Last week, I attended General Admission, an exhibition by local artist Tessa Alexander held at the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago.
The collection incorporates several themes, each of which showcase different aspects of Trinidad. Some pieces portray the “every day” people of the island – the sno cone vendors, the doubles man, curbside CD sellers, and students.
Other pieces illustrate Trinidad’s annual Carnival celebration, depicting scenes like a woman walking alone after Jouvert, a man suiting up with his devil mask, and a young woman waving a white flag while drummers play in the background.
The third and most poignant set reveals characters in various states of reflection, with waterfalls, beaches, and forest paths providing the backdrop.
While the individual paintings are beautiful, the greatest impact comes from the message the overall exhibition communicates. It’s about more than street food and Trinidad’s most important celebration.
It is a social commentary on classism.
There is no class so pitiably wretched as that which possesses money and nothing else. – Andrew Carnegie
The exhibition space was divided into two parts by a giant scaffolding separating the two; the general admission and the VIP sections. Along the gate were life-sized paper people representative of the general admission crowd looking longingly into the VIP section.
The exhibition draws parallels between a typical concert seating – general admission, VIP, and sometimes even VVIP – and society’s class system. The general admission section hosts the majority of the people, while the VIP section is populated by the “haves” of society, the upper echelon, those who likely choose the VIP section as some kind of display of status, like peacocks splaying their feathers during a mating ritual.
The exhibition made me reflect on the consideration of class and how it relates to travel. Traveling is one of the closest ways I’ve found to be excluded from a society’s class ranking. Because no one knows my past, my future, my level of education, or my income bracket, I find myself in a fortunate state of class suspension where I am free to mix with whomever I feel like. There are no social rules to play by that are associated with a particular class.
While I’ve had short-lived forays into the wonderless world of the bougie crowd, it’s really not my thing. My time spent there has always been clouded with an indescribable vibe of tenseness not conducive to freedom. It seems like the more elite you consider yourself, the more rules you have to follow – you have to dress a certain way, in certain brands, attend events due to social obligation, speak in a certain way, date certain people – the list goes on.
If you have learned anything about me, you know that I loathe living by rules – especially those which have been imposed by someone else.
I’ve always tried to avoid the class game. Too many people are concerned with reaching a certain status, attaining a certain number of possessions, falling within a specific income bracket, or trapping themselves within some other meaningless label that just serves to enforce the illusion of the ego.
You can keep your VIP section – I’ll cool in general admission.