“We are all mimic men” – V.S.Naipaul
“A man who has a language consequently possesses the world expressed and implied by that language.” ― Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
“STEUPS…. Who does this Richard Mark Rawlins guy think he is? Like he come out ah nowhere, makin’ work an’ tellin’ we what to see an’ like?”
These are some of the inadvertent comments one gets when observing the work of Mr. Rawlins. Whether the name of his show factors into these rumblings is unclear. However, what is very clear is that Mr. Rawlins’s work affects people.
His objective is to give the viewer the opportunity to look in on themselves, at aspects of our associations with body language and other subtle nuances that make us Caribbean people; our quirks; our foibles – but definitely about our ‘self’-pride – that intangible thing that makes ‘us’ uniquely us.No small task, as this engagement is completely taken for granted at the best of times.
Mr. Rawlins has looked at the hand gesture, the ‘meggie” and now, the mouth sound, “steupps”
I recall in high school a teacher trying to ban it altogether, as she claimed that the s steupps was the equivalent of thumbing your nose at authority or moreso, saying the expletive S**T. Naturally, it encouraged the action even more.
No self-respecting Trinbagonian for example, is truly without a repertoire of four or five types of this unique sound. It can be a quick, short curl of the mouth or a very long sucking of teeth.
Mr. Rawlins includes in this body of work, the steupps bandana.
He views it as a working, performance piece, where his audience is engaged by wearing the pocket square over their mouth and nose. It is an audacious choice of dress, as the bandana has gone from head gear to symbol of the gangsta, obscuring the face from view. A gesture of hostility, fear and menace.
It is his way of toying with his audience, rattling them, getting them active in ways that they would least expect. His bandana is his look at the mask. A second opportunity, one is taken for our carnival. Some say we never truly take off the mask!
Thus, Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, comes to mind. One cannot help but consider cognitive dissonance: the notion that one’s core beliefs are true and right. Thus Mr. Rawlins instinctively uses the posy as his counterpoint in his show.
The posy, or chamber pot, ‘throne’, in which one urinates and defecates, is his writing tool for expression.
One is left unable to not react to these strong symbols, and by no coincidence, elements of Carnival, J’ouvert, where the posy is pristine and used as an oversized drinking utensil.
Rawlins is saying to us, stop being so reactionary that thinking constructively is removed from the scene. Be part of the discourse. Come into the fold; keep your uniqueness while joining in to the performance, if only for a moment, adding to the masque-aware, but not mindless.
~Adele Todd is Graphic Designer, Fine Artist and Educator. COSTAATT affiliate. She holds a degree in Graphic Design from Pratt Institute, BFA (Hons) 1991, Brooklyn, New York .