Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 30th 2014 Contents B3
takes giant step
into mas ---Page B46
There was a time when designer and mas-
man Peter Minshall had only two dogs: Eliz-
abeth Taylor and Michael Norman Manley.
But he encouraged them to enjoy themselves,
and "they enjoyed themselves all over the
house and the yard, and in front of guests
when they were drinking tea."
Such enjoyment resulted in the night Eliz-
abeth Taylor, a white dog with a look of
Labrador about her, gave birth to ten jet-black
puppies on the landing outside Minshall s
"In that moment, I realised: one little black
dog is just another little black dog, but ten
little black dogs is a more beautiful, interactive
work of art than the Mona Lisa!"
He calls them his children. There are only
eight of them now, but they fill the yard of
their home, which they share with their parents
(two canine; one human), with an exuberant
kinesis of barking and play and joy.
Minshall, who has just completed a late-
afternoon shave in the open air, leaves the
yard to give his first interview since the band
he designed, Miss Miles---A Band on Corrup-
tion, was presented at Carnival 2014. But first
he must negotiate with Mr Mauvais, a ginger
tom with hazel-green eyes, sitting on the stool
at the kitchen counter Minshall would like to
claim for himself.
Gentle words are deployed, persuading Mr
Mauvais to exchange his perch for a fruit bowl
on the counter, where he lounges and listens
with feline solemnity.
One can see echoes of Miss Miles---a small
band with every member identically dressed
in black---in the sable children of the yard.
One black-clad mas player is just another
black-clad mas player, but four dozen of them
is a statement. It is a statement Minshall
regrets was not made on Carnival Tuesday,
in the full context of the Band of the Year
Minshall loves a sailor band---it is a mas
form he regards as entirely original to Trinidad
Carnival---and he does not begrudge All Stars
its title for Carnival 2014.
Still, as he maintained in an e-mail to Tony
Hall, co-producer of the band Minshall
designed this year, if the white masks and
black costumes of Miss Miles had marched
to the Savannah on Tuesday afternoon, crossed
the stage with their banners and placards held
high, each individual step amplified by the
identically-uniformed steps of the rest of the
band, "WE WOULD HAVE EAT DEM UP!"
This is not a critique of All Stars. It is Min-
shall s way of describing the power and effect
of mas as an original art form. And he knows,
as few others do, the impact mas can have
when it is done right.
It is the impact once described to Minshall
by an admirer of his work as "a statement as
lasting as the pyramids." It is the impact Alyson
Brown described to him after a day of playing
Tan Tan on the streets of Kingston for Jamaica s
"Minsh, rub my shoulders, they are so tired,"
he recalls her saying. Minshall was concerned.
"A modern king or queen costume is designed
for someone to carry it for five or ten minutes,
then rest," he says. He asked her why she was
so exhausted, why she hadn t stopped for rest.
"I couldn t," he remembers Brown saying.
"Everywhere I looked, all I could see were the
"Now tell me," asks Minshall, "Can you
achieve that with a painting in an art gallery?"
Few who saw Tan Tan will ever forget her.
The face of Miss Miles in 2014 is also powerful.
Minshall recalls labouring with terror over
the mask for Miss Miles. His first effort to
make the face which would define the mas
and the band "came back looking like Hulk."
Working quickly, Minshall adjusted the lines
of the face in clay---refining Miss Miles fea-
tures, making her superlative, but not slapstick.
He sent the new mask out to be turned into
plastic, "and they sent it back to me painted
white---I had to become the make-up artist."
Knowing the first mask was the only one
he would make himself, knowing he was cre-
ating a template for others (working under
greater time constraints than himself) to follow,
knowing this one had to be perfect because
only perfection could withstand the inevitable
errors that creep into a harried mas-camp
production line, he set to work.
"I made mistakes. I ran inside, got white
paint to cover my mistakes, worked on the
line of the eyebrows."
He mimes trembling hands and nervous
glances at the sky, "Oh Lord... Lady looking
from heaven, this is your eyebrow---and I m
sending you out on the road."
All in the service of one objective: getting
it right. When the moment arrived that he
looked at his creation and did not feel the
urge to run back into the house for more white
paint, Minshall felt a thrill of nervous energy:
"Miss Miles... you re real."
His voice is barely a whisper at the memory.
It is the same whisper he used to describe
witnessing the puppies squeaking into life on
his landing: "I had never been that close to
Mas, like the frenetic swirl of love and noise
that greets Minshall every time he enters his
yard, is powered by life.
When Minshall looks at pictures of Miss
Miles on the road and sees a headband out
of place or a costume too hastily assembled,
he is angered by the opportunity missed to
affect people the way he knows mas can: "You
only have one shot!"
There may be no repeat performance, but
it is a mistake to call mas ephemeral. A state-
ment remains until it is retracted or super-
Minshall leaves the room to change into a
lighter-weight shirt. Mauvais raises his head
to interrogate the space his companion has
vacated: is he coming back?
Minsh meditates on mas,
moment, I realised:
one little black dog is
just another little
black dog, but ten
little black dogs is a
interactive work of art
than the Mona Lisa!"
Peter Minshall at his Port-of-Spain
home in a post-Carnival interview.
PHOTO: ANU LAKHAN
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