Photo: cropped film still from Tara Wyllie's Adeola Dewis Re-presenting Ourselves - Assembly Creatives
I was invited to be part of an Assembly. Assemblies are creative, interactive forums that are based on engaging with the ways in which the arts can be used within the community to highlight/address real issues. This Assembly was about connecting with Cardiff-based Caribbean elders who have specific links to the Butetown community. The aim was to use the arts to encourage these elders to remember and begin to talk about different aspects of their life and experiences in Wales. As a group we sang, recited poetry and prose, danced and enacted scenes in order to invoke memories. We ended up with an evening that was full of conversation and sharing. My specific contribution was called Making Something out of Nothing. I consider myself to be a relatively recent immigrant having lived in Cardiff for 11 years and as a result, I was interested in the ways in which my experiences could potentially connect and be relevant to others within this diasporic space that is the UK. It is relatively easy to make blanket statements about groups of people, which is often the case when addressing Caribbean presence in the UK. The more I speak and engage with groups within the community, the more I come to realize that these groups are not homogenous. Yet, without intending to contradict myself, there are several aspects of home experiences that sometimes become significant when transposed to new spaces, such as the importance of being able to cook our traditional food, preservation of accents and indulging in certain cultural manifestations of our heritage – reminiscing through festival music, hymns and social commentary.
When I think of home, I think mainly of family and Carnival among other aspects like food and social sites. The specific traits that epitomize many of the Caribbean spaces that I have encountered include a sense of resilience and agency. I am thinking specifically of the art manifested in places like Haiti and Cuba and how the notion of a Caribbean identity has been forged throughout the region by disparate peoples. Trinidad Carnival is a unique combination of ritual and spectacle, free abandon and an activity concerned with serious social visibility. The Carnival is a creative space within which modes of self-empowerment can be accessed through masking and performance. Historically performances such as these permitted a re-presentation of self. This capacity for re-presentation and re-invention within new places and the ability to make a space within a place are in my view, key considerations of a Caribbean diasporic identity.
I chose to work with a traditional Carnival character called Dame Lorraine. The Dame Lorraine comes from a Trinidad Carnival masking form that involves exaggerated body features. A male or female masquerader can play the Dame Lorraine and this character can have both exaggerated breasts and derriere. The first part of my performance entailed transforming into this character using old clothes, a pillow, stockings, talcum powder and a small blanket. The idea was about making a character out of scraps – something out of nothing. The second part of the performance involved repeating a single movement for a length of time in an effort to access a more transitory state of performance that can potentially connect to an altered state of consciousness, as another method of transformation and form of re-presenting self.
Temporary transformations via mask and/or performance and the making of these spaces for transformation and re-invention articulate some of the ways in which Caribbean people coped in the diaspora. We play within our multiple identities, acting through the self that needs to be dominant within a specific place. In doing so, we maneuver between home and here, making out of our bits and pieces, something, somewhere, someone resilient.