Sunday, February 12, 2006

So I spent the afternoon working on the production of a massive performance art project--which is to say, I spent the afternoon down at the Callaloo Company mas camp in Chaguaramas, snipping sheets of galvanised zinc into little rectangles that will eventually become studs for the chaps for Minshall's Sacred Heart costumes. I have blisters on two fingers and the thumb of my right hand, from the heavy metal shears--see, I too have suffered for the sake of art.

sacred heart mas camp

Galvanised zinc and red ribbon at the Callaloo Company mas camp, Chaguaramas

I pull up at the mas camp--housed in a World War Two-era aircraft hanger that used to be part of the US military base in Chaguaramas--around half past one, in a drizzle so gentle all it does is cool the air. Two weeks till Carnival weekend, and nine hundred costumes (plus a king and queen) to build--I expect to find barely contained chaos, but instead everyone is relaxed, not a furrowed brow in sight.

Costume prototypes lie around on tables or hang from rails; Minshall's sketches are pinned up on a long noticeboard, with scribbled notes, photos, swatches of ribbon. At a long row of worktables, people are cutting and measuring and sanding and driving rivets. A tame parrot creeps across the floor and climbs the lower rungs of a ladder. From the backyard come the sounds of welding and pounding.

I explain I'm here to volunteer. Someone hands me a pair of shears and points me to a rough wooden stool. The metal sheets are marked off into strips about two inches wide; as soon as I get the hang of the shears, I'm snipping away at assembly-line rate, and as blisters form I wrap my fingers with layers of masking tape.

On the one hand, it's drudge work--tonight my back will ache, and I'll be lucky to get through the afternoon without drawing any of my own blood. On the other, it's calming simply to attend to my task, concentrating on metal and blade, trusting that this is an essential part of a greater whole. And near the back of my head, this thought: snip by snip, I'm entering capital-H History.

I've brought a thermos of green tea, and after a couple of hours I stop for a biscuit break. I wander around a table where four or five women are cutting lengths of ribbon and trimming the edges of small metal discs. I try on the prototype helmet--a sort of metal cone with a padded "doughnut" inside, a black foam-rubber neck-guard, and dangling red ribbon "dreadlocks". I ask myself if I'll really be able to parade through Port of Spain for a whole day with this thing wedged on my head, but I already know I will. We all will. A--- walks over and I get her to try on the helmet. Not such an easy fit, it turns out, for someone with a real head of dreads. Two tech people come over, fiddle with the "doughnut" and the cloth straps that hold the whole thing together. Poor A--- is now their manikin as they debate whether to make the straps longer, or adjust the position of the velcro tab.

Back to my table. I haven't kept count, but I've cut--what, six hundred of these little sharp-edged rectangles of zinc? I finally find out what section they're for: the Rainbow Heart.

Maybe next time I come, they'll let me tie ribbons instead.

Say what:

1 comment:

Mad Bull said...

Sounds like you're really into it. I would wear the costume but I dunno about this metal work business...