York U Sculptor-in-Residence Marlon Griffith uses Carnival ‘mas’ to raise awareness around accessibility

A large parade of people wearing masques
Documentation of Marlon Griffith’s “Song of the Sun” performance-based project for for Aichi Triennale 2013. Courtesy: Marlon Griffith
A large parade of people wearing masques
Documentation of Marlon Griffith’s Song of the Sun performance-based project for for Aichi Triennale 2013. Photo courtesy Marlon Griffith

Internationally recognized Trinidadian artist and “mas” man Marlon Griffith is the 2015 Louis Odette Sculptor-in-Residence in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD) at York University. His residency started May 19 and continues to June 5 in conjunction with the Intensive Sculpture Workshop, a fourth-year course offered by the Department of Visual Art & Art History.

Originally from Port of Spain, Griffith began his artistic practice as a Carnival designer, working in the “mas” (or masquerade) tradition of Trinidad. This background deeply shapes his work as a visual artist, which integrates performative, participatory and ephemeral characteristics derived from Carnival.

Working with a group of 15 AMPD students, Griffith is building seven large-scale, wearable costumes to be featured in a 300-person procession titled Ring of Fire. The project was commissioned by the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU). The procession will take place Sunday, Aug. 9, along University Avenue, from Queen’s Park to City Hall during the Parapan Am Games.

The costumes have been designed with specific processional performers (called “Sentinels” within the project) in mind. This diverse group encompasses individuals with different mobilities and sensory capabilities, making for unique constructions that are sensitive to the needs of the performers.

Griffith will also oversee the students’ work on their own projects, which they will conceptualize in keeping with Griffith’s theme.

“It’s a unique opportunity for our students to participate in a city-wide, collaborative project,” said York U visual arts Professor Kevin Yates, coordinator of the residency and workshop course. “They’re also learning new techniques, such as large metal frame construction and how to use the new plastic vacuum molding machine we’ve acquired for this residency.

“Bringing Marlon’s designs to life and customizing them to the specific needs of the performers is a dynamic and highly satisfying artistic challenge for our students,” said Yates. “They get to meet and work with the performers as the construction of the costumes proceeds. It’s exciting to see the collaboration and relationships develop.”

Marlon Griffith (left) with the Kevin Yates (back right) and the students of the Intensive Sculpture Workshop at York University
Marlon Griffith (left) with the Kevin Yates (back right) and the students of the Intensive Sculpture Workshop at York University

As part of his residency, Griffith will give a free public talk on his creative process for Ring of Fire and other works on Thursday, June 4. His illustrated lecture takes place at 1:30pm in Room 130 in the Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts on York University’s Keele campus.

Ring of Fire is inspired by the Anishinaabe Seven Grandfather Teachings: Wisdom, Courage, Respect, Honesty, Truth, Humility and Love, which serve as the basis for the Sentinel characters, their costumes and the organizational structure of the procession, as well as guiding the working principles of its making.

Kevin Yates and Alex Rogelhof shape hot metal over an anvil
Kevin Yates and Alex Rogelhof shape hot metal over an anvil

The procession will bring together disability dancers from Picasso Pro and Equal Grounds, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, members of Toronto’s Capoeira Angôla community, and young spoken word poets from Jane-Finch, Malvern and Regent Park. “Mas camps” for costume production, spoken word, movement and music are being held throughout the city at some of Toronto’s leading arts organizations with strong community roots, including Art Starts, SKETCH, COBA, the Malvern S.P.O.T. and Success Beyond Limits.

Griffith has participated in residencies and exhibited extensively around the world. Signature projects include commissions for the seventh Gwangju Biennale (Gwangju, Korea, 2008), Cape09 Biennale (Cape Town, South Africa, 2009), Manifesta 9 Parallel Projects (Hasselt, Belgium, 2012), Aichi Triennale (Nagoya, Japan, 2013), Tate Modern (London, England, 2014) and the AGYU (Toronto, Canada, 2015). Griffith’s honours include a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and a Commonwealth Award.

Griffith is the 2014-15 AGYU artist-in-residence. His 2015 Louis Odette Sculpture Residency is a partnership project of AMPD and AGYU.

Ring of Fire is commissioned by the AGYU and supported by the Ontario Arts Council, Ignite Ontario, the Trillium Foundation and York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design. An exhibition of the project will run from Sept. 23 to Dec. 6 at the AGYU, and a publication supported by Partners in Art will be released in 2016. Ring of Fire is curated by AGYU Assistant Director/Curator Emelie Chhangur.

York U thrower Brittany Crew has Pan Am ambitions

Shot putter Brittany Crew

The Toronto 2015 Pan American/Parapan American Games are right around the corner. It has been a generation since Canadian summer sport athletes have had the opportunity to compete on home soil at an event of this magnitude. At least four York University student-athletes are now fighting for a chance to shine this summer as part of Canada’s national team.

This month and next, YFile is publishing a series of Q&As with the following York University hopefuls: sprinter Khamica Bingham (see May 6 YFile story), shot put and discus thrower Brittany Crew, beach volleyball player Melissa Humana-Paredes and sprinter Dontae Richards-Kwok.

York history alumna Aisan Fazeli (BA ’14), a former member of the Lions women’s rugby team at York, sat down with Crew to find out more about her accomplishments and what motivates her.

Brittany Crew. Photo by Jeff Tyler
Brittany Crew. Photo by Jeff Tyler

Student-athlete: Brittany Crew
Sport: track & field (throws)
Hometown: East York, Ont.
Major: psychology

After one season at Eastern Michigan University, Faculty of Health student Brittany Crew completed her first season with the York Lions in 2013-14 and made an immediate splash in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) league. She won the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) gold medal in the shot put and set a new meet record. Crew went on to capture the CIS silver medal in the shot put and earn CIS all-Canadian and OUA all-star honours for her performances. She was even better in her second season with the Lions, sweeping the throwing events at the OUA and CIS championships, making for one of the best throwing seasons ever. She won the most valuable performer awards at the OUA and CIS field events, was a first-team OUA all-star and CIS all-Canadian, and capped her year by being named York’s female athlete of the year.

In 2014, Crew represented Canada at the North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) U23 Championships, winning a pair of bronze medals in the shot put and discus events. She also competed in the shot put at the 2012 world junior championships in Barcelona.

What are you studying at York and why?

I am currently working towards an honours bachelor of science degree in kinesiology. I am looking to get into chiropractor college after graduation and pursue that as a career. I hope to own my own practice one day.

When and why did you start your sport, and did you always want to pursue it?

It was in Grade 10, when I won OFSAA [Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations] in shot put and came second in discus, that I got really hooked in the sport. When I made my first national team and travelled to Barcelona for the World Junior Championships, I really started to take it seriously. By Grade 12 I was completely hooked. Not many people know this, but I hated the sport at first. When looking at female body image, it was really hard to take up such a male-dominated sport. I truly love it now because it has opened so many doors for me and I can see my true potential. My ultimate goal now is to make the Olympic team; it’s been my dream since I was eight years old.

CIS Track and Field 2015. Day 1 competition at the St. Denis Centre, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada on Thursday, March 12, 2015. Photo by Edwin Tam
CIS Track and Field Championships 2015. Brittany Crew on Day 1 competition at the St. Denis Centre, University of Windsor, on Thursday, March 12. Photo by Edwin Tam

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I really enjoy writing music and playing guitar in my free time. When I can, I love going to open mic nights and doing karaoke. As a student-athlete, free time is rare and I wish I had more time for this hobby of mine.

How do you feel about the Pan Am Games being hosted in Toronto, and what does that mean to you?

I’m very excited about the fact that Pan Am Games are being hosted in Toronto! It would mean the world to me to be able to compete in front of my hometown. My mom does not have money to travel to international competitions, so it would be a very special memory to have my mom in the stands watching me compete for my country.

Who is your biggest inspiration, athletically or otherwise?

My biggest inspiration to pursue and continue my sport comes from my mother. I love having her come support me at my events and making her proud. When I was growing up, my mom hardly ever missed a soccer game and was always at my track meets cheering me on.