Vulgar Fraction: Coalition


Port of Spain Carnival 2011, 2012

CAROLINE MAIR takes you into the alternate underbelly of Carnival with Robert Young and Lupe Leonard unveiling their Vulgar Fraction Coalition. 

Photographs by Arnaldo James

“A coalition as fragile as a paper doily,” says Robert Young. “It needs to treated well so that no tugging it will rip apart.” Given his profession of one of Trinidad’s top designers, Young is a man who knows a thing or two about the integrity of fabric. It is art as social commentary in its finest, succinct and pithy and resonant even without words.

Vulgar Fraction, the independent Mas’ band led by designer Robert Young of The Cloth, launched its Carnival 2011 presentation, Coalition, at Alice Yard on Tuesday 25 January. Coalition is a collaboration between Young and designer Lupe Leonard, a graduate of the prestigious Design School at Parsons. Leonard has been producing children’s Mas’ for approximately five years, while Young has maintained an almost fifteen-year presence “on the road” for Carnival.

The designers explain their concept: “Coalition represents a pact or treaty among individuals or groups, within which they co-operate in joint action. While each individual serves his own interest at times, they have all come together for a common cause. However, since the alliance may have been formed as a matter of convenience, it may last only temporarily. A coalition thus differs from a more formal covenant. It is possibly described as a joining of ‘factions’, usually those with overlapping interests rather than opposing.”

The Alice Yard launch included music by 3canal, Moyenne, and North West Laventille Cultural Movement. Tillah the Sound Boi Killer kept it authentic to the spirit of Jouvert, with Shadow and pan tunes through the evening. No ‘jump and wave’ here. No bikinis or beads. This was dutty ‘mas, welcoming in the nocturnal, more underground element of Carnival, just as the tempo of fetes and all-inclusives started to build and heat up in tandem around the country.

The costumes were unnerving, almost haunting – rags and lace and long folds of cloth sewn together. Eyes peering through lace masks covering faces.

“I love that the faces were covered,” says Tillah. “The doily motif was interesting. And the mask being all about coalition, representing the fragility – very interesting. The event itself was small, but it was a good vibe. It’s really good to see events in Alice Yard continuing. It’s an important space for artists. An artist community, almost.”

And where better to hold such an event than in an artistic communal space? Young is emphatic in his passion to involve the community in the artistic process of creating ‘mas. Vulgar Fraction will provide potential masqueraders with a variety of design components they can use to decorate their costumes themselves — a practice similar to elements of the sailor mas tradition.

 “Vulgar Fraction has consistently advocated a return to true creativity, art and design for masqueraders,” says Young. “But the process becomes even more interesting when each person gets involved in designing and building part of their own costume themselves.”

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