Caribbean Calling Review
An exhibition based on stories from the Caribbean for children aged 6-10. Sit under the Banyan tree for live story telling, find out why monkeys live in trees and where common sense comes from, listen to exciting music and poke your nose in the smell chest.
Even before you walk through the main doors that lead into the interior of Discover, you find yourself entering a world that has been made safe, self-contained and very stimulating to children. The front yard has been turned into something of an adventure playground and it is obvious that someone has gone to a lot of effort to engage children in the art of creativity and storytelling. Where you would expect a couple of slides, swings and climbing frames, you get sliding down a Monster’s Tongue, treasure seeking in a Secret Cave, driving the Hootah Taxi or snaking through the Willow Tunnel.
This attention to detail becomes even more even more evident when you walk through the doors and into the main building itself. The space has been designed with children and telling stories firmly in mind. So you have a little room that has different coloured, lit up shapes on the floor. It turns out that these make different drum sounds – congas, high hats, cymbals, bass et al – when you use your foot to break the flow of light. Never mind the kids, this adult had a fun five minutes wandering round the room, investigating the different drum sounds. Then there are nooks and crannies, built to a child’s eye vantage and lined with puppets, paintings, people made with spoons etc that reinforce the idea of story telling.
But it is downstairs when you walk into the Story Den and the Caribbean Calling exhibition that we really see how Discover has harnessed all the sensibilities one could bring to bear on how to tell a story and make sure that the kids are learning useful things into the bargain while they play. The first thing you see on entering the exhibition is that the floor is painted a sea blue with the islands of the Caribbean depicted. Then you hear the music of the Caribbean, not just gleaned from the obvious reggae of Bob Marley for instance. Children singing traditional Caribbean nursery rhymes like Brown Girl in the Ring, soca, salsa and folk music from Guatemala, Cuba and Dominica play a part too. As do stories told by the 50+ Luncheon Club of their school days in the Caribbean, what they ate, wore and drank and how they felt when they first arrived in Britain and what they miss about the Caribbean like “nice, fresh, heated air, smelling like flowers.”
It is no exaggeration to say that the designers of this exhibition thought long and hard about how best to convey the essence of the Caribbean into such a contained space. They have attempted to engage as many of the senses as possible, using lighting, audio, textures and visuals to bring the sunny Caribbean to grey Stratford in East London. On the walls are words like patois, Papiamento, pictures of different hair styles like braids, canerows, chinie bumps, dreadlocks and twists done up in a cartoon barber shop style, maps of the world with maps of the Caribbean in relation to the world with detailed place names and flags of the different islands in the study room which itself is littered with all sorts of storybooks telling traditional Caribbean folk tales. In the middle of the main room is a replica of a Banyam tree festooned with vividly coloured butterflies, hibiscus flowers, sparkling dragonflies and huge black spiders under which children get to live story telling as to why monkeys live in trees or where common sense comes from for example. Even the little stools that litter the room are fashioned out of 5 litre cans of maize oil topped by cushions covered in batik, dutch wax and tie-dye fabric.
But is the smells that the exhibition manages to incorporate that are really evocative of the Caribbean. A cabinet that might have contained old style library index cards is given over to a different smell in each drawer – salt fish, molasses, coconut oil, hot pepper sauce, hair pomade and nutmeg – with a little inscription telling the smeller what each thing is used for. This idea of smell is extended to a mock up of a traditional Caribbean kitchen and a market stall of foodstuffs like tamarind, guava jelly, sarsaparilla, mango, plaintain, sweet potato, palm oil, okra and yams. One little boy was intent on rearranging the stall so that all the like foods were gathered together in the same place.
Caribbean Calling the exhibition is a definite joy to behold and won’t just appeal to kids but also to the kid in adults too. And Discover itself is a must for parents looking for ways to stimulate their children’s creativity in the most imaginative ways possible.
by Dzifa Benson
Last chance to catch this exhibition based on stories from the Caribbean for children aged 6-10. Ends 28 October 2007