Every year around this time the construction of vendor booths begin around the Queen's Park Savannah. Their arrival around the Savannah is always something that has intrigued me as they spark an excitement in people as it signals the arrival of Carnival. But their design is also something that captivates me.
They are designed to be very utilitarian and serve a single purpose- to house vendors for a short space of time, usually a couple of months depending on the length of the Carnival Season, and because of this they are made to be easily installed and have basic amenities that would be needed by the vendor.
They are painted in very basic colours with each section of the booth usually different to the other. They were probably all originally painted in a single, different colour but because of the fact that they are dismantled every year and then rebuilt, each colour was mixed up and now each one is a structure of varying colours.
These booths remind me of the work of Mark Rothko, the abstract expressionist best known for his paintings of different planes of colour.
As you can see in the side by side comparison below, the way the colours are used in all are similar but for very different intention. The vendor booths are painted in these colours by the National Carnival Commission and because of how they are made, have evolved into a multi coloured structure. However once put up, they are usually covered in advertising making the time that they are at their colourful best very short.
The Middle image is of the Rothko painting, done strictly for the purpose of being an art piece with the colours chosen consciously by the artist to be a work of art.
The third image is of a fete sign with a rothko-esque background. These colours were chosen as a design element; meant to convey meaning to the viewer and to make the portrayal of information effective. We have in these 3 images the difference between coincidence, art, and design.
After studying in the US for 4 years and being around designers from all over the world, I always think about the question of what is the Trinbagonian aesthetic. Visually, what is intrinsically Trinbagonian? To answer this is very difficult; where do you find the answer, what do you look at to find this. Does the answer lie in the colours that we come across everyday such as the vendor booths; or the design that we encounter on a daily basis such as the fete signs; maybe it can be found in the work of the many fine artists, photographers, fashion designers, architects, and mas men of the country.
I think though that anything designed or created here (in T&T) must represent the Trinbagonian aesthetic whether intentionally or not. Or, maybe I'm completely wrong, but I will continue to think about this and maybe one day the question will be answered.
Nicholas Huggins is a graphic designer, art director, and painter from Trinidad & Tobago. You can see his work here.