Special To NAN
News Americas, PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad, Fri. April 8, 2022: The COVID-19 virus dealt the culture and the arts in the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago a terrible blow. But in the midst of thousands of deaths attributed to COVID-19 and artists teetering on the edge of starvation, lead artistes such as president of the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago’s (ACTT), curator, Rubadiri Victor and designer, Kirk Langton, kept throwing lifelines to keep the creative arts industry afloat.
Victor, Langton and the rest of team ACTT, successfully carried out “PANTHEON: an Exhibition on the King and Queen Costumes of the Trinidad & Tobago Carnival” in 2021, and now again in 2022. The innovative event gave an aspect of the creative arts some oxygen – to show the world “what we as a people can do.” The first of its kind exhibition in T&T, was held on Wednesday, March 9th, and ran for two weeks, ending Sunday, March 27, 2022.
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“When COVID happened, we had some clarity about the fact that there will be at least two carnivals that we may miss and so we tried to calculate what were the opportunities for the culture that were present,” said Victor.
He added: “We knew what the crisis was going to be, but what were the opportunities? After the Virtual Carnival didn’t happen, we as ACTT tried to figure out what is an intervention that we could make, we lost a physical carnival where we lost 45 thousand visitors but could have gone after 45 million pairs of eyes. We asked, ‘What can we do to leverage something that would move the culture along, leverage some kind of consciousness or new movement on something that requires serious movement- and I thought it was the King and Queens,’”
What happened next saw an aspect of the creative arts industry unplugged from life support to getting the legs it needed to put itself back on display.
The event, “Pantheon the Exhibition”, was born in the popular landmark thoroughfare that is Woodford Square in Port of Spain in 2021, as the Covid-19 pandemic advanced. “Pantheon the Exhibition” exploded out of this unthinkable state of apparent nothingness and was then adopted by the Mayor of the City of Port of Spain, Joel Martinez, as a permanent part of the City’s calendar of events.
Langton told NAN he is not a director of ACTT, but someone who has being working along with Rubadiri Victor over the last 15 years, on certain projects that Victor believes he would be the right artistic person to accomplish. Langton sees himself as a collaborator in the scheme of things ACTT.
“Last year the exhibition was strictly about the Carnival and Pan museum, this year we added the ADOPT-A –COSTUME initiative, which we can say has already started with good legs,” Langton said.
“Pantheon the Exhibition”, the 2022 edition, was held at the historic site of Mille Fleurs, a Great House situated opposite the historic Queens Park Savannah, which rated in the Guinness book of records as the biggest or largest round about in the world. What made it more interesting was that Black and Brown people, could not set foot on the compound of a Great House, only 100 years ago.
Moving the Pantheon exhibition from the thoroughfare of Woodford Square to one of the “Magnificent Seven” historic buildings on the Savannah is a big deal. It has historic significance that in a very mysterious and miraculous way is tied to the fight of a people, mainly African peoples, to put on the highly spiritual and cultural event now known as Carnival. And in the year 2022, to have the Kings and Queens of Carnival, enter the historic plantation estate of a Great House, around the Port of Spain Savannah is groundbreaking, when you put it all in its rightful historical perspective.
‘Madame Cocoyea,’ portrayed by creative designer, Ruth Adams Mendez for instance, placed second in the Carnival Queens competition. The costume was made from palm trees, bamboo and some fabric and was complete with a cocoyea broom in her hand, sweeping the path in front of her.
She told NAN smiling, that the Ancestors used the cocoyea broom a lot – to sweep out all the bad spirits from homes. Madame Cocoyea was one of the favored costumes as scores of visitors to the Pantheon Exhibition stood in line to take out pictures to keep for perhaps nostalgic or other value. Many Queen and King costumes were too large to fit inside the venue that was given for the exhibition – and too delicate to be exhibited outside in the elements.
The PANTHEON exhibition, however, proved what can be done despite restrictions in order to preserve and display carnival legacy artifacts from the King and Queen shows. Sadly, 99.9% of the King and Queen costumes are destroyed after Carnival and next to none of the great costumes of the past exist anymore – except as photographs and memories.
Shynel Brizan is the Queen of Carnival 2022. She portrayed a costume titled: “The Spirit who brings good things.”
Joseph Lewis is the King of Carnival 2022. He portrayed a costume: “Kreegoseth,” meaning, “Mystic Guardian of the Amazon.” This is the second time both Shynel and Joseph won the King and Queen Carnival titles. It is also the 3rd time there has been a Moko Jumbie Queen and the fourth a Moko Jumbie Monarch.
In his many writings about Carnival, Victor always cites the King and Queen Costumes as the crown spectacles of Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival artisanry.
“The King and Queens for me represent the epitome of our artistic engineering and imaginative skills as a people. They are our gifts, our great engineers and artisans and architects and all kinds of people work on these artifacts,” he told NAN. “They’re the largest artifacts that we create as a people outside of buildings, yet still they’re the things that we speak about the least… I felt that one of the reasons was because they come with a kind of responsibility that Trinidadians understand that we don’t have so we prefer to not want to talk about it. So, the Kings and Queens enable us to leverage a conversation that we don’t have otherwise, they’re the only thing that can leverage the conversation about the Carnival and Steelband Museum properly. When we talk about Calypso or even Pan there is a feeling we can get away with a throw-away building and a digital archive. But the Kings and Queens force on us the responsibility of preservation and investing in massive state of the art real estate to house our Legacy. They demand a cathedral!.”
ACTT says the move is necessary for the future, to enable traditions to survive and innovate. ACTT has spent the last two decades, making a case to stakeholders and the status-quo, for the need to invest in several arts and culture museums that will see the creative designs born out of annual Carnival events, preserved for the people to enjoy and to help them connect with the creative genius within themselves.
So instead of ditching those spectacularly designed costumes when the Carnival is over, why not create a museum to house them, ACTT asked. And moreover, they said, why not get corporate Trinidad and Tobago to adopt a costume and display in apt open spaces, not just for its aesthetic appeal, but to build consciousness in a people about the value of our arts and culture?.”
This is the basis of the PANTHEON ADOPT-A–COSTUME program, which has to date 5 corporate and state partners rescuing 4 costumes from destruction and which will be housed in lobbies and atriums for the year. More may follow.
Build The Carnival And Steelband Museum
Next on the agenda, as a means of dealing with what the people have lost to the destruction of thousands of costumes over the past decades, is to get the Carnival and Steelband museum constructed – an atrium that will house T&T’s Carnival creations for all time.