Published on: May 03, 2017
The 2017 UWI Art & Design show opened at the National Museum and Art Gallery in Port of Spain, Trinidad on Wednesday April 12th. We attended the opening and were truly impressed by the ideas and design thinking that went into some the final projects.
So impressed, that we couldn’t help but feel the need to not only share the works of these young designers but also get to know them a bit as well.
We now share with you the other two students whose art and design we loved, along with a quick chat with the young creators. As in the first part of this series, we learn about the design process behind their finished products and their thoughts on studying design and art at the University of the West Indies.
Design Project: Octopals
Desription: Prototype for a playful, adorable wheelchair attachment for children with Cerebral Palsy.
Student: Camille Parris
Hometown: Navet Village, Rio Claro
Alma mater: St. Joseph’s Convent San Fernando
Di: I have a cousin with Cerebral Palsy so your work was very touching. It looks like a big hug. What inspired your choice?
Camille: My baby brother has Cerebral Palsy (CP) and the challenges my parents face to get comfortable seating for him are a constant struggle. I joined the Cerebral Palsy Society of Trinidad & Tobago and was trying to figure out what was most needed for these children. I know I wanted my project to matter and noticed that it wasn’t just my family having problems finding seating for kids.
Like most other children, children with cerebral palsy love comfort and my baby brother is most comfortable when seated with someone’s arms wrapped around him; he feels safest there.
So I thought, “What has more arms than an octopus?” From there, with the knowledge and encouragement of Ms. Adele Todd, I created Octopal. The name combines OCTOpus and Cerebal PALsy to mean friendly pal.
Di: What are some of the problems you encountered designing Octopal and how did you attempt to overcome them?
Camille: The greatest problem I had was acceptance of my project because of a lack of understanding of the needs of children with cerebral palsy. So I spent time educating myself, as well as the people around me, about the plight of children with CP and their caregivers. A lot of images with the children using the Octopal were taken to show my progress and the development of my solution.
Di: How do you feel about your work and the project now that it’s revealed and receiving comments and feedback?
Camille: Accomplished! I got a lot of positive feedback and people from the Society, who didn’t see the project before, messaged me to purchase the Octopal. I’m glad that the message is being sent that these children exist and they need assistance.
Di: So, you’ve graduated. What’s next for you and Octopals?
Camille: I’m hoping to equip children with Cerebral Palsy with Octopals but I’ll need some corporate or government assistance to subsidize the cost of production so they’ll be affordable and easily accessible to children.
Di: What were your earliest thoughts when deciding to pursue the visual arts program at UWI?
Camille: After topping the Caribbean in CXC Visual Arts, I began my certificate programme at UWI in 2012 and knew my next step was the degree but I wasn’t ready to leave Trinidad and my family.
Di: How do you feel about your UWI experience now that it’s completed? What’s changed since you first started the programme?
Camille: My UWI experience was a roller coaster ride and I had a lot of ups and downs. Through it all, though, I had the full support of my lecturers who never stopped pushing me to reach my full potential.
My views on people changed: I believed in helping everyone and going that extra mile to help others excel but I learned that not everyone is willing to do the same for you.
Also, I never saw myself as a design student because I loved painting and ceramics. Those were my first loves and I always created to beautify. In my second year, my heart went into design. I was taught that fine art was about the human figure, which isn’t my fancy.
Di: What’s changed about your thoughts on design?
Camille: Well, when I began design, mainly ceramics, it was just about the beauty. But I took a class with Mr. Lee Poy and Miss Debbie Estwick and we had to solve problems, like real problems in society! I took a fancy to that and took it upon myself to design a chair that made a difference in the lives of children with cerebral palsy.
I never once thought about it until that class, which opened my mind to the idea that design doesn’t just need to be pretty: it can solve problems and make a difference in society.
This, too, is how Octopals evolved, because I wanted to keep that in mind while helping children with cerebral palsy. There is so much to be done for these children and their families!
Design has changed my whole level of thinking and I’ll use everything that I learned from my lecturers in developing further designs.
Art Project: 'Confront'
Student: Maria Diaz
Description: “My Hooded Men represents the reality that we refuse to confront. It gives a voice to the voiceless, and they demand to be heard.”
Hometown: Cazabon Avenue, Trincity
Alma mater: Bishop Anstey High School East
Di: Your work played with form, shape and balance in a way that really captured the attention of the audience. Your ghostly figures resembled hooded Muslim women, as well as scary movies. Was this intentional or purely accidental? What was the thought process and the purpose behind your installation?
Maria: The use of the pop culture, sheeted ghost figure was intentional, as I wanted the piece to be relatable to everyone. I figured by using such a universal icon, it opened the installation to even the non-artistic viewers. This was important because the social issue that my work attempted to address affects everyone in our country, so I wanted to make it as inclusive as possible. I have received comments that they bore resemblance to women of the Muslim faith wearing Burkas and, although I welcome the thought, that was not my intention.
Di: Can you tell us a bit about the making process behind your work? How difficult was it to create these hooded figures and to make them balance on their own?
Maria: The main technique featured in this installation is the use of the free-standing fabric.
I learned the technique of fabric sculpting when I participated in the international exchange programme at the University of Calgary. A homemade fabric hardening solution is used to get the fabric to stiffen hard enough to support its own weight while keeping its shape.
First, I had to construct a mannequin. The fabric was then dyed brown and dipped into the fabric hardening solution. It was then draped over the mannequin and left to dry. The folds of the fabrics give it its stability.
Because the technique of fabric sculpting isn’t widely explored in Trinidad, much less on such a large scale, a lot of trial and error went in the preliminary work. I made three different iterations of this piece before a solid resolution was found.
Other artistic techniques involved included welding, tie dying, paper sculpting and wire bending. These processes were done to make the mannequins that were used as the moulds for the fabric sculpting process.
Di: What is the main feeling or thought you’d like an observer to take away when they see your work?
Maria: The purpose behind my piece was to offer viewers a different perspective on our crime situation in Trinidad where, instead of seeing the victims as just another headline on the front page, we’ll see them as someone who once existed in this same space as us. Someone who had their own worries and fears, hopes and dreams.
I wanted the viewer to feel the absence of these victims by making their absence visible. The ambiguity of the human-like forms leaves the viewer to his/her own interpretation of who may be under the shrouds, whether it’s someone from the past, present or future, a family member or a friend.
Di: Your degree is now complete. What was the UWI Art & Design experience like for you? What would you say are your take-aways and most memorable and valuable experiences?
Maria: At first, I came into UWI with the notion that education here will never equate to the education I could have received in an international university. I was so wrong.
This experience afforded me a broader perspective on the opportunities that lie outside of Trinidad. It taught me that we are not limited under the label of “Caribbean Art.”
My UWI art experience was a unique one. In my second year at UWI, one of my colleagues, Sherlann Peters, and I participated in the international exchange programme offered between UWI and the University of Calgary. It was my first time away from home for such an extended period, so I was forced to learn how to make it on my own.
One of my most memorable artistic experiences happened while I was on the exchange programme. In our first month of classes, Sherlann and I realized that our artistic level superseded that of the other Canadian students. This was a surprise to us because we thought, being from a less developed country, we would have been struggling to keep up with the class. But at one point, Sherlann had to teach some of the students in the class how to figure sculpt because they had little to no experience in that subject matter.
Di: What’s next for Maria?
Maria: I’m contemplating starting my Master’s Degree in Art. I feel that there’s so much more I need to learn in this field, but I’m not sure if I wish to venture into a career as a full-time artist.
I know that I’ll never stop creating! Art is my life and my passion and I will continue my creations and exploring new materials to sculpt with.
Di: What were your earliest thoughts when deciding to pursue the Visual Arts program at UWI?
Maria: At first I was reluctant to pursue a Visual Arts degree in Trinidad and Tobago because I was fearful of the “starving artist” stereotype that existed.
My original intent was to pursue a degree in Game Design, as this was my dream career, but no Caribbean institution offered this degree. I had no intention of becoming a fine artist, but I couldn’t secure the funding to study abroad so I decided to make the most of my experience.
Di: How do you feel about your UWI experience now that it’s complete? What’s changed since you first started the programme?
Maria: At UWI, I learned to be independent and to grasp opportunities as they come, without letting my shyness get the better of me. UWI forces you to come out of your comfort zone and gain a level of confidence in yourself and in your practice, especially as a budding artist.
In the programme, I gained a sense of camaraderie with my fellow colleagues and lecturers and feel honoured that I got the chance to grow and blossom as an emerging artist among them.
The University of the West Indies Visual Arts Degree Show
At the National Musem & Art Gallery. Port of Spain, Trinidad.
April 12th – May 6th
There are just a few days to see the show if you haven’t yet!
Writer & Interviewer: Tanya Marie
Tanya Marie is a Designer & Brand Consultant and she is also the Founding Curator of Designer Island.
Co-Edited by: Nicole Martin & Debbie Estwick
Nicole is Creative Professional and Writer based in Trinidad and Tobago.
Debbie is a Design Strategist & Educator from Barbados, based in Trinidad and Tobago