Friday, November 27, 2009

Chapter 1 begins...

‘The urban festival provides  a bridge between the ordinary city of everyday experience and the extraordinary city- projected in part by the festival – of idealistic and technological urbanism; of utopian hopes, projects and illusions.’
Alan J. Plattus (1987)

‘The urban environment is constantly changing. Permanent alterations are the result of new buildings going up and others being demolished, streets being widened or straightened, new neighbourhoods being developed. No less significant, however, is the way in which the shared public space of the city is altered on particular occasions, such as for festivals of ceremonies, when temporary effects transform the familiar to underline the significance of given events. This process of temporary and permanent change is true to all cities.’
Siena, Constructing the Renaissance City, Introduction, pg 1.

‘Parades let people reclaim urban spaces not just as a place of work but to renew their relationship with the environment. By animating all senses, parades change people’s relation to the city, letting them look at the city in a new way. Parades allow all different groups of people to get together in public in an important way, crossing all political, economic, religious and ethnic barriers. There are very few events in the city that do that.’
Wishes Come True, J. Kugelmass

As human beings, we have created a physical world that is nuanced by the collective legacies to which each of our cultures cling. Our cities, though physically little more than cells of combined activity and habitation under a set of accepted codes, also hold a higher ideological significance to each inhabitant. The city in a more enriched sense is the modern plain upon which man exerts his desires and actions. The city contextualises the life of the inhabitant, pulling on the basic propensities within each individual and making their life somewhat different than it would be anywhere else in the world. This is the power of the overlaying of city histories. In older cities centuries of collective experience shape the city as well as the behaviour of the individual within it. This isn’t an altogether mystical idea of invisible magic that lives beneath the cobble stones although that metaphor comes close to it. Rather, as Rossi discuses in Architecture of the city, urban artefacts can contribute to the locus of the city, and eventually affect the overall identity of the place.

‘One can say that the city itself is the collective memory of its people, and like memory it is associated with objects and places. The city is the locus of the collective memory. This relationship between locus and the citizenry then becomes the city’s predominant image, both of architecture and of landscape, and as certain artefacts become part of its memory, new ones emerge. In thi entirely positive sense great ideas flow through the history if the city and give shape to it.’ Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City

This is also true of urban celebrations. In certain situations, where the festival and the city have grown together, infused with one another as in Port-of-Spain’s Carnival, the festival is a breathing and moving action that yearly reanimates the place. ‘Signature ephemera’ as discussed by J. Mark Schuster, are urban events which come to directly inform the identity of a city. These types of celebrations are often deeply linked to the myths underlying each place, taking on the weight of a kind of civic religion.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I found a 3rd case study. It's on Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain. It's a fire festival to St Joseph, the patron saint of carpentry. It culminate for one week in March of partying, fireworks and exhibition of Fallas (large, grotesque monuments), which at midnight of the last day of the festival are simultaneously set on fire in public squares all around the city. These Fallas are up to 30 meters in height! So you see it's no small flame. 

It's interesting to see the recurring themes in each festival. I am getting a clearer understanding of the Extraordinary city. I'm also gaining confidence that my claim of two simultaneous cities is not that strange. 

I'm particularly taken with Las Fallas at the moment. I really want to go there for it. It's such an offense to a Western perspective - burn the damned things down! There is also an intricate social infrastructure that surrounds the celebration. That's one of the recurrent themes in these case studies - this dense informal networks that organize the events. In all of the cases it is apparent that this system, though invisible for most of the year, is actually extremely active in the social structure of the city year round. 

Good things these case studies. 

Monday, November 16, 2009

City and Space

This week I am working on 2 case studies of festivals as well as my Lit Review and Introduction. The 2 case studies are of festivals that in some way define the cities in which they take place. The first is the Palio in Sienna where the race has significantly shaped the social relationships of the neighborhoods or contradas while also shaping the international persona of Sienna.The second festival I will be looking at is the Gion Matsuri Festival in Kyoto. This festival dates back to 896AD and occurs at the beginning of the summer. Huge boat like wooden floats are pulled through the city, their enormous parts sometimes coming off of buildings themselves. Certain parts of Kyoto have become identified by their participation in the festival. Both of these festivals are examples of cities that have become completely identified by a second face of the city that lies separate from the Ordinary or Rational one. I hope that through these case studies I will be able to illustrate an underlying human behavior to do with celebration and space. I'm looking around for a 3rd case study. The Aboriginal 'Walkabout' is interesting as a means of ritualistically re-imagining the world. But I wonder since it isn't exactly a festival if it is still applicable. We will see where this goes. 

Friday, November 6, 2009


This thesis began about 8 years in San Fernando, Trinidad. It was the year after I finished high school and the first time i played J'ouvert. I didn't really know what to expect. Filled with curiosity and the flush of first times, I joined 3 friends in San Fernando at around 4 in the morning. I had never seen the town that way. I grew up and went to primary and secondary school in that small town but I had never walked its streets in the twilight hours. That one morning of ecstasy on those streets transformed the way that I interacted with the place. It hit me, dancing in the early morning light on the Promenade, past the entrance to my high school, past the public library, past the Catholic Church and the police station, that I realised what I was doing. I was declaring myself to these places and people - I was dancing out of my skin and into the mud that coated my body in a kind of public exaltation of freedom.
So this thesis starts on that day - in that moment: half clothed and covered in mud.
But was there something before that that made that revelation possible? Yes. I cannot say for every little girl, but for my 5 year old self, my mornings and afternoons were inspired by walks with my father. My dad would take me into downtown San Fernando on Carnival Tuesdays every year, since I was about 5 or 6 until I was a teenager. When I was small enough to get lost in a crowd, I would be safely seated on his shoulders. Best seat in the house! From that young age I chased colourful feathers on the street and was completely captured by Wild Indian Mas even then. My dad showed me Mas Camps and explained what they were when we saw people emerging from them. He showed me while we walked through San Fernando where the different camps were and would even tell me about how some things were made. So you see, although he may regret inciting this passion in me, he showed me the way into this Carnival world.
During my Undergrad, I kept my fascination limited to my infrequent canvases. Those 5 years are a painful blur. In my year off before starting Masters, I worked in Port-of-Spain. Port-of-Spain is a 2 hour drive away from my hometown of San Fernando. It was such a painful trek every morning in rush hour traffic that I moved to Port-of-Spain for the first time. I didn’t really know the place that well. There were a few places that I went to and those were the only little bits I knew about. Carnival time started to dawn on the city in the beginning of January after Christmas was over. I would be playing J’ouvert in Port-of-Spain for the first time. I had organised with my boyfriend and his family to go into town with a band that the family knows.
We played Blue. We all convened at a friend of the family’s house in Belmont and we walked into town. We danced through Port-of-Spain all morning long and it was again magical. I was more hesitant than I was in San Fernando, but from that day forward, I knew Port-of-Spain in a new way. From that day on I owned a little piece of town and those streets I danced on, I felt I had a right to.
So there it is: the personal legacy behind the thesis. To answer my own ‘Why bother?’ question, I am doing this thesis because as a growing artist and designer, I have for many years seen the unique power of masquerade to unite the person with the place in an exalted form. It’s not about taking you somewhere else or making you something you aren’t. Masquerade brings you closer to your ‘other self’. This thesis is therefore a peep into the other city that lies behind the one we think we know.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Moan, Acrylic on Canvas, 24 x 30 in

This is the painting that I mentioned in previous posts. I've tried some new things with it.

I have also started doing a set of diagrams for the chapter I am working on. Below is a panorama of Independence Square. It's a base for the diagram I am about to do.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I'm reorganising my thesis. kind of...

It's the same stuff but framed in a different way. I suppose thats good. That way I move away from a general story about Carnival toward an actual Thesis...

I've reorganized my chapters and have now begun to reframe the text itself. I've been advised to represent as much information as I can visually, rather than through a terrifyingly vast and boring essay.

My paintings, I have reconsidered in this version with more intentional purpose and placement. Also, I have finished my the painting I mentioned in the previous post. It's 24 x 36". I've titled it "Moan". Will take pics shortly.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

thoughts on paintings

Throughout this thesis process, I have envisioned myself using my paintings. I have not been entirely sure where they would go in. In my life I have never actually painted as much as I am doing now, and especially not with the idea of using them for a particular collection. I also didn't foresee my Conte drawings becoming what they are to me now. It’s strange how even when you don't think you have a fixed idea of what your own creativity is, you actually do. I feel confused pretty often about what the particular artwork is - whether it should mean something particular and if it should be of a particular place. But the good stuff never really comes out of strategy. I have to keep fighting my desire to make something beautiful and relevant in order to bring out stuff that are behind my eyes and without my knowing. I am discovering a darkness in my work that I haven't seen before. It surprises me when I see some of the things that I draw and paint and they make me wonder...
Oh well. So it goes. I have a canvas up in my room at the moment. The sketch I have on it now is inspired by a passage in The Famished Road by Ben Okri. It's a book about this Nigerian boy who is part human and part spirit. He can see both worlds and his visions are totally incandescent. I have to stop and breathe every few pages and let the images settle. This passage I'm painting from is an image of a huge masquerade / demon thing that charges through the streets during a riot. I haven't started the actual painting of it yet (it’s still a sketch). I want to try something new with it. Will post it when it’s done.
' ‘I wandered through the violent terrain, listening to the laughter of mischievous spirits. There was a crescent moon in the sky, darkness over houses, broken bottles and splintered wood on the road. I wandered barefoot. Fires sprouted over rubbish heaps, men were dragged out of cars, thick smoke billowed from houses. Stumbling along, looking for mum, I found myself in a dark street. There was a solitary candle burning on a stand near an abandoned house. I heard a deep chanting that made the street tremble. Shadows stormed past, giving off a stench of sweat and rage. Drums vibrated in the air. A cat cried out as if it had been thrown on to a fire. Then a gigantic Masquerade burst out of the road, with plumes of smoke billowing from its head. I gave a frightened cry and hid behind a stall. The Masquerade was terrifying and fiery, its funereal roar filled the street with an ancient silence. I watched it in horror. I watched it by its shadow of a great tree burning, as it danced in the empty street.
Then the darkness filled with its attendants. They were stout men with glistening faces. They held on to the luminous ropes attached to the towering figure. Dancing wildly, it dragged them towards the rioting. When it strode past, sundering the air, I crept out of my hiding place. Swirling with hallucinations, I started back towards the main road.’ p 11

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Rant

Maybe its okay that people continually have tried to gentrify Carnival. maybe that's where it gets its beauty - through rebellion and vulgarity. If everything were embraced and allowed there would be no breaking through.

Perhaps it is that kind of general acceptance from society that makes Pretty Mas so simplistic and bereft of creativity. It is an accepted activity lacking in the euphoria of rebellion but rather embracing the simple ecstasy of showing one's sex and skin.

I won't hide my contempt for Pretty Mas. And i admit that I am extremely biased having not played it myself. My attraction has never been to bikini Mas. I see no transcendence through that than egotism. For myself I see true transcendence in the man who play his dragon each year and the bands that build their Indian mas over and over again. It's a livelihood then and a neighborhood and a real kind of love. Buying a costume one year that you don't build your self and that you toss out after 2 days seems such a strange parody of a great thing. Such a missed oppostunity to create someting phenomenal.

The great thing about designing mas is that you aren't just designing a costume or a head dress or a bodice. No. You are designing an experience. You are framing a story in city space. It's a chance for the people you are designing for to see themselves, their city and their bodies in a brand new way. This isn't about 'look at me, look at me'. No! This drama goes far beyond sexy. This is possession.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Ballet of Spatial Form

In many ways I see Carnival as a massive ballet of spatial form. Forms morph and stretch. They repeat and engulf you, blind you and release you. Let's think about it for a moment.
Where i am standing - in the middle of the street on Carnival Tuesday afternoon - this is my ground. It is ground I do not conquer at any other time of year. My ground is baptised in paint, feathers and sequins from J'ouvert and the days of dance.
My walls have moved. The limits of me experience have shifted. The houses and businesses that I have occupied in past stand silent witness to my passing. Now lining those silent walls are a parasitic strip of aromatic foods, cold drinks and local crafts. A Service belt on the pavement - strapped to fences. Even these silent walls of year round businesses wear their own ephemeral mask for these days. Closer around me though, my vision undulates. At one moment i cannot see anything but people around me: in masks and ecstatic behaviours. But the next moment a feathered arm has lifted and I can see Adam Smith Square. This movement and shifting and dancing and jostling hypnotises me. My city I see through these frames. For release I look to the sky above me. I see blue blue sky and wings of a Carnival queen extending above me.
But it's not only the undulating band that shapes the borders of this experience. The morphology of the city differentiates attitudes. The rooms of the city are its neighbourhoods. Ariapita Avenue is a place of beginnings – where people trickle onto the road from their camps. It is a long and narrow corridor into the old city. There is a momentum that gathers there – shooting toward Lapeyrose. Lapeyrose cemetery is surrounded by high yellow walls. It creates a threshold between Woodbrook and Downtown Port-of-Spain. The streets of downtown Port-of-Spain are narrower, with historic buildings and stories rising above. It is a confined, intense and multi-layered space of powerful re-imagination: Re-imagining the Red House and Woodford Square.
To be continued…

Friday, July 10, 2009

Excerpt from Another Life by Derek Walcott :

begin again,
from what we have always known, nothing,
from that carnal slime of the garden...

by this aurgery of ibises
flying at evening from the melting trees,
while the silver-hammered charger of the marsh light
brings toward us, again and agains, in beaten scrolls
nothing, then nothing,
and then nothing. (286-87)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Anatomy of a festival

With this set of diagrams, I have attempted to dissect the main urban characteristics of Trinidad’s Carnival. The photographs follow the main carnival route, as shown in the key map in red.

By separating the individual parts that are specific to the festival, it’s anatomy becomes quite clear. The next stage of this set of diagrams will be to add a layer of information about the places in the city in which theses images are taken.

These 12 diagrams walk you through Port of Spain. The places they are taken are listed below, in order of appearance:

Ariapita Avenue

Adam Smith Square

Park Street (outside of Lapeyrose cemetery)

St. Vincent Street upper

St. Vincent Street Lower

Independence Square

Twin Towers (outside Central Bank Trinidad)

South Quay lower

South Quay Judging Point

Rosary Junction

Charlotte Street

Queens Park Savannah

Friday, May 15, 2009

a begining

Guinea John[1] went to the East Coast of Trinidad and climbed up a cliff in Manzanilla. He put 2 corn cobs under his arms and flew back to Africa; leaving behind his children and grandchildren to fend for themselves. It wasn’t that   Guinea John did not care about his descendents, but he knew that they had eaten too much salt on the island; and that they were too heavy to fly back to Africa. So rather than burden them with the wisdom of flight and levitation that they could never use, he took it back with him to Africa, leaving them now bound to Trinidad. Two hundred years ago Gang Gang Sarah tried to fly home too. She was a witch who was blown from her home in Africa to Trinidad. She had a long life in Trinidad where she became known for her kindness to the villagers. When her husband died, she climbed to the top of the tallest silk cotton tree[2] in Tobago to try to fly back to Africa.  Gang Gang Sarah fell to her death when she jumped from the branches – too heavy with salt to fly home. So now Totoben and Maisie[3] have become Trinidadian and their fractured history, a part of their reconstructed reality.

[1] From the novel Salt by Earl Lovelace, pg 3.

[2] The silk cotton tree is known locally as a tree in which spirits reside. It is supposedly difficult to find someone who will cut one down. This particular tree, relevant in this myth still stands today.

[3] Totoben and Maisie; main personas in the publication Caribana: African Roots and Continuities, by Nourbese Philips

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I’m struggling to begin writing my individual stories. I know that the way in which I articulate these stories will be crucial in representing where each persona stands in the world. For example, for the Colonial narrative, it seems natural to me that it is simply a historical account; perhaps written as so many accounts are from that time, as letters between governors and officers; speaking from a cool, Christian, separated experience of the New World. The African story however is much more problematic. The spirit of Carnival in Trinidad itself needs to come through. Also, given the power of oral tradition within Yoruban society, it seems most reasonable to me that that story is articulated through personas and experiences. It’s very important though that that story is very thorough and remains focused on forming a picture of Trinidad now. The Pagan story will probably be the most difficult. I’ve narrowed down the scope of that experience to look at the evolution of Dionysus into Bacchus and into Pan. Through looking at the celebrations that occur in honour of this character, I hope to create an understanding of the ancient beginnings of celebration that through the rise of Christianity becomes crystallised into Carnival. 

In the end the entire point of this chapter is to give the reader a significant insight into the simultaneous stories that co-exist and form Trinidad's Carnival. But it’s extremely difficult to keep each voice steady in my head. I confuse myself before I even begin to write! I really need to start writing though – so my next post will be part of my 1st story.

Someone please hold me to that! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


the doctrine that all natural objects and the universe itself have souls; "animism is common among primitive peoples" 

Belief that a spirit or force resides in every animate and inanimate object, every dream and idea, giving individuality to each. The related Polynesian concept of mana holds that the spirit in all things is responsible for good and evil.

The belief, often found in pre-Christian religions, that a spiritual force is in all living creatures, and even in inanimate objects such as rocks ...

the idea that all things in the universe are invested with a life force, soul or mind inherently. It is an important constituent of primitive religions. It appears commonly in occult and spiritism circles (Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions, and the Occult, p. 22).

Animism is the backbone of Yoruba worship. It's the central guiding concept that underscores this world view. Coincidentally, it is similar in notion to the Roman Pagan religious practices. This coincidence Is particularaly relevant. looking at the parallel stories that have birthed Carnival in different times and places. 

The power of the mask in African society, relating to this idea of Animism, is not merely a practice of representation, or acting as  is practised in European theatre. The mask in African religious rituals is part of invocation. There actually is not an equivalent word to mask in different African religions. The Bakwebe say buoobkuk which means 'face of the forest spirit'. The Igbo say isi mmuo, which means 'head spirit'. Lega say lukuwak ongo which means 'death gathers in'. The idea of mask wearing in Yoruba therefore comes from a tradition of masquerade that is based on the invocation of spirits, through ritualistic masquerade. There is also the belief in creating spirits, as a kind of hybrid entity that is born from the mask wearer and the spirit that comes into the mask. The person wearing the mask then is no longer himself. It is through possession that a different entity is created. 

Standing on the streets of Port-of-Spain therefore on Carnival Monday morning, you are faced with a different experience of time and space. The transience of the ritual is itself critical. Carnival, in terms of myth therefore emodies the conjunction of 4 different stories of time and perspective. 

-the african
-the indian
-the colonial
-the pagan

Tracing these stories will be my first attempt at a chapter. I'm starting with Africa. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Painting

This is the new painting in my life. It's actually a couple of weeks old now. I haven't titled it as yet. 

2' x 2' in size
acrylic on canvas

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Collective Joy

I'm reading a book by Barbara Ehrenreich called 'Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy'

Isn't that a lovely title? Doesn't it make you feel great reading it? Tumbling it over in your mind - don't the words and ideas just make you smile? 

It makes me smile. But what's more, she delves into the nature of communal festivals, especially what she calls ecstatic rituals. These are rituals that involve the kinds of things I've been talking about in my own study of Carnival. It speaks about trance and dancing, especially in the frenzy of large groups. Her study looks at different types of these rituals all over the world. I am only a quarter way through the book so far, but it's made me really hopeful, seeing someone speak about these things in a realistic way, without satire or judgement. 

I've wondered for a long time where the intellectual bias began against things like sex, dancing and boisterous outbreaks of expression. I mean what's really wrong with these things? Why do people constantly feel the need to crystallise and re-crystallise some illusion of who or what they are through archaic intellectual roles and anachronistic impressions of what people fundamentally are? Is it a method of control? Is it power? Or elitism? Is it the backlash of conservative Christianity? Or have we become too afraid as people to express our animalistic selves through anything more than war? 

In any event, it's a great book. I'm really enjoying it and it's helping me to form my ideas in a more lucid way. 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

the extraordinary city

‘The urban festival provides  a bridge between the ordinary city of everyday experience and the extraordinary city- projected in part by the festival – of idealistic and technological urbanism; of utopian hopes, projects and illusions.’

Alan J. Plattus (1987)

Port-of-Spain, as I have come to know it, is an urban composition of many silent stories. These stories are hidden behind the bravado of a decaying colonial façade and monolithic concrete walls. Few would argue that Port-of-Spain is a city, almost devoid of its own architectural articulation. It’s urban articulation has not been revisited since colonial times; its current form is almost exclusively a product of accretion without any urban vision. Of course the flip side to this apparent absence of intentional architectural and urban form, may be that there is no absence at all! That this collage of a life that we have built for ourselves as Caribbean people, is not the absence of civilised urban forms; it may very well be, as Walcott says, the restoration of shattered pieces that comprise out streets and city. My sense is that the physical manifestation of Port-of-Spain does not matter as much as the manifestation of the ‘extraordinary city’, as Alan Plattus puts it, that stands invisible but not unfathomable, year round; erupting physically from the shadows of monuments and past barrack yards; for 2 days in February.

Trinidad gained it’s independence from British rule on August 1st 1962. There is a tendency to assume therefore that a mere 47 years ago, the independent country of Trinidad & Tobago was born; fully formed and articulate – ready to govern itself and create it’s own way of living. Even within contemporary thought, there is a dizzying fracture between the celebration of independence and the reconciliation of the separate stories that previously existed between the 3 major racial groups of the island before independence. The way forward, as politics of the time embraced, was to never look back.

‘Post Emancipation society can be seen as a struggle on the part of the mass of ex-slaves and their descendents to make emancipation meaningful…’

The Colonial Caribbean in Transition

I will now say flatly that neither the Africans nor the Indians, the 2 races that now comprise roughly half and half of the population of Trinidad, in either of their cultural histories at the time of independence would have had any notion of city building. That I feel is an important thing to say, since it underlies the dilemma of creating place or space, as the Western world would understand it. This is also central to understanding the power of Carnival in creating a space, and place and a kind of knowing that transcends the Western vision of space; to occupy the kind of ritualistic universe that is second nature to both Africans and Indians. In a sense, creating the façade, the setback from the street, the side walk, the width of the street and it’s mirror image on the other side; is physically the colonial story of Trinidad. The occupation of the streets, the ritualised movement through them, the masks, the paint, the feathers and the drums – are different stories that originate in Ancient Greece and Rome, in West Africa and in India.

Carnival in Trinidad is therefore different from the European vision of the carnivalesque. Where Bakhtin speaks of role reversal and liberation from conformity, Carnival in Trinidad embodies the ‘means to render our lives believable…’ as Marquez puts it. It is the physical culmination of centuries of collective imagination and is the vehicle through which the people of the New World screamed the relevance of their existence. The Caribbean or Latin American carnival is a revision of the European Carnival. By this I mean that it erupted on the same plantations of the French masquerade, but is not itself just masquerade. The African religion of the then slaves shaped the carnival of the Caribbean and Latin America into a hybrid of masquerade, possession and the struggle for liberation. 


Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I've been trying to finish a painting that I started 2 weeks ago. I'm a day or 2 away from finishing it. Due to some strange level of angst about this one, I've moved it out of my bedroom and into the living room to put some emotional and physical distance between us for a couple of days.

 I want these paintings to be a part of the articulation of my research. So far, from looking at them, I've noticed things that preoccupy me about carnival that I didn't realise before. The point of using my paintings is to communicate some of the more intangible and abstract things that underlie this study. Where words and photographs fail, in a way, these paintings capture something that happens between the lines. In terms of my stance on the transformation of space during Carnival; it’s more truthful to say, they capture something between street and myth.

Lapeyrose, conte on paper, 18" x 24"
Savannah, acrylic on canvas
Spirit, acrylic on canvas, 24"x36"

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Today is Easter Sunday. It seems strangely appropriate to me that today is when I sit down to begin mapping the dates of rituals and events that occur in the calender year for the different strings of thought that are running through this thesis. The Christian story of Carnival is of course ultimately bound to the Pagan story of Carnevale. Carnival is in a sense the great let-go before the season that has preceeded Easter. On Carnival day across the globe, echoes of the Saturnalia and Bacchanalia, scenes of the Dionysian rights and masks of the French Pierrot walk freely across the street. 

Possession. Alot comes down to possession. 

In Yoruba, i've been reading that possession is an integral part of celebrating their vast pantheon of Gods. Channeling the God's energy through participants in the ritual takes the centre in worship. Orisha they say is the first to appear usually; the trickster God, who they must dispel before he creates havoc. 

Shango in Trinidad is a derivative of the Yoruban religion, similarly as Vodou in Haiti, and Santeria in New Orleans are derivatives. Shango worships the God of thunder and drumming. I'm trying to find out more about Shango practices. It's crucial because they manifest the beginings of the Caribbean Carnival. 

I'm hoping that when I make these calenders for the different stories, that I will be able to see their correlations more clearly. I've learnt a fair bit about each individual story, but I don't know, except in feeling, how they stand together, simultaneously. 

Also, you will notice that at some points I speak about magical realism in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa. It should become clear later on (I hope) that there is a link between the carnivalesque style of writing that has evolved in these places, with the celebration of Carnival in each place. All 3 places have had waves of a similar story. Carnival may be, what Marquez refers to as 'the means to render our lives believable', or what Walcott calls the 'the retoration of our shattered histories', if merely for a few days a year. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009


'Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symetry for granted when it was whole... This gathering of broken pieces is the care and pain of the Antilles, and if the pieces are disparate, ill-fitting, they contain more pain than their original sculpture, those icons and sacred vessels taken for granted in their ancestral places. Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories, our shards of vocabulary, our archipelago becoming a synonym for pieces broken off from the original continent... This is the basis of the Antillean experience, this shipwreck of fragments, these echoes, these shards of a huge tribal vocabulary, these partially remembered customs, and they are not decayed but strong.  They survived the Middle Passage.'

The Antilles, Fragments of Epic Memory
Derek Walcott 

'...this outsized reality... a reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty... Poets and beggars, musicians and prophts, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridles reality, we have had to ask but little of our imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.'

Garbiel Garcia Marquez, on Magical Realism (1983)

‘In truth, it was in the spirit of priesthood that Aldrick addressed his work; for the making of his dragon costume was to him always a new miracle. A new test not only of his skill but his faith: for though he knew exactly what he had to do, it was only by faith that he could bring alive from these scraps of cloth and tin that dragon, its mouth breathing fire, its tail thrashing the ground, its nine chains rattling, that would contain the beauty and threat and terror that was the message he took each year to Port-of-Spain. It was in this message that he asserted before the world his self. It was through it that he demanded that others see him, recognize his personhood, be warned of his dangerousness.’ 

The Dragon Can't Dance 
Earl Lovelace

Friday, April 10, 2009


Carnival as it exists in the world is an ancient practice that embodies a cathartic overturning of established conventions, that embraces social inversion and creates an urban transformation. This thesis analyses the transformation of space and spatial perception that occurs during the Carnival season in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Carnival in Trinidad is a unique locus of cultural convergence; a situation of conjoined narratives that has been created through colonialization, slavery, indentureship and emancipation. The transformation that occurs during Carnival is of a civic, personal and perhaps even spiritual nature. Through experiential narratives, paintings, photographs and diagrams, this thesis will analyse the ritualistic transformation of Port-of-Spain while looking at the portraits of different Carnival characters, in order to create a simultaneous understanding of the city, the festival and the invisible theatre created year-round. This theatre centers on the power of the city’s streets which extends to the significance of inhabiting them.

 I will draw reference to 3 other festivals in the world to compare the urban relationships created in other cities, and come to a broader idea of how street celebrations affect our understanding of place. Central to this thesis therefore is the problem of ‘place’, spatial ownership and belonging that is inherent to the post colonial mind in Latin America and the Caribbean. Tied to the emancipation of African slaves in Trinidad, Carnival will be discussed as a physical celebration that transcends those cultural insecurities, to create a liberated experience of place that stands between history, myth and reality.