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Excerpted from my paper, The Grenada ShortKnee: Ritual in Exile

The ShortKnee is Grenada’s history in motion. Ritual at every stage is necessary to empower the spirits of the ShortKnee masquerade, and to retain its potential for the future, in the present. Disguised as a traditional character of the annual Grenada carnival, it is cloaked in its most striking feature – an Egungun influenced restyled French Pierrot costume in heavily patterned fabric of blouse with overlong sleeves fastened at the wrists and overlarge trousers worn short at the knees… that completely conceals and embodies the power of a spiritual being …oversized beings who never laugh… behind masks of painted metal mesh… hidden under white head towels…

ShortKnee: Mourning
I selected reference works from the UK national art collection to translate as part of my ongoing ShortKnee series, picking works based on their imagery, and discovering an unconscious morose theme, reflecting this artist’s feeling about the lack of artistic exploration of this local cultural artform. David Hibbert’s 1985 Servants of the Ghost have become ShortKnee: Ghosts in reference to the creation of Carnival, the post-Emancipation celebration, from which in Grenada, the ShortKnee evolved. Negro in Mourning painted in 1957 by Francis Newton Souza at the time of the London race riots influenced my ShortKnee Mourning, complete with red tied bundles of dried acrylic, representing shreds of colourful costumes from past better years, when there was apparently a greater respect for indigenous traditional carnival artform.

Life Still
Mask and Powder
Pierre Lavarenne, Still Life at first glance reminded me of a mask on a lace-cloth covered surface. My version, ShortKnee: Life Still, pulls the mask out of a heavily stained background. The shape of the plate in Craigie Aitchison’s Still Life with Grapes and a Lemon inspired my ShortKnee: Mask and Powder, using a similar placement and palette. Both are sour compositions. ShortKnee: Call of the Dawn is inspired by Abstract Figures in oil on hardboard by an unknown artist, part of the Stroud District (Cowle) Museum Trust Collection. In the murkiness of this image, I could see the ShortKnee gathering in the early morning of Carnival Tuesday, to discuss the day’s events, when they can parade through several villages, until their final destination in the capital, Saint George’s, an extended street performance of up to twenty miles on foot.

Call of the dawn
Georg Baselitz’s 1965 Rebel in the Tate Collection is part of a series of paintings depicting giant male figures as wounded anti-heroes. Traditionally the ShortKnee carried weapons hidden under that bulk of a costume, and created much mischief during their clashes with other ShortKnee bands, and bands of pretty mas. I once referred to Grenada ShortKnee as a cultural superhero, but perhaps Rebel ShortKnee is more apt. The desolate waiting of the people laying on the ground in Henry Moore’s Tube Shelter Perspective inspired my using Grenada’s one tunnel in a ShortKnee work. Moore’s work was part of a series of drawings of people sheltering in the London Underground during the Second World War. Grenada’s only tunnel, Sendall Tunnel built in 1894, floods with heavy rain, but in a pinch, ShortKnee caught out in a shower could take shelter, until forced to press against the sloping walls to allow vehicles to transit.

Sendall Tunnel
Statement of Loss
Keith Vaughan was a war artist who carried with him pad, pencil and unbreakable bottles of ink into the field. His 1943 Communication of Hate has become my Statement of Loss, where the ShortKnee disappears, his colours running off the page. Philip Guston’s The Group shows black line forms with conical heads sitting in a group, inspiring my version titled Blue Cabinet. Finally, Guston’s Monument, a cartoonish rendering of legs and shoes inspired my ShortKnee: Memorial, a clumsy multi-legged creature, straining for balance on a rounded hill – indicative of the present state of this particular artform in this country.

Blue Cabinet

These works were all created using acrylics, pastels and wax crayon on plyboard construction waste.