FASHION: CARNIVAL: AN ARTFORM OF RESISTANCE - PART 2
In part one , Fiona Compton and Maria Martinez De Souza began by sharing what Carnival meant to them. They parted knowledge on the history of Carnival alongside the significance of traditional costumes. In part two we discuss the future of Carnival, maintaining legacies and creating their dream outfits.
With many participants unaware of Carnival's origins and the importance of the costumes the question becomes how do we combat the commercialisation of Carnival? In response Fiona said ‘it will take a lot of work because at the end of the day sexiness sells. In order to do that we have to move with the times. The way people absorb information now, it has to be short and to the point. So to try and make it more palatable, shareable and inspiring I created Know Your Caribbean.’
Maria touched upon integrating Black history into education throughout different subjects such as music and geography ‘not only will our children learn but all children of different ethnicities. By educating we will see a change in understanding, wisdom and embracing of who we are as a people. Then we wouldn't have to have a movement per se, because we would be moving together.’ In terms of Carnival, she suggested educating through the goodie bags ‘let's have a leaflet of history or something on our websites so when we are selling to those who do not know they will be educated.’ As mothers, they also state how it’s important to teach history within their own homes. Maria said ‘I educated my children on the music and did activities like soca aerobics and costume making. Let the next generations learn it from us so they're not getting a diluted version of their history, culture, or themselves. We must still start from home and if you don't know, learn.’
‘I wept for what I saw this celebration to be, I wept for the freedom.’
Fiona and I ended up discussing fabrics and favourite methods of creating, she mentions how she loves to paint on 100% cotton and that this timely process is a labour of love. I asked her what her dream outfit with no limitations would be and after a few moments of reflection she revealed her vision. ‘I think it would be something that represents all the derivatives that make up my country, something to represent our revolution. I'd love to make a piece made from parrot feathers, and something in homage to Flo (Flore Bois de Gaillard). She was one of the escaped self-liberated slaves. She was a general and amazing with a machete. I'd represent the uniqueness of my island with the parrot feathers, represent strength and solidarity in the machete crown, but still create something that's feminine and empowering.’ Machetes and feathers don't sound practical but it would be something in homage to her that is very St. Lucian while shifting the narrative about how we see ourselves.’
Maria’s dream costume to create was also focused on a part of her own identity in the form of her faith. ‘I would design a Carnival Queen costume, I would call the design 'The Second Coming. I’d like the mechanics of the design to mimic a flower, a closed bud that eventually blooms. The underpart which is exposed would be black, gold and red. The red will signify the blood of a nation, the black is death and destruction by wars, pandemics and illnesses, the gold represents famine and greed. This signifies the pestilence seen in Matthew 24, the second coming and things we should look for. As she comes on stage in a somewhat circular motion, moving so the judges can see the red sequins as if they’re dripping, the lights will hit these colours. The reveal of the full costume will open like a blooming flower. The inside of it will be pure white with iridescent colours and silver, so when the light hits it, it’ll be blindingly bright. There would be artistry painted or sewn on of white horses, doves and angels, it would be beautiful and splendid.’ It’s now obvious to see that costumes tell stories without needing to say a word, and these women are the authors due to their knowledge and emotional connections.
So, after attempting to persuade Fiona to create a full series inspired by all the incredible Caribbean women she had educated me on including Queen Akua and Breffu, and obsessing over Maria’s Revelations inspired outfit, we move onto their most memorable moments. One of Maria’s occurred during the year her father got diagnosed with terminal cancer, although she didn't plan to go he asked her “Why? Why would you stop now? I wouldn't expect you to do different. I want you to go and have this time. I’ll be here when you get back.” She described the moment at Trinidad Carnival as if time stopped. ‘Patrice Roberts and Bunji Garlin - The Islands started playing and I looked around and saw my husband and family in such a joyous moment. I saw my island, my people, I saw everything that Carnival was and my upbringing. I thought of my father because he used to play mas with me, we do this as a family first. I wept for what I saw this celebration to be, I wept for the freedom. Nostalgia hit me hard, I wept for my father, everything I was going through that year. Everything was off-loaded during that moment. It was like therapy, pure joy took over and I celebrated life in that moment. Some may say it's not of God but for me, it was a very freeing and spiritual moment.’
There’s something particularly poignant about participating in Carnival especially when in costume, as Fiona said ‘participate don't spectate. Sometimes you have a moment where it’s just you by yourself, you close your eyes and it could just be for two seconds but it's one of the most liberating feelings you’ll have in your life. That’s what Carnival gives you and on top you are this character practising performative art with no one judging you. That's one of the most beautiful things.’ Fiona shared with me one beautifully simple moment, ‘I was just whining by myself oblivious to everyone and this guy came up to me and he said “Excuse me I have to say I love your spirit, whatever you're going through right now you just look so happy, you're truly embodying happiness” and he was right. Other times it's when you're surrounded by your loved ones, like in dirty mas, you're singing a song together holding each other’s faces and putting the dirt on them. It’s very intimate and loving. Carnival is also how we show love to each other as an extended family, like a big reunion. If you look properly you see a lot of hugging and singing to each other, comradery, that's one of my favourite parts of Carnival.’
Milla Cozart Riggio said in Carnival: Culture in Action that the celebration of Cannes Bruleés ‘can be examined at first a Black resistance ceremony; a recreation pageantry of Africans; an anti-catholic celebration of freedom; a popular street theatre exhibiting African-style dance, theatre and music.’ Although elements of this have faded or in some cases evolved, Carnival's fashion and craftsmanship both within and outside of the Caribbean is still a ritual of resistance, a celebration of life, and a reminder of the past.
In the words of Fiona ‘they tried to do so many things to stop us, from burning our instruments to threatening death upon groups gathering, yet we still kept going. Can you imagine post-emancipation slave people are on the road whining, dancing, singing and purposefully offending their master who did the most horrendous things? To have that kind of resolve is a beautiful thing. I think once we have that context it's only going to enrich the experience, it’s going to make you want to celebrate and value what you have more.’ As we continue to celebrate Carnival whether that be online or in person, let us remember the origins of this festival as mentioned in part 1. Alongside the effort put into creating it and sentimentality surrounding it that can be felt intensely by the words of the two wonderful women featured throughout our discussion of Carnival: An Artform Of Resistance.
Harris, M., 2010. Carnival And Other Christian Festivals. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Johnson, J., 2011. Venice Incognito. Berkeley: University of California Press, p.42.
Riggio, M., 2004. Carnival. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge.