BODY art, which is a relatively new aspect of visual arts, made its debut appearance at the 12th edition of the Caribbean Festival of Arts (CARIFESTA) when Guyana’s Steve Douglas – the lone body artist at this year’s CARIFESTA – unleashed his creative skills through complex and detailed composition of the art form.
While the traditional features of body art includes tattoos and body piercing, the new developments to this art form focuses on temporary painting of the body, complemented by masks and other props to enhance the character’s appearance.
Douglas, who is self-taught, began experimenting with this aspect of art a few years ago, after which he established his body art company – Bravo Arts. The creative genius, who is no stranger to other forms of visual arts, has done major works for Guyanese who have represented the country on the international stage.
Securing his spot this year in the 82-member Guyanese delegation, Douglas’s primary motive has been to “promote cultural life in Guyana to the Caribbean through body art and theatrical make-up.”
Stamping his authority from the inception, the artist commenced working on the opening day of CARIFESTA, designing a piece titled “El Dorado.”
A female, painted in an abstract-like design of gold and silver, complemented by glitters, represented the “Golden City.” She wore a crown of almost transparent beads which highlighted the country’s mineral-rich characteristic.
A highly receptive audience forced Douglas to produce another of this masterpiece, but this time, at the Grand Market, which is housed in Haiti’s capital – Port-au-Prince. This time, the piece was used not only for exhibition purposes, but for photoshoots.
The highlight of this form of art however, was presented to the Haitians on Thursday, when Douglas staged a grand body art show designing several pieces, depicting the flag, national animal, and folklore characters including Ole Higue, Baccoo and Wata Mamma.
The body artist, supported by local Singer Diana Chapman and Designer Keisha, began his work just after lunch on Thursday.
This tiring yet rewarding task, extracted the highest level of skill from the artist who recognised from the inception that this was his opportunity to present one aspect of Guyana’s art on not just the regional but international stage.
Douglas, who was the only body artist in the delegation and at CARIFESTA XII, explained that apart from the language barrier, another challenge was that he was the only artist who was capable of doing this kind of work which required him to work overtime.
At the Grand Market’s stage presentation, two muscular male models, standing shoulder to shoulder in the opposite direction, with the Guyana flag painted across their chest and back, were used as teasers to provide glimpses to the audience of what Guyana has brought to Haiti.
Highly anticipated, the exhibition which was being touted by the Master of Ceremonies (MC) attracted a few thousand in the limited inverted T-shaped space.
Taking the stage first to display her colourful body art, was a Haitian model who represented the ‘Wata Mamma’ – a fictional character usually referred to in other parts of the world as a mermaid.
In shades of pink, purple and light blue, the Wata Mamma flaunted her design which was enhanced by a scale-like effect, skilfully created by Douglas through the use of an airbrush.
The second folklore character taking the stage was that of the Ole Higue. The scary looking character who is known locally for travelling in a ball of fire and sucking the blood of children while they’re asleep, was painted in crimson-red, and wore a red plastic-like material about her body. Her ruffled hair, and wrinkled face which was made from a plastic mask, complemented her terrifying look.
The final folklore character from the land of many waters which was depicted by the artist, was that of the Baccoo. A fictional Guyanese folklore character who is described as a very short man, with a big head, red eyes and thick eyebrows.
The character was expertly designed by the body artist who invested hours in the crafting of this design. Not known to the Haitian culture, this piece received thunderous applause from the thousands who were evidently impressed.
The National animal of Guyana, the Jaguar, was also presented to the people of the Caribbean by Douglas. A fair-skinned male model,was the perfect pick since his skin colour enhanced the bright orange and black prints of a Jaguar.
His muscular structure and ability to manoeuvre himself aggressively on stage enlivened an already hyped-up crowd.
A re-appearance of the mineral-rich El Dorado design also formed part of the body art display on Thursday.
According to the artist, the response received from the Haitians at the event was “overwhelming.” He explained that most of the Haitians had never seen body art like that and this was related to him after they had visited the body art booth and expressed same.
Given the challenges and time constraints which confronted his work, the local artist was proud to share that, “We had a great show, and the Haitians were entertained and impressed; which was our main aim.”
He continued that, “What was nice about it is that we were able to market our country and we had one of the two male models who had the Guyana flag painted on them, come out and hold this huge Guyana flag.
“It was one of those moments where you really felt proud to be Guyanese” the patriot said, adding that the Guyanese and Haitians supporters in the crowd fuelled a spirit of regional nationalism too.
“It was not just a proud moment for me, but for Guyana and the Caribbean, as we were able to show them what Guyana and the Region can produce,” Douglas concluded. (Sponsored by GT&T)