Peter Minshall (Date of Birth: 16th July 1941)
Trinidad and Tobago Icons Vol 2
Peter Minshall is an artist, designer, artistic director and masman who is renowned for his works of mas for Trinidad carnival and large-scale spectacle events and performances. Much of Minshall’s success came as a result of his investigation into the kinetics of the human body in motion and the development of structural techniques to amplify the energy of the masplayer’s performance. This has resulted in an array of innovations that continue to have a substantial impact in the Trinidad carnival and in spectacle performance internationally.
Peter Minshall was born in Guyana on 16th July, 1941, and grew up in Trinidad. He attended Queen’s Royal College where he became heavily involved with the school’s theatre productions and did designing for the Trinidad Light Opera. After high school, he trained in theatre design at the Central School of Art and Design in London, England. He was one of the first to design costumes for the Notting Hill Carnival in London.
As he studied design and was exposed to the world of art and theatre in London, Minshall gradually came to appreciate the value and potency of mas as a form of creative expression. Several opportunities arose for him to design mas in Trinidad, which led to groundbreaking works: the individual From the Land of the Hummingbird (1974) and Paradise Lost (1976). After a few years dividing his time between London and Port-of-Spain, Minshall returned to Trinidad for good and devoted his full creative attention to the mas. Over the course of three decades, his masbands have embraced diverse themes, each expanding the possibilities of what a mas can be and what it can achieve.
One of his earliest innovations was the articulated bird wing, which allowed for the complete freedom of wing-waving movement and dance seen in his costume From the Land of the Hummingbird (1974) and many others. Another signature Minshall structure is the fixed wing attached at the shoulders, often depicting magnificent angel or devil characters. Radial veins give the wings shape, body, and sometimes scalloped feather-like tips as in Paradise Lost (1976) and The Golden Calabash (1985). Another innovation was attaching elements of the mas structure – ribbons, flags, panels – to the performer’s feet, so that they rise and fall with each dancing step, as in Fire Fire, from Paradise Lost (1976) and Zodiac (1978).
As Minshall’s kinetically expressive mas creations became more sophisticated and more distinctive, he coined the term “dancing mobile” to classify them. Perhaps the most advanced of these dancing mobiles was the articulated armature that made the foundation of ManCrab (1983) and Callaloo Dancing Tic Tac Toe Down the River (1984). This structure transmits and amplifies the dancing energy of the mas performer into billowing constructions of fabric and film, high above the performer’s head. A subsequent development brought together the technologies of backpacks, foot attachments, hinged arms, and spiral tubes to create a giant dancing puppet that can be motivated by a single performer, reversing the traditional relationship between puppet and puppeteer. The most famous of these were Tan Tan and Saga Boy (1980).
At the international level, Minshall played a major role in the design and artistic direction of the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in 1992 and 1996, and the 2002 Winter Olympics, among other major spectacle events.
He has received numerous awards for his achievements, among them: the University of the West Indiesa Guggenheim Fellowship (1982); an honorary doctorate from The University of the West Indies (1991); the Trinity Cross (1996); and an Emmy for the Opening Ceremony of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.