Minshall, and this is an opportunity to bring people together, have a better understanding of Minshall and the art form which he practi­ses.”

The exhibition is only possible because of the sheer wit of all the people who spent a lot of time and energy over the past couple of months to see it become a reality, said Chan.

“People can show their support by coming to the show; we want people to come to see the drawings, the archival material and the stories,” added Chan, who is also inviting people to bring their stories, personal pictures and information related to Minshall, which will be documented for the sake of building the Minshall Mas collection.

The 50th anniversary of Peter Minshall’s 1974 Carnival presentation, “From the Land of the Hummingbird”, at Castle Killarney, will run until March 9. Admission is free. Large groups are advised to make bookings. Opening hours are Tuesday-Friday (9 a.m.-5 p.m.) and Saturdays (10 a.m.-2 p.m.)

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