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Mas, Avant-garde style

By JANELLE DE SOUZA Sunday, January 17 2016

Avant-garde is not usually a word one would use when it comes to Trinidad Carnival, however, it is the word one would use to describe the mas conceptualised by twin sisters Kathy and Karen Norman for their medium mas band, K2K Alliance and Partners.

Born from the need to find their Saraswati (essence of self) after the pursuit of a challenging career in finance in New York, the Norman twins found the process of creating therapeutic.

“Kathy and I grew up in the arts. As children we danced with Linda Pollard Lake, we sang with the Marionettes, we played the piano and we studied Art. K2K was meant to be a light in a very dark tunnel; a way for us to connect with our culture; a way for us to reconnect with our passion,” said Karen.

Kathy explained that K2K, which was launched in 2010, was an attempt to fuse high fashion with mas, innovating traditional costume design, thereby allowing masqueraders to use the garments after Carnival. The purpose is to inspire.

“What we try to be is true to the conceptualisation of our product.

K2K was meant to infuse high fashion with mas. It was meant to be avant-garde with a couture-like feel; it was meant to be a sophisticated product; it was meant to be differentiating; it was meant to be used 365 days a year.

And given those definitions we walk a fine tight rope every year to keep true to who we are and to the brand,” said Kathy.

Karen noted that they do not try to fit into any Carnival mould, nor do they try to be different.

However, because they were trained in Fine Art at St Joseph’s Convent Port-of-Spain, their perception of the artform is different, even as their work leans towards social commentary. They see the body as a “living, breathing, dancing canvas,” a medium to communicate the artform of Mas, and this is reflected in their brand.

“You see, art is both interpretative and subjective and as such costuming will have the same duality. Thus, while bikini-and-feather- mas has become commonplace, we also think that taking a more avant-garde approach has its place. Now don’t misinterpret our meaning – if the theme lends itself to feathers then there will be feathers in the costume, but if we believe that it doesn’t fit into our interpretation then there will be none.

Given our background, we simply enjoy exploring alternative mediums to bring our themes to life,” said Karen.

Kathy added that they were not trying to change the Carnival landscape as, like everything else, over time Carnival would evolve on it’s own. They also do not feel the need to fill the void left by veteran mas designers Peter Minshall and Brian Mc- Farlane.

“In our opinion, there will never be a replacement for such stalwarts as Peter Minshall or George Bailey or Wayne Berkely or Geraldo Vieira. Such creators were innovators, history- makers and champions of the industry, forcing the eyes of the world to discover this little creative dot called Trinidad. It is artists like these who provide the hope that we too can one day make an impression on the global community,” she said.

However, Karen admitted that carving out a space for K2K was not easy, as the brand was not widely accepted in Trinidad and Tobago.

She said they fully expected their approach and product to be criticised as it was “personal artistic expression, exposing private thoughts and concepts to the public.” However, she said she hoped K2K would show that it was okay to be different and to step outside the norm. “You see, the only way to be your greatest self is not by being the cookie-cutter- type of one-size-fitsall (because you cannot be everything to everyone).

Instead, the only way to be your greatest self is to be your truest self,” she said.

Kathy added that K2K appeals to a niche market of persons who appreciate unconventional story-telling, intricate detailing, and a more couture style as she and her sister offer “an intimate experience, with a sophisticated and elegant approach to costuming.” The K2K story for Carnival 2016 is Searching for Shangri-La.

Kathy explained that the presentation was about searching for something perfect even though nothing in life is perfect.

“One’s life is a perfectly imperfect bouquet. It compares your life experiences to a Meadowland in Bloom, a grassland filled with various of flowers example, roses, sunflowers, orchids, hydrangeas, with each flower representing an experience or in some instances a re-awakening,” she said.

On Carnival Monday the band provides complimentary Monday Wear, with the entire band portraying one section from the theme.

However, on Carnival Tuesday it’s six sections - “Forget Me Nots” (Unearthing), “Sunflower” (Discovering), “Roses” (Beyond The), “Hydrangeas” (Walking Along), “Lilly” (Forever), and “Orchid” (I Am) will be out in full bloom.

“The observer should expect intricate work and delicate textures accentuated with petals to mirror the theme. Expect sophistication and glamour. From the aerial view, we would like spectators to see a mobile forest (these are our Tree Walkers), and from the eye level, the observer should see beautiful flowers nestled beneath the canopy of trees,” said Kathy.

In addition to the mas, K2K has a new platform called The Colour of Courage. It is a series of power-talk series from industry ambassadors from various fields with the objective of inspiring professionals. Karen said the idea stemmed from their reservations and fear that came from building their brand and taking a leap of faith without a safety net. She described it as a channel for empowerment as it speaks to moving past the fear.



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