Sunday, June 20, 2010

Nothing But Skullduggery: By Dalton Narine

One of Sanchez Aria Mas Band designs.
Everything in photography comes down to one word. Vision. And, if photography means the relative difference between light and dark areas of a print or negative, how do things look in this picture? Sonya Sanchez Arias. Mas Band designer. Skullduggery. Artisans in Port of Spain and Florida who are aware of her work won’t fret at all. Sanchez Arias’ profession could be construed as designer with a camera, but the Trinidadian-born Florida resident’s trademarked logo is really that of an illustrious artist, period. Sanchez Arias’ advantage is capturing the weight of the moment, and nowhere in time has the freshest breath of air surfaced until now. This very instant.
For years, Carnival through her lens has been a one-note beat in the Land of Calypso. And a tone sustained can be screechy to the senses, particularly vision. Sanchez Arias is all about imagery, for sure. She says there’s not enough innovation in the mas.“Everything looks exactly the same year after year. Brian Mac Farlane is the only one designing costumes with lots of cloth. But it’s not enough. There should be more variety. Masqueraders should have more choice.” But, Sanchez Arias no longer needs to vent. Last summer, Peter Samuel, the King player who won the national title eight times, reached her by phone about the potential in her work, vis-à-vis the “incredible” paper dresses she had designed for a Florida company. His curiosity piqued, he wondered if she was up to the task of designing a mas band, though he was well aware that her mother Judith (Miss Judy) Sanchez had played a pivotal role at the Callaloo Company’s mas camp, working on a costume for his queen, for example, or producing elements of various sections in his bands.
Judy Sanchez
According to Sanchez Arias, “Peter Minshall really valued my mother’s opinion and sense of design.” So, Sanchez Arias recalls jumping at Samuel’s offer “without hesitation.” Miss Judy – everybody used the moniker for her creative mom, who passed away several years ago – would be proud, she mused. Particularly about the strange passing of the genes. Suddenly, the baton was in Sanchez Arias’ hand, but, with 2011 Carnival around the corner, the competition had a head start. Husband Fernando, himself a photographer,will tell you, though, pressure is no stranger to both him and his wife. Remember the genes? Miss Judy conceived her daughter in Spain, where she had met her husband, Baltazar Sanchez, an ultimate sportsman who not only fought in the bullring but also on the court at Wimbledon. Sanchez Arias is the third of four children. Both an older sister, Lydia, and her brother, Saro who died at age 14, were born in Spain, where Miss Judy thrilled audiences with her flamenco dances. In August 1964, the budding family relocated to Trinidad, where Sanchez Arias and her younger brother Jose were born. Baltazar adapted to his new country and fell in as a tennis coach. Meanwhile, Miss Judy crafted bridal headpieces and wedding decorations. Mas would come into focus a few years         down the road. 
Sanchez Arias’ earliest memory of mas places her as a toddler behind a gate on Western Main Road opposite the St James Police Barracks, gaping at the traditional Carnival characters that roamed the neighborhood in the early morning before they set out for the city. That baptism led to her playing mas as early as six years old in Kiddies Carnival competitions around the country, including the Southland. The progression took her through Jouvert . Much later, after graduating with honors in photography from Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, Miss Judy’s daughter repurposed her creativity, albeit briefly, as a Minshall mas player.
And now, she’s the one working her fingers to the bone, a novice mas woman designing a band by following the fashion of skulduggery in her homeland. Her own idea being transformed into what many Trinbagonians may consider as a vernacular, but indeed one that finds meaning in Webster’s: Skulduggery—unfair and dishonest practices carried out in a secretive way in order to trick other people; devious or mischievous activity; verbal misrepresentation intended to take advantage of you in some way. Or, as Don King, the flamboyant boxing promoter—who ruled in the Muhammad Ali era—used to say, “trickerations.”
“It’s a universal fact that people are enthralled by skulls and skeletons,” says Sanchez Arias from her office she calls the bone yard. “And I married that to the underhanded nonsense going on in Trinidad and Tobago. Bribery, trickery, dishonesty, slyness, deceit. All de bobol, comesse and grease han’ skulduggery.” Such qualities of—as they say on the block—skull, play out in all of her sections, so they could “trickerate” spectators, Sanchez Arias warns. “I injected a humorous slant,” she says. “Mas is about that, too. Like mockery in the Kaiso Tent and ole mas. Trinidadians are accustomed to using humour to express themselves creatively. “When I read the definition, I said, ‘We have so much of that here in T&T, so many possibilities to interpret skulduggery practices into local parlance.’ “So, with certain sections, I’m very literal.”
To the bone, naturally. And far be it from Sanchez Arias to varnish quotations on her Web site. Her favourite flows e flows from photographer Ansel Adams: We must remember that a photograph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full possibilities of the medium. We must remember that a photograph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full possibilities of the medium. “I believe this to be true of Carnival, too,” she says. No wonder Sonya Sanchez Arias’ business is about transparencies. Look into it at the July 4 launch of the band. “Skullduggery.” Though the band spells the word differently, it says mockingly, ‘We’re not hard to find at all.’
DALTON NARINE Published: 20 Jun 2010

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