Explore Peter Minshall's mind in the Land of the Hummingbird

Elijah "Tungie" Beckles - long-time associate of Minshall and the Callaloo Company - making display tables for the exhibition in his workshop - Photo courtesy Kathryn Chan

Would you like the opportunity to walk through the mind of celebrated masman Peter Minshall in 1974 as he was designing and creating his legendary mas costume the Land of the Hummingbird?

The upcoming exhibition, From the Land of the Hummingbird, at Castle Killarney, Maraval Road, gives viewers that opportunity through archival material, videos, and artefacts.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the costume presentation. In 1974, Minshall, then living primarily in London, was asked to devise a costume for his adopted sister, Sherry-Ann Guy, and he produced, with the help of a team, the now-iconic Land of the Hummingbird.

In the 50 years since, Minshall has built a career as an artist whose work has been seen on some of the world’s biggest stages: three Olympics, two World Cups (one cricket, one football), collaborating with Jean-Michel Jarre on two of the largest open-air concerts in recorded history, and contributions to Carnival in Trinidad that stretch from the 1970s to the present day.

Peter Minshall - File photo by Ayanna Kinsale

Co-curators of the exhibit, photographer Kathryn Chan and communications professional Austin Fido, both long-time collaborators with Minshall, said the centre point of the exhibition will be the original working drawings produced by Minshall, who at the time was a professional theatre designer.

Chan said she began visualising the exhibition in 2006, and dusted the plans off last year.

“I’ve always wanted to show that when Minshall draws he doesn’t do only one drawing to understand what a costume will end up looking like. He’s studying every aspect of the human body, movement, how to construct something that can extend energy from the human body out, so his drawings are much more than static images. We have been privileged to be around him and to see those drawings, and we want to share that with other people because it’s something that’s been in a file for years and nobody has seen.”

She said the exhibition would be a chance to enter the space of Minshall’s art from a different point.

“Most of the time the public sees Minshall when it’s a finished costume on a body on the streets of Port of Spain, and it’s not everyone who would have had the opportunity to be in his studio, or be in his workshop, to review his choreography with him, and things like that, so it would be an opportunity for people to get a glimpse of them from a different perspective.”

Fido said the drawings are an integral part of the artist’s process, and the exhibition will include material from Minshall’s archives.

Curator Kathryn Chan and the team at Francis Lau Construction discuss the fabrication of a custom-built module, designed to house Peter Minshall's drawings for the Land of the Hummingbird exhibition.
- Photo courtesy Colin Gill

“Because Kathryn is such a long-time collaborator of Minshall, she has an understanding of the way he works, and he’s allowed us to use parts of his archives. We will have artefacts and documents in addition to the drawings that speak to the way Minshall works, the way his process works, his influences, references, inspirations, all of that will be presented in part in the exhibition, and of course what those drawings turned into, this costume from the Land of the Hummingbird and its counterpart the Little Carib, which really took over Carnival 1974.”

He said the exhibition will show how people reacted to the costumes in 1974 and how they were created.

“We can show viewers the memories and the thoughts of those who worked with Minshall, aspects of how the costume was created, and some of the supplementary material to go along with it. We spoke to people who remembered seeing the costume, to really paint a picture of why the costume was celebrated. It’s about a set of drawings, and from that the artist who created those drawings, and it’s about what was created, and the people who, in additional to Minshall, that put their work and creativity into getting that creation off the ground.

“And then the Hummingbird herself, just the simple beauty of the costume and the performance by Sherry-Ann Guy, she captivated people, and that’s something I really hope we can get across in the process of presenting the exhibition. If you’re fortunate enough to talk directly to people who remember it, that’s what’s impressed itself on me, they REMEMBER it, in capital letters.”

Peter Minishall with his adopted sister, Sherry-Ann Guy, as she portrays the Land of the Hummingbird. - Photo courtesy the National Carnival Commission

Fido said the costume was one that had an impact from the perspective of Minshall’s life and career.

“It’s an interesting place to study Minshall from, because he’s not the man he is now. In 1974 he didn’t particularly think he was going to be a professional full-time masman, that wasn’t really his career plan, but all of that makes it quite interesting.”

Chan said in her opinion the costumes had an outsized influence on children’s and adult costumes in years following.

“I mean people know Minshall for wings, and that was the first time wings became so (popular). After the Hummingbird there were lots of wings in Carnival, let’s put it that way. They were there before in traditional Carnival mas and bats, but after that many people then explored ways of having wings in mas.

“One person I was speaking to in the process of building this exhibition said he made such an impact, because before Minshall there was a lot of historical mas, and while I wouldn’t put my head on a block for it, this is the moment where designers began looking at nature. We studied the hummingbird and how things from nature were made.”

The co-curators said the exhibition will also emphasise the importance of documentation and archiving. Members of the public will be able to bring their artefacts and memories to be documented.

Fido said archives in general are extremely important resources for the nation.

Curator Kathryn Chan working with the team at Francis Lau Construction on a structure to be installed at the Land of the Hummingbird exhibition. - Photo courtesy Colin Gill

“We want to underscore the importance of documentation, of archiving, of saving things, to help us in understanding the past, and there will be a whole section of this exhibition dedicated to inviting people to come in with their own memories, their own artefacts and have them documented. We’ll announce how that’s going to happen in a little while.”

Chan added, “The entire exhibition is not just a display, but it will be a living space where people can come in and have conversations with us and we can record stories, we can record them, we can digitise their work. We can show the process and some aspects of the making of an exhibition of this nature, because it involves so many people.”

Fido said he hoped others would be inspired to mount similar exhibitions. He said currently there were no plans for further events this year, but this was subject to change.

The exhibition is presented by Baachacs Collective in association with the Minshall Mas Foundation and will run from January 23 to March 9.

For more info: visit https://www.baachacscollective.org/special-exhibition.


"Explore Peter Minshall’s mind in the Land of the Hummingbird"

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