Douen Islands: In Forest & Wild Skies

The story goes, "Watch your child, douen go get them."

Douen: A Trinidad folklore character. The unbaptised souls of children that live in the forest. Neither male nor female, they feed off cultivated gardens and have a peculiar liking for the watercrab. Large straw hats, perched on faceless heads, cover long plaited hair. They entice children under a full moon. Their feet are backwards (Côté ci Côté la, 2012). 

As a child, this I believe is how my spine was born. Alfred Codallo's painting, Folklore (1958) at The National Museum and Art Gallery in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, was an initiation. I believe all Trinidadians go through it. The absolute fear and discomfort that is born from Douens is as real as any phobia, often buried in our childhood memories.

Douen Islands: In Forest & Wild Skies (April 2014) was a special collaboration with journalist/poet, Andre Bagoo, at Alice Yard based on his poetry e-book called, Douen Islands: Tomorrow Please God (free download here).  

Douen Islands is a devious remixing of traditional Douen culture. (a) Remove the straw hats. (b) Invite them inside. (c) Straighten their feet. (d) All of the above. This is an open collaboration to incite anxiety, provoke beauty.

...a journey, unearthing what is lost - the furtive child foraging through darkened forest; tricked by moonlight into a vacant past; vanishing, like love and blood, into wild skies. A slippery stream flowing out of this post-Independence country, trek into heat, memory, nightmare, dream. Take back the steps we never took. Seek to find.

Andre and I were determined to put a contemporary spin on Douens and build it out as a collaboration with other highly creative individuals. The event at Alice Yard saw the likes of powerhouse writers like Shivanee Ramlochan and Commonwealth Short Story Award winner, Sharon Millar join forces with contemporary artist Rodell Warner and musician Sharda Patasar, to re-imagine and stir imaginations around this folktale.    

For the designer in me, it's the space that intrigues most. Alice Yard is no exception.

This was once the house of Sean Leonard’s great-grandmother. Four generations of children played and imagined in this yard, and now we continue this tradition. Alice Yard is a space for creative experiment, collaboration, and improvisation.

Since 2008, Alice Yard has run a residency programme hosting artists, curators, and other creative practitioners.

Designing the Yard was bliss. Andre wanted it red, so we made it red. He wanted leaves, we toted bag after bag, serendipitously raked and bagged by CEPEP at the nearby Queen's Park Savannah. When we wanted car tyres, they showed up under a small tree in a Belmont parking lot on Jerningham Ave. We wanted to broadcast live tweets from Jamaica — loud and clear outside the bathroom stall. Help with choreography, Dave Williams came strolling through the front gates. Will it — at Alice Yard it will. Editor and collaborator, Nicholas Laughlin puts it well:

Thinking about last night’s Douen Islands event -- and all the people who made it possible by sharing time, expertise, equipment, and labour -- I was struck again by the generosity of our network and its immeasurable value...

...TT is a small and mercenary society where -- unlike some other Caribbean territories -- official culture institutions are weak, there is no tradition of private philanthropy, and no wealthy expat/tourist population to “support the arts.” Our agenda and our reward are to make room in our context for imagination and generosity, and serious work that at the same time is also serious play.

The motive is to keep ourselves challenged and fascinated, and in conversation with people who energise us. It’s as selfish and as selfless as that. As simple and as complicated as that.

To learn more about Douen Islands, please visit www.douenislands.com or email Andre and I at douenislands@gmail.com
 

Photography by Arnaldo James