Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Bailey Project

Artwork by Warren Leplatte

My dear friend, Warren Leplatte, has a project going on that is centered around legendary Carnival band leader, George Bailey. This piece pictured above is part of a group show stemming from The Bailey Project with several artists including Nikolai Noel (the popular one), Marlon Griffith (the jetsetter) and Kenwyn Murray (the "slacker").

Monkey Face - Nikolai Noel

Warren's project is really fantastic in that he even has the largest collection of Bailey's photos. This is just the beginning of a host of many other projects that is focused on both art and preservation of historic Carnival traditions. This show allowed emerging artists to show their/our versions of Bailey-inspired art. Our involvement is key to the continuity of the art form, be it within the Carnival industry itself or in fringe industries, visual arts, drama, dance and even music.

A touch of History

For those who don't know about George Bailey, he was a central figure to the now modern style of fantasy-based designed. His designs were intricate, tribal and quite ornate, compared to the ones previous, with more of a simplistic style.

Here's some notes from Warren's cute souvenir bookmark.

George Bailey (1935 - 1970)

  • Accredited with designing T&T's National flag.
  • Designed his first band at age 21 and won his first Band of the Year title at 22 in 1957 - Back to Africa
  • First person to win this title 4 years in a row
  • First person to take Carnival overseas (Madison Square Garden - 1969, Bermuda - 1970)
  • First president of the Carnival Bandleaders Association (CBA) in 1970

My Experience

Now I didn't know all of this since my major is Visual Arts, and I'm not much of a Carnival baby. Ah the shame. The experience itself brought up a few feelings of both inadequacy and guilt (that I am not into Carnival as I should be considering my family's involvement).

My grandfather, Manzie (Herman) Lai, was also a bandleader before the war (40's), and the first (but unrecognized) person to put brass on the road. Back then he was uninterested in fame and or fortune - little did he know it would grow into a major cultural industry. Thus he didn't preserve the photos or trophies he won for Band of the Year way back when the mas was either military or tribal themed. That sucks since I am actually now interested in everything and wish he was still here to talk to. I was too young when he died to even start to think about those things.

I don't think any of this information is available in any formal archives - only in those old men who tell amazing stories. Mom says it's Holly Betaudier and those guys who knew Grampa, who mentioned him during Carnival, commentating on tv. There are only a few of those guys left though.

During the war he was forced to stop bringing out the bands, but when Carnival celebrations resumed in the post-war era, he went on to work with Bailey, Stephen Lee Heung and Ken Morris (known for copper work).

I actually only found out he worked with Bailey after I spoke to my mother yesterday, who grew up knowing all of these older people. I thought it was just Lee Heung, so I only spoke about that part. I suppose back then the circle was small enough... this is when a large band was 35 people.

Warren talking to students

Yesterday I spoke at an artist's talk with some of the participating artists. We spoke to few secondary school art students and some interested in art. They seemed interested in the general art processes and our inspirations, so that's really encouraging. I feel so old now. Hah! I see myself back then in secondary school not knowing what I wanted to do, so I totally empathise.

Students, with a peek of Marlon Griffith's piece on left and Michael Norgriff's copper mask behind

As for my work, I ended up with a couple different designs, but the ones that were not chosen for the show will be part of another set of designs I am planning. Incidentally, the piece has been eyed and will be sold.


The Serpent Goddess of Tulac - Tracey (that's me) Chan

I am now stoked to do some sort of tribute to Grampa's contribution to Carnival, using my own style and ideas. I'm now beginning to understand the impact that history has on the future, of art and carnival in general. Thanks for the inspiration Warren, it's been fabulous!

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