CARIFESTA XII Cultural Market lacked Caribbean verve

Guyanese food products displayed as part of the Culinary exposition (Photo by the Department of Culture, Youth and Sport)

Grand as in big but certainly not for grandeur, the CARIFESTA XII Grand Market in Port-au-Prince was not a disappointment but rather a sober display, not enough to be remembered or reminisced for its lack of that Caribbean unity and festival vibe. It was simply a place to view the pieces of items on display from various countries, and while this may be ideal to some people’s interpretation of a big market with some items on display, for the Caribbean Festival of Arts, August 21-30 in Haiti, it should have been more.

Champs de Mars, the venue was an open arena – similar to the Sophia Exhibition centre but with fountains, monuments to past Haitian revolutionary leaders and artworks with unique Haitian style.

There are no doubts this impoverished nation of ten million, still rebuilding after a devastating 2010 earthquake has done an exceedingly good job in infrastructural development, human resourcing for security and logistical management, and displaying their fascinating culture and arts in every area, however the Grand Market and its style and purpose differed in Haiti than it did in Suriname two years ago. It appeared without enthusiasm and energy, except for the cultural concerts, fashion shows and demonstrations performed by the participating countries of CARIFESTA.

In Suriname there were crowds all cheery and energetic: the Culinary Arts section exploded with smells, laughter and smiles – the taste of the Caribbean was in the air; the craft and fashion booths were in close proximity- Antiguans spoke to Guyanese and Trinidadians engaged with the Bahamians; the literary arena had story-telling, and was engaging – it fostered the spirit of the Caribbean. The culture and arts were carefully woven together in the previous CARIFESTA however, in Haiti this feeling was absent.

It is safe to say from reviews and a few days of observation the Grand Market is one of the aspects, though a brilliant one, that needs to be strengthened. Nevertheless, the regional arts festival is on a path from cultural showcase to making it a cultural showcase with the probabilities of economic benefits and viability. Initially, ‘The Grand Cultural Market’ as typified in Haiti, was designed to exchange crafts, arts, culture, skills it however seemed to have transitioned into a party with a market at the corner.

Caribbean Arts enthusiast and CARIFESTA organiser Al Creighton explained during an interview, CARIFESTA XII’s Grand Market served its purpose as a central place where all craft, art forms and cultures are displayed, with entertainment and performances. It is a place where craft and food is sold or exchanged, and usually a place of exhibition which also serves a commercial purpose.

Although a particular flare and spirit was missing at the Grand Market, it substituted as a space for the Haitian public to meet and mingle with others from around the Caribbean. Perhaps, this is what made this CARIFESTA so different, as the Culture Minister Dithny Joan Raton pointed out at the Opening Ceremony “This CARIFESTA is for Haiti.” For the most part, the Festival of Arts lacked the Caribbean union present in previous CARIFESTA celebrations and the Grand Market was the only place where all artistes, regardless of art or purpose met. In its entirety, Haiti strove and was successful in showing her Caribbean sister-states that she too is Caribbean in sports, arts, culture and heritage – but in so doing, the FESTA somehow was missing the CARI vibe.

Guyana displays at the CARIFESTA XII Grand Market

Guyana displayed pieces in various art forms: Literary, Culinary, Fashion and Craft.

Literary Arts

The University of Guyana brought literature collections which featured the Guyana Prize for Literature over the years in the Prizes’ five categories: Poetry, Drama, Fiction, First Book of Fiction, and the First Book of Poetry.

All winning works were brought to CARIFESTA XII in addition to the Guyana Classics, published by the Caribbean Press as well as other pieces of literature from the National Library.

The exhibition space was not sufficient for the Guyana literary contingent to display all the items they brought.

Three literary artists were in Port-au-Prince: Ruel Johnson who won the 2012 Best Book of Fiction Award for his collection of fiction; Mosa Telford, winner of the 2012 Prize for Literature in Drama for her play Sauda was featured on the stage of the Triomphe Theatre; and Gentian Miller.

Miller had two of her pieces in the literary exhibition. The first being ‘Roots, Roads and Rivers’ which is a book of poetry describing the experiences of living in Linden environs all the way through to Georgetown, and Berbice in Guyana. She described it as a book that establishes a connection of landscapes and spirituality.

Her other piece, ‘Bone-flute Music’ is a submission to the Guyana Prize for Literature, the book of poetry speaks of an abused woman and her journey as she was left to find healing through a combination of music and poetry. The book captures the experiences of women who did not get the opportunities to tell their stories.

All pieces were for display and not for sale.

Culinary Arts

Eight persons in total represented Guyana at CARIFESTA; six from the Carnegie School of Home Economics and two from the Guyana Association of Home Economists.

The food items were also brought from Guyana, to prepare traditional Guyanese foods such as black cake, matai, fudge, guava cheese, and plantain chips. Pepper-pot, curry and roti, saltfish and bake were also prepared in Haiti from ingredients brought from Guyana.

In addition, also on display were products from the Beharry Group of Companies such as pastas from its Champion line, sweets, curry and baking powders. The sweets were a favourite for the Haitian crowds many of whom identified the variety of tropical flavours and expressed their satisfaction.

Speaking with Stabroek News, head of the Culinary contingent and Principal of the Carnegie School of Home Economics Penelope Harris said the response was good at the Grand Market and she found that many of the ingredients used in Guyana are also used in Haiti so the preparations, though slightly different, served as a common attribute to unite the nations. She also noted, there was a common fascination derived from each other’s methods of food preparations.

The Haitians were mostly interested in tasting, not buying, Harris explained. Sales were below expectations but for the culinary artists the main focus was to show Guyanese food culture and have an exchange. There were also demonstrations on how to prepare Paratha Roti and Dhall Puri.

Samples of Beef curry and puri with mango sour were shared.

“We were hoping that there would be a business interest, we didn’t [have] any expressions of such”, Harris mentioned. She believed it was as a result of the cultural differences and of the Haitians not being aware of Guyanese foods. Given that, Harris said, the Haitian audience were unwilling to both try, and buy the foods, and only a few wanted them as samples and bought those for token prices.

Initially, CARIFESTA XII had scheduled a Rum Festival where participating states were requested to bring with them some of their best spirits, though the festival did not happen Guyana still displayed its finest alcoholic beverages with the Fashion and Culinary exhibitions.

Guyana had some of the best reviews in the display of alcoholic beverages display which featured the Banks DIH XM family of rums and the Demerara Distillers Limited El Dorado brand of rums. Each company had separate displays.

The taste and samples of Guyana’s rum were positively received; the Haitian Minister of Tourism, Stephanie Balmir Villedrouin along with other government ministers and the Haitian public loved the Guyanese taste, some even likened the spirits to Barbancourt, considered the best rum in Haiti.

There was quite a liking to DDL’s 15 Year Old Rum and the Banks collection also had a crowd to it. The miniature exposition of the Guyanese rum product proved successful as there was not a drop left at the end of the day.

Guyana showed though its rum display that the Caribbean internal market can be effectively utilised instead of importing rums and spirits from outside the region; a market can be had from each other and business relationships fostered through similar festivals.

Fashion

Four Fashion Designers had their work featured on the stages and booths at the Festival of Arts: Andrea Brathwaite, Patricia Coates, Keisha Edwards and Carol Fraser (although Carol specialises in Craft.)

Brathwaite noted although the crowd was pleased with the items they saw, purchasing was minuscule due to economic issues. She was still hopeful the weekend would bring a better turn out and higher sales. However, the designer noted they were not there mainly to sell but showcase Guyana’s fashion.

The fashion shows produced, a “very good response” she said, “The people were surprised by the quality of fashion and the level of fashion we have in Guyana.”

Brathwaite showcased her pieces of hand painted; unique garments mostly for women but a few items were there for men. Haiti has its own style she said but Guyana stood out and based on the reception received from the show, our style that was displayed was a hit!

She mentioned that the designers were looking forward to success but not only in their showcases in Haiti, but for fostering relationships between Guyana Fashion Designing Council and the Haitian counterparts.

The Guyana Fashion Council, only about a year old, has an aim to represent the fashion designers of the country, develop the fashion industry and play a pivotal role in the production of garments, President of the Council Pat Coates noted.

Coates’ designs were loose and colourful, unique to her style and taste. The Haitians took a liking to the simplicity yet eloquence to the mature pieces for women.

The designers had discussions with their Haitian counterparts. “They (the Haitians) are way ahead in terms of organisation of their fashion industry,” Brathwaite noted, “We can learn a lot from them.”

Keisha Edwards sported her clothing lines ‘Rebirth’ and collections from her old lines, mixtures of bridal, shade and formal wears.

Rebirth, which was showcased with much pomp and style was based on the designer’s interpretation of the modern Afro-Caribbean woman. It used flashes of bold colours and lines in silk and smooth designs and patterns across a distinctive backdrop in all the pieces.

The Rebirth collection was featured in Barbadian Fashion magazine Shabeau, which further inspired her to make the collection regional hence CARIFESTA, was the perfect stage. “I came up with the collection in the process of finding myself and looking at my culture and that of the Caribbean people. I want my pieces to reflect just that, the styles and culture of the people,” Edwards said.

Her designs had the fashion show in an uproar as it reflected Haitian clothing with prints and a twist of the Guyanese touch of colours and design.

Craft

From wooden sculptures to leather shows, accessories in beaded chains and dangling earrings craft were a spectacle at the Grand Market. Carol Fraser merged fashion with craft.

Her Resort Line of clothing was decorated based on research of Haitian style, she used the tropical colours with the Haiti-African designs and mixed those with accessories she brought from Guyana – leather bags, shoes, earrings, necklaces and hand bands.

The slippers and bags were looked upon with admiration. Carol displayed six pieces of her design in the fashion show which were well accepted, but she however voiced disappointment as she said “I was expecting more traffic, we were told that it will pick up on the weekend.”

Fraser is excited and enthusiastic about being a part of the Haiti Fashion Weekend which is scheduled for November. Many others from around the region also expressed interest in her work.

Craft was also displayed by the Cummings Leather Establishment in a separate booth and Indigenous craft by Janise Patterson was also on display in the fashion booth

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