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Does money talk, and Plagiarism walk?

I have always been that girl– tiniest in the school yard, but defender of the underdog.

I could remember so well when Anna kept looking at Vindira and laughing at her, making Vindira feel super self conscious and small. We were all maybe 8 years old, at Curepe Presbyterian school, and while they both probably have no recollection of the incident, there are moments like these that have stained my memory, reminding me of who I am meant to be in this world. I intercepted and told Vindira to to turn it around; told her to say to Anna “Yes, Feast your eyes”. She did this, and while Anna didn’t understand what she meant and continued poking fun, it gave Vindira back her power, and that made me feel good.

Flash forward to July 2017. I have committed myself to slow fashion, championing those who go against the tide to create something beautiful, sustainable and ethical in a world of narcissism, lies and cruelty. Fashion is beautiful, but it’s not that sort of inside-out beauty we talk about when we refer to Emma Watson. Fashion is fun and gorgeous to look at, but it has an ugly side. There are Bloggers and Stylists like myself, who choose to highlight the brands that are more transparent and morally sound, but trust that they are few, and they are struggling. Fast fashion is just easier–uglier–but easier.

I have many close friends in fashion, particularly in Trinidad and Tobago. The small fashion market there allows creatives to practice ethical production and marketing, as the scale of the business does not require sweat shop labour and other fashion victims. I am proud to represent Caribbean fashion because of this first, and secondly because of the unique vision our creatives have when it comes to colour, technique and silhouette. So if anyone is doing anything that causes me to raise an eyebrow, I’m going to have to question it, despite our personal relationships.

I felt really uncomfortable when I saw an Instagram post from boss babe duo, Tobye and Shoma. It was a video of Shoma sketching and painting an illustration of their Carnival Costume design for 2018. The video implied that Shoma was the illustrator, when I know for a fact it was actually Leighton Starr, who I referred to them for the job. Now, I get that he was commissioned to create the artwork, and even may have agreed to have it used in a way that stripped him of his rights to it, but I still feel bothered by the whole thing. I’m reading the comments of congratulations and awe over the piece and I can’t help but wonder how Leighton must feel, and how Tobye and Shoma feel too. While they never state outright who did the piece, the video strongly suggests that it was one of the girls. How is this okay? How much money would you accept to have someone claim your work as their own?

I got to thinking about plagiarism and the Walter Keane case, about an artist who passed his wife’s work off as his own. Have you seen the movie Big Eyes? Well, you should.

 

Art is not a normal job where you simply perform a service for monetary exchange. Creators empty parts of themselves into their work. Talent actually does exist and is real. Everyone is not born with the same gifts. Some of us shine in places other do not, while they are busy shining in another area. You cannot learn true art. You can learn to paint, sure. But you cannot learn uniqueness. You cannot teach someone their passion, or how to be who they are. At 7 years old I sat in front of the television every Saturday morning to catch runway shows on Fashion File, and obsessively would draw women in skirts blowing behind them like they did on the catwalk.  23 years later I’m still driven by this imagery. If I styled a look, or wrote a piece, I can’t say that any cheque would make me comfortable enough about someone saying it was their work. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m overreacting.

 

I wonder if Leighton truly understands the value of his work, or if Tobye and Shoma feel any guilt at all about misguiding their followers to think they actually did the piece. All three involved are people I consider friends, and it’s not easy for me to write about this, knowing that they will read it and feel some type of way. But you know what, I feel some type of way. Even if all parties involved are perfectly fine with the arrangement (which they are; I know because I spoke to them about it) it rubs me so wrong. I wouldn’t be an ethical fashion advocate if I didn’t speak up.

I think about the women with amazing voices who weren’t attractive enough to be put on album covers, and provided the vocals for a prettier girl to lip-sync.  I think about the seamstresses who create and cut the patterns from scratch, when “designers” bring them an inspiration image and ideas. Copying is one thing, but claiming someone else’s works as your own just feels dirty to me. I understand that business is business, but can we be so cash-cold when our heart is supposed to be in it?

 

*Please note that this Article speaks solely about the illustration and not the design itself.

11 Comments

  1. Lana

    July 21, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    Excellent blog my dear👏👏👏 I saw the post on IG and was under the impression (like most followers) that the ladies involved had actually sketched that design themselves! Kudos to them though for bringing the design to life because it honestly is very lovely indeed and looked amazing at the band launch. However i admire your honesty and passion about this subject as it’s a touchy matter and i respect that…

    • Stephanie Ramlogan

      July 22, 2017 at 1:55 pm

      Thank you! Yes, I absolutely love the costume design. It is actually my favourite this year and probably won’t be topped, because it is unique and special, elegant and beautiful. No one is trying to discredit them for their design, but I wish they could have been a little more honest in the video portrayal of the illustration. Not all designers can sketch. No shame in that. Illustrators are hired all the time to capture fashion design work done by others. No one expects you to be able to do everything. As I said, some people shine in some places, and others in their own way. Shoma is the marketing engine of the brand, and not an illustrator. I wish they played up her strengths a bit more instead of trying to dupe the public about the drawing.

  2. Tamara Caesar

    July 21, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Point very well noted. As an artist, originality is both valuable and meaningful. Now, whereas I’m no artist (at least not in that professional sense), I once drew a portrait if my mother. A gentleman offered to purchase. I refused. There are just some things money cannot buy.

  3. Sareeta

    July 22, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Brings to mind the costume designed by the A level art student and who was figuratively silenced in what felt like a violent manner to me by Passions band leader. I have much respect for you and your writing after reading this. The truth does matter.

    • Stephanie Ramlogan

      July 22, 2017 at 4:06 pm

      I appreciate you for this. t’s not easy to speak out about people that you are close to.

  4. Micky B

    July 22, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    Just looking a little broader here…I totally understand how you feel and your point…but what if someone with immense talent does not feel that they have the know-how or resources to take something on paper and turn it into a “product” of awe? And therefore has no problem with their input ending at the stage where it is then “sold?” What if a person is shy and feels proud inside but doesn’t want public credit but feels their own sense of accomplishment knowing that they did it? What if the artist feels that the art is not reaching it’s full potential on paper and gives more credit to those who bring it to life? Aka…band leaders etc? I have created hundreds of programmes and put my name on a dozen…at first because I didn’t know better but then because it didn’t matter as long as it fulfilled it’s purpose…which was to be used for people to become better at what they do and feel better about what they do. If all parties are fine…then hopefully they discussed it and it’s ok for them to be ok 🙂

    • Kairon Manzano

      July 29, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      There is a difference between both parties being OK and one taking full creative credit for something they did not do. It is understood that the artist may have been shy about his work and they women were a good fit to have it out there. One thing you don’t do is claim it as yours. What they could have done was state a collaboration between themselves and said artist, but that’s not the case

  5. Alisha K

    July 22, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    Great article. I actually share your sentiments.

  6. Tamiks

    August 2, 2017 at 1:09 am

    Great article Stephanie, I totally understand your point and I too believe that true talent exists.I also believe that every artist has an artistic fingerprint that allows their work to be clearly defined from their counterparts. So sooner or later the sketch would have revealed it’s creator, provided of course, that the illustrators work became known.

  7. M

    August 14, 2017 at 11:30 am

    I have issues with these designers considering that fact that I could not find any black people on their instagram page despite the fact that T&T is a very diverse country. No customers or models, not even a black person in the background of a photo. I’m bothered even more now by the fact that they tried to pass off a black artists work as their own. I really wanted to play in their section and suspect that my request was ignored because I’m not the right color. They are very talented and they definitely have the most beautiful and unique section for TT Carnival 2018. Something isn’t right in that camp though and I can’t pin down exactly what it is.

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