Local artist interprets Uruguayan carnival as healer

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 4, 2008

Cochrane artist Linda Craddock sits among several of her interpretations of candombe dancers she witnessed earlier this year in a Black Carnival parade in Uruguay. Their hats mirror the drums whose signature rhythm dispels the fear and sorrows of a heritage of slavery. 
Photo by Warren Harbeck

Cochrane visual artist Linda Craddock combines social sensitivity with a photographer’s eye for detail and a painter’s gift of insight and interpretation in all her work. But in her series on the ritual heritage of Black Carnival in Uruguay, currently in progress, she is really outdoing herself.

Over brunch at her studio recently, Linda recounted for my wife Mary Anna and me her experience last February of Black Carnival, an annual expression of Uruguayan life derived from the transplanting of African slaves to this South American country in the 1700s. At its heart is the intoxicating rhythm of candombe (can-DOM-bay), the Afro-Uruguayan drum-based music characteristic of the festivities.

“I was taken by the sound and spectacle of hundreds of candombe drummers,” she said, “the sound so rich and dense that the concrete buildings along each side of the street vibrated in harmony. The drummers were introduced by enormous undulating flags that appeared translucent under bare streetlights.

“Men in white clothes and large hats dipped and swooped the flags while others carried thick poles at the end of which teetered giant three-dimensional stars and moons. I watched actors dressed as slave owners perform comic parodies, traditional African dancers, and young women clad mostly in feathers and G-strings dance provocatively – on incredibly high heels. The parade went on for miles and lasted two full evenings, with thousands of participants.”

Then she showed us some of her paintings of the event. What immediately caught my attention were her renderings of the white-clothed men in large hats. The hats, in particular, seemed to capture the signature Uruguayan drum rhythm and movement, reinterpreted in a variety of colours and expressive of marginalized and alienated humanity’s need for ritual.

“Alienation has been a theme in my work. I use colour to induce emotional device and it does induce social commentary,” she explained, alluding to some of her other work, such as a study of women lost in their own homes, or busy city-dwellers isolated from each other on crowded avenues.

“Through Black Carnival, I am reminded of humanity's need of ritual. In the past my work addressed the 'impersonal society' and individual suffering of alienation and fear. In this series of paintings, I explore humanity's deep need of ritual to disperse fear and of celebration to embrace life. In the characters, I see community, belonging and strength in numbers.

“The images of these people in my paintings address the state of my inner world – my spirit and dream world. I am the men in hats drumming enthusiastically along the streets. The drumming dispels fear – it vibrates the walls that were once washed in sorrow. I am the flag carrier cutting through the emptiness with color. And I am the star carrier holding high a cardboard star in hope that I can find and be found.”

Linda’s work is handled by Masters Gallery in Calgary, where her Black Carnival series will be featured this fall.

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

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