Every year, during the month of October, Saint Lucia, along with her sister isle Dominica celebrate Creole Heritage Month. Its purpose is to allow for present generations to take a look back at a particular way of doing things – a perspicuous way that had emerged from the merging of distinctly different cultures, religions, and social classes and their individual inclinations, habits, and methods. Its purpose is to facilitate an immersion into a time less modern, sometimes less affluent, and markedly different than the now. During this month, the citizens of these countries remember games, food, music, and folklore of old and they make a larger and more concerted effort to engage with each other in a language called Kwéyòl.
Particularly in Saint Lucia, young people also view Jounen Kwéyòl celebrations as an opportunity to flex their creativity; to design modern wear with the madras prints of old. However, a few years ago, there was a move away from using solely madras prints to embrace and incorporate increasingly popular wax, Ankara, and Kente prints and cloths from Africa. These young people saw this incorporation as a means of forging affinity to their African heritage and culture but to many from the older generation, the move away from wearing SOLELY madras prints could be seen as nothing less than a bastardization of the celebrations. Their position was not without merit. If Creole month celebrations were to provide an opportunity for younger generations to revisit the way of life on the island of previous inhabitants – the way of life of previous decades and generations – then it would mean that they were revisiting a time where a predominantly black, formerly enslaved population brought very few tangibles from Africa and were unlikely to be wearing prints from Africa.
But this piece is not to serve as a referee between the ever so divergent views on the place of wax and Ankara prints during Jounen Kwéyòl celebrations in Saint Lucia. Instead, let it be considered a useful means of bringing to the fore a question that has buffetted generations of Caribbean men and women: What does it mean to be Caribbean?
At what point are we allowed to generously draw inspiration from the ways, methods, and style of the lands from which our ancestors were brought and at what point does our drawing begin to infringe on our distinction?
These are difficult and even painful questions which paint vividly the traumas of our history, but true to our resilience, many are seeking to forge a way forward: one that does not neglect that as Caribbean people we find our roots all across the globe, but one accepting that we are here today, owning a culture that is a distinct, nuanced mix of mergers and acquisitions. This group of people, through music, food, fashion, and art, are designing identity. They are designing the Caribbean identity.
Introducing James Hackett & The Lush Kingdom
Trinidad and Tobago
Hailing from the land which gave us soca and steel pan, James Hackett is amongst many other things, a surface designer. Hackett is owner to a bold, lush, colorful, and vibrant brand aptly called The Lush Kingdom. He describes it as, “an embodiment of the Caribbean: its people, its culture and its many varied colors“. And that it is.
When you look at any one of James’s designs, you will observe marked, prominent reminders of the beauty and color which has made the Caribbean one of the most sought after destinations for fun, rest, and relaxation: palm trees, foliage, plants, and unique flowers. If you look deeply enough at some of the designs you’ll also see the use of patterns that slightly mimic those we see on prints and relics coming from Africa and India. More importantly, through bold colors, the Lush Kingdom provides an often difficult to pinpoint thing: a tangibility of the luminosity, boldness, and vibrancy of Caribbean culture and people.
James took the time to answer a few questions about his work at the Lush Kingdom. Here are a few snippets from his interview:
How did you start drawing/illustrating/fashion design?
My brother got me into art at a young age and I loved stories and imagery and adventures, so I found myself interested in comics, and dramatic fashion photography, animation and film, and through this I eventually found my way to Graphic Design and Illustration and later Fashion Design.
Have you had any formal training as an artist?
Yes I studied art from Secondary School at Trinity College all the way to University
What inspired the Lush Kingdom?
The Nothern Range in Trinidad looking at the green hills and enjoying living in a Caribbean Country that I felt is beautiful and inspiring
Tell Us About Some of The Things You Do At Lush Kingdom.
Right now, I create Prints and Patterns inspired by the Caribbean.
What philosophy inspires your art/design?
Honesty and Optimism
What inspires your designs?
Stories, Beauty, Freedom, Love and a need to elevate Caribbean aesthetics through design
Take us through the process of how you came up with one of your print patterns. Perhaps, Vivrant (the latest offering).
It starts with an inspiration a story I want to put together, then I figure out what I want to say, and how I want to put it together using research. My goal is always multi-layered narratives so when you look at my work there seems to always be something else the next time you re-engage. Finish off the presentation with vibrant colors and life and you have the LUSH KINGDOM way!
What would you say has been the lowest point of your journey thus far?
Lowest point being somewhere around 2004 not making any money and going hungry just managing resources.
What would you say has been the highest point of your journey thus far?
2019 felt like a great year. I felt like I was doing all the right things and I felt free.
What difficulties have you had to traverse in your pursuit of a design career in the Caribbean?
A lot. Most of the time I feel like I am 2 steps ahead in an industry that is always playing catch up to my needs so I am constantly trying to be innovative with how I work.
On The Difficulties
James has been using e-commerce solutions as much as he possibly can in an environment that has made very little progress in the area of financial inclusion. Payment gateways that do not require Caribbean Entrepreneurs to wait for long periods to receive their money are few and far between if companies are not registered in the US, UK or Canada. He has also had to figure out delivery options months or even years before it’s been talked about in a region with a less than stellar postal/shipping system.
What vision do you have for Lush Kingdom? What would you like to see it become?
I think everyone should own a piece of Lush Kingdom
What advice would you give to a young Caribbean man or woman who is desirous of joining the Caribbean’s design fraternity? What lessons do you think they can take from your experience?
The world is yours and the world also wants your story. Go big, learn, lead, and share!
James Hackett isn’t bold or generous with words, but perhaps there is no need for him to be. His work speaks for itself. It is bold. It is a grandiose expression of generosity to the Caribbean’s culture and its people – a print to call our own. Adequately capturing historical impressions, our region’s natural beauty, flavor, and color, The Lush Kingdom is the Caribbean Print.