EN MAS’: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean

Part 1

EN MAS’: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean explores the influences of Carnival on performance art in the Caribbean, North America, and Europe and considers the connections between masquerade and political criticism, spectacularity and social invisibility, and public space and national citizenship.

Taking its title from a pun on “Mas” (short for masquerade and synonymous with carnival in the English-speaking Caribbean) and the French colloquial “en masse,” meaning “in a group” or “all together,” EN MAS’ considers a history of performance that does not take place on the stage or in the gallery but rather in the streets, addressing not the few but the many.

Indeed, EN MAS’ takes into account performance practices that do not trace their genealogy to the European avant-gardes of the early twentieth–century but rather to the experiences of slavery and colonialism, the independence struggles and civil right movements, population migrations to and from the former colonial centers and postcolonial cultural and political transformations that shaped modern Caribbean society.

Throughout the 2014 Caribbean Carnival season, EN MAS’ commissioned nine artists to engage, transform, or critique historical and contemporary Caribbean Carnival and related public performance traditions with works that engaged with different modes of public address across eight cities in and of the Caribbean–and across imaginary cartographies and invented traditions, at the margin of the festival celebrations or in the midst of the carnival revelry.

For C Room, Nicolás Dumit Estévez went back to his native city of Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros for a semi-private ritual that took place on the margins of the public festivities (January 26, 2014).

In BIG SUN, Christophe Chassol summoned the carnival legacy of Martinique and the musical history of the Caribbean by mixing visual and sonic fragments in a film elaborated as a single day at Carnival (February-March, 2014).

Marlon Griffith conceived POSITIONS + POWER as a contemporary mas band attuned to the social and political undercurrents of Trinidad and Tobago, illuminating power relations in public space (March 4, 2014).

In Actor Boy: Fractal Engagement, Charles Campbell, dressed as an incarnation of Belisario’s John Canoe character from the future in a performance on the relationship of contemporary Jamaicans to the promises of full citizenship. (April 20, 2014).

Inspired by forms of political protest that were an intrinsic part of Carnival and Jonkonnu in the past, Ebony G. Patterson, staged Invisible Presence: Bling Memories to call attention to issues of access and visibility in public space (April 27, 2014).

In H-E-L-L-O (Infra-Sound/Structure), Cauleen Smith explored New Orleans’ processional musical traditions in a filmic aural reconstruction of the city’s frayed social fabric in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

For Give and Take, his first performance, Hew Locke engaged with the changing spatial politics of the Notting Hill Carnival and the neighborhood from which it grew in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall (August 23, 2014).

With Looking for a Headdress, the making-of of a future performance, though she included footage of the 2014 West Indian American Day Parade, Lorraine O’Grady realized an art film about Carnival and the diaspora rather than a documentary about Carnival (2014-ongoing).

Finally, John Beadle rescheduled the performance of Inside-Out, Outside-In, a series of large-sized cardboard Junkanoo costume stripped of all adornment, from the Bahamas’ traditional Christmas Junkanoo festival (December 2015) to the inaugural Junkanoo Carnival in May 2015.