Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Beginner moko jumbies find their balance

Moko jumbies - healing spirits of legend striding over the seas to follow the slave routes from Africa - are portrayed by stilt-walkers. Some of their most stupefying costumes are designed by Alan Vaughan, prize-winning artist, moko jumbie performer and coach. With his teams he is a carnival regular at Notting Hill and Port of Spain.

Performance on sticks takes bravery. Skidding on wet ground, dust or a scrap of paper can make you fall. In just a light breeze, vast sail-like costumes and complex head-dresses give unwelcome resistance and the long sticks are hard to manoeuvre.

This training weekend is for beginners on short starter sticks. The crump and clack of a body on wooden stilts hitting the tarmac is mercifully rare.

I listen to Alan gently coaxing a nervous pupil. I want him to record his soft, fluent words of reassurance, for his tone of voice as much as the content. He could get people to stop smoking with a tape like that.

'It's kind of easy but very scary at the same time.'

'Slow down!'
'He can't - he's learning to walk.'

'Rita, guess what, I'm exploring the world.'

The moko jumbie instruction, at the Yaa Centre in Notting Hill, was organised by Carnival Village Trust and Elimu Mas Academy. Alan was assisted by Blessing and Marshal of #OriginMokoJumbies. More information is on the Moko Somõkõw Facebook page.

A drawing maps time so someone can be in two places at once

The real thing

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Genji, shodō (書道), life

Calligraphy by Taki Kodaira
I leave the radiant morning and plunge into a cavernous pub. Early birds or night-shift workers are sinking pints. I order toast and marmalade - carbohydrate-loading before Taki Kodaira's calligraphy class.

I'm reading The Tale of Genji, the sprawling eleventh-century Japanese classic of prose, poetry and romantic intrigue:

'Or let us look at calligraphy. A man without any great skill can stretch out this line and that in the cursive style and give an appearance of boldness and distinction. The man who has mastered the principles and writes with concentration may, on the other hand, have none of the eye-catching tricks; but when you take the trouble to compare the two the real thing is the real thing.'

This week's struggle for the real thing involves writing out 'letters...like...this...person', i.e. 'your handwriting exposes your character'. Indeed. My better-natured left-handed Dr Jekyll has to be suppressed for this activity, thanks to ancient Japanese cultural norms. My evil right-(wrong)-handed inner Mr Hyde is exposed.

After class, you see calligraphy everywhere. These lines on Baker Street say: 'If your vehicle is involved in a contravention on the red route, you'll be sent a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) for £130. You need to pay this within 28 days. If you pay this within 14 or 21 days (it will say on the PCN), the amount will be reduced to £65.' 


Yet the bureaucratic diktat - 'don't you dare appeal' - is subverted by uneven junctions and fluke absences. Such flaws are cherished by artistic calligraphers. Here they suggest silent rebellion.

This evening it's life class, where every mark you make displays your character; it's not the model who's exposed. To make tonight's flawless model more interesting to draw, I use my wrong hand.