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Rooted in Caribbean culture


Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Rooted in Caribbean culture

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One can easily accuse Glen Brathwaite of living in his head. The designer, who has made a name for himself creating intricate costumes for play adaptations and Crop-Over, admits “doing a lot of time travel” in his mind to create the right look for many of his costumes.That immense imagination has inspired him to stay true to the look and history of whatever he represents in his work, whether it’s replicating costumes he designed for the recent Sarah Ann Gill play or creating costumes for the festival. A self-described lover of classic literature, Glen has spent years with his imagination captivated by the places where his love of books has taken him. Whether that was envisioning Josephine as the first black fashion icon who captured the heart of Napoleon Bonaparte or enjoying the timelessness of Pride And Prejudice.“I am a relentless reader,” he proudly admits. “I read all the classics by the time I was 15.”But it wasn’t just his love for the classics that helped to guide his path in life. He credits it with the way he grew up and the people he grew up among. His home, it seemed, was a place where creativity flourished. “I grew up in a house full of design. My mother was a horticulturalist and my father could build anything he put his mind to,” he revealed. “Our clothes were never bought, and everything was custom-made.”What that creative bent did for him was foster a love of design, especially in textiles, which he has harnessed and helped to forge his own path in the world.But as Glen tries to stay true to what he believes is intrinsically Caribbean and reflective of the culture, he expresses dismay over the lack of connection that many of the Crop-Over designs currently exhibit.“The whole idea of the masquerade has gone mad. The body is supposed to be adorned, and I see people stripping down to nothing,” he says. “It’s Mardi Gras, that’s what it is. It’s destructive. You have to come through a long history of understanding how to respect the female body. If you don’t have that training or sensitivity, it will just become a raucous bacchanal.”That love of mas within Glen was also cultivated from his childhood.“I spent my teenage years in Trinidad where Mas’ was at its peak,” he said. “Mas is almost epic with its stones and mixture of African and Indian cultures.”As one who considers himself a heritage designer, Glen feels somewhat isolated in his stance to hold true to his Caribbean roots.“Everything I design relates to my Caribbean heritage,” he says proudly. “The biggest part of my fantasy of design was born out of carniva,l seeing the transformation of things. Now all I’m seeing is one bottom bigger than the other.”Glen feels that somewhere along the line the true meaning and representation of Crop-Over has been lost.“People like to be led. They like to think that they’re doing something that everyone else is doing; that is normal when I know that it is not normal,” he says, speaking of the direction in which many of today’s bands have gone. “I know that there are people that if something else is done, they would be glad. I know mothers who have their hearts in their hand to the end of Kadooment Day. But they’re afraid to tell them. I think it’s horrible when you can’t play Mas’ with your daughter. Mas’ is a family thing.”Glen feels that the richness of the Caribbean culture is being cast away.“When they design these costumes they have no meaning, they have no story to tell,” he says. “It’s just some feathers on the head and some pretty beads. So I can’t even say, ‘Wow, look at those Aztec motifs’. I really think it’s horrible when you take your child out for the day and you might have to cover his eyes because you’re giving your child carnal thoughts. It can’t be helped.”What Glen is hoping to do is, through his own designs, to help hold on to the true meaning of Mas’.“If it was according to the way I design my costumes I would like to play a big part in trying to bring Emancipation celebrations and Emancipation awareness to Barbados,” he said. “Trying to research our heroes and write down our folklore according to herbal medicine.“ I think Barbados has one of the greatest pharmacopias of herbal medicine in the Caribbean, but we’re building things over it and no-one is planting it back. But we need to become aware of the things that have brought us thus far so that we can go down the road further.”

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