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Design goes Beyond Proof

Thursday, November 21, 2013
Greer Jones-Woodham, left, works with her daughter Sarah Woodham, right, and art educator Sabrina Charan, centre, to create a printed textile at her studio. All three will be part of the exhibit Beyond Proof. PHOTO: ABRAHAM DIAZ

After nearly 30 years working in various aspects of art and art education, artist and textile designer Greer Jones-Woodham is embarking on a new venture to further merge her art and teaching. On Saturday, Jones-Woodham along with her daughter, fashion designer Sarah Woodham, art educator Sabrina Charan and textile printer Alessandra Reyes, will host the exhibit Beyond Proof 2013. The exhibition will also serve as the launch of the Amen (A Memory Emerging New) Print House and will feature fashion made from indigenous printed textiles both designed and made by Jones-Woodham, Sarah Woodham, Charan and Reyes. Both the exhibit and the print house go beyond design. Jones-Woodham has a much larger vision for Amen. As the name suggests, founding Amen has been a spiritual journey. “I want this to get somewhere. I want to deepen the entrepreneurial aspect of education. This is truly a dream come true,” she said. 


Jones-Woodham recently resigned from her position at the University of T&T (UTT) as a senior lecturer and co-ordinator of the Visual and Performing Arts Department to pursue the print house full time. She first began working with textiles in the 1980s and sees the design and end product as an “offering.” When working with students, Jones-Woodham took this same spiritual approach. She wanted her students to think beyond design and beyond money-driven production. The Memory in Amen comes from the 1980s designs Jones-Woodham will be revamping for the exhibit and the screen-printing techniques she will be teaching. After returning to T&T from the Pratt Institute in New York in 1983, Jones-Woodham opened a shop at the Normandie Hotel, Woodham Textile Designs. She sold textiles to designers as well as made clothes from her own original designs. Jones-Woodham even printed the designs of artists such as Jackie Hinkson. 


She also worked with government training programmes in the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP), which later became what she calls “textile cottages.” At these cottages, textiles were created using hand-processes. Currently, government training programmes such as those at the Export Centre still teach the hand processes for making textiles. Amen will serve as a manufacturing/printing facility for designers, artists, artisans and university students producing prints and designs for fashion, Carnival, interior and home furnishing industries.Amen Print House was the recipient of a 2012 i2i Grant from the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development, which allowed it to embark on a digital design production. “This is a first for T&T in terms of the fabric and fashion—the symbiotic approach to fashion using indigenous fabric. What is emerging as new now is that I’m encouraging other people to come into my space to work and design. I’ve opened up to allow trained people to come in for more training and to print their own designs and motifs. “The idea behind this is that we have more images of who we are in the marketplace. So there’s not only my sensibility, but other people’s sensibilities as well and that has value and power,” she said. 



The work space Jones-Woodham speaks of is a 20 by 20-foot room in Port-of-Spain. Since it became Amen’s home earlier this year, the space has come alive with the buckets of bright fabric dye and bolts of cloth. The designs for the project have all been digitally produced, taking considerably less time than the hand-dyeing method Jones-Woodham used in the past, and the digital designs are transferred using a light machine to create screens. Later, dye is applied to the screen which is pressed on the cloth like a large stamp. Jones-Woodham says the full potential of technology has not yet been realised in the local textile industry. “Technology enhances the ability of the design to morph into other things. We can reproduce anything digitally and we have to see the power of that in order to combine it with our traditional stencilling, block dyeing and tie-dye and other hand-dyeing methods,” she said. The main objectives of Amen are to train textile designers and printers and to help individuals, whether artist or not, to express themselves creatively. Other objectives include becoming a hub for trained, returned residents who provide technical support, development of a studio/business module and generating “global recognition for quality textiles.” Sarah Woodham wants to show designers the fabric in action. The clothes modelled at the event will come from her first line and are part of a resort-wear collection. As a UTT student, she experienced first-hand the dearth of options when shopping for fabrics locally. 
“That is every fashion designer’s plague in Trinidad. It’s like you have all these ideas in your head and you can’t find the fabric to match them. Some stores have fabrics that have been there for ages, and then others get sold but they’re not what they claim to be,” she said in a telephone interview.


 “Like you get cotton-polyester mix that should be cotton—and you can’t dye polyester. A lot of people have problems like that and finding the right fabric and pattern. There’s not a lot of variety. Many times you would do a (fashion) show and watch someone else with same fabric as you.” Jones-Woodham attributes the problem of finding fabrics to changes in the supply and demand for cloth. “The people who brought cloth into this country were Syrians and there has been a shift in the kind of businesses they own. Jimmy Aboud still exists, but many others have closed down. They are catering to a different need structure as well and so they bring in a cheaper, lower range fabrics so that they can move it off the shelf faster and still give people what they want,” she said. Sarah Woodham sees Amen as part of the solution to the fabric problem. “Obviously we’ll be providing the products that people want, but we’ll also spread knowledge and creativity and train people. They can then go on and train others and do work. That’s a plus for everybody. You can handle more mass and more load and people won’t have to go online for these or go to Miami when they can get it right here in Trinidad.” 


Beyond Proof takes place on Saturday from 4-7 pm at Heritage Inn, 7 Coblentz Ave, Cascade, Port-of-Spain. For more information, contact 624-8697. 


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