Contemporary Masquerade Movements

Digital Photography 


Photographed by Tsemaye Tite

“TrinidadCarnival began as the pre-Lenten festival of the elite French and French Creole population, which permittedAfrican and Afro-Creole masking and costuming in the fields of the plantation or on the streets of Port of Spain. After Emancipation, Africans celebrating their freedom in the festivity known as CannesBrulees(Canboulay) invaded the Carnival spaces both metaphorically and literally. As a result of this invasion, the white elites retreated from the event. Seen from this perspective, emancipated Africans staged a kind of cultural coup, wresting the Euro-Catholic festival from those who originated it and making it over into something Afro-Trinidadian.” (Riggio, 12)

This story is the fundamental beginningof my thesis work. It touches on the transformative power embedded in Trinidad Carnival, especially as it evolved from Eurocentric traditions toan Afro-Trinidadian movement. The historical narrative of emancipated Africans reclaiming Carnival spaces parallels my own want to reclaimmy identity as someone who grew up away from her culture. My work seeksto reclaim and reinterpret traditional masquerade, infusing it with my own personal style. The evolution of Trinidad Carnival masquerade becomes the core theme emphasizing the resilience, freedom, and celebratory spirit embedded in Afro-Trinidadian culture. My artistic exploration surrounds themes of joy, identity, and cultural pride.

Incorporating costume and fashion into my movements, I modernizetraditional Trinidadian masquerade, infusing it with my personal aesthetic and distinctive masks. As a Moko Jumbie, I delve into layers of my cultural identity and the performative aspect of masking. The term "Moko Jumbie" traces its roots to West Africa, where "Moko" signifies spirit or ancestral presence, and "Jumbie" is a Caribbean term for a ghost or spirit. These towering figures on stilts historically served as guardians, symbolizing protection—a theme seamlessly intertwined with the representation of the masks. Through this work, I not only celebrate my multifaceted identity but alsoinvite viewers to partake in the spirit of Black celebration.

Using Format