Fitzroy Hoyte’s Art connects with Carnival and Caribbean HistoryWednesday, January 2nd, 2013 Categories: Features, Updates
Trinidadian artist Fitzroy Hoyte held his one-day, solo exhibition on November 30, 2012 at AULA Amphitheatre, University of Pretoria, Hatfield South Africa. Hoyte’s body of work was presented as part of a larger event called Caribbean Mas Feeva (CMF) inaugurated in South Africa. Conceptualised by Dare2discover Limited – an event and destination management company – Caribbean Mas Feeva is “Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival packaged and marketed as a cultural, trade, tourism and entertainment product” (CMF Fact Sheet). The aims include fostering cultural exchange, providing a platform for the showcasing of artists and musicians and creating and deepening economic linkages between Trinidad and Tobago and the host country in which the CMF event takes place.
With the tagline “T&T Carnival…Spreading its wings,” CMF is being promoted as a means to create a global awareness of “Trinidad and Tobago as the home of carnival.” Many around the world are not familiar with the carnival that takes place each year on a national scale in Trinidad and Tobago. Scholar Milla Cozart Riggio articulates this lack of consciousness. She writes:
…despite its having been imitated in more than sixty North American and European cities as well as other Caribbean islands, and its having influenced celebrations in other places such as Japan and Australia, Trinidad Carnival remains one of the most copied but least known major festivals. Still not listed in the Encyclopedia Britannica under carnival, the festival that is arguably the only truly national carnival in the world has created a centrifugal pattern of dispersion that radiates outwardly and inwardly (2004: 241)
Caribbean Mas Feeva is expected to expand throughout Africa and other continents. CMF was launched in December 2011 at Bela Bela, a popular tourist destination on the outskirts of Johannesburg, with such activities as a costume-making workshop, street parade and concert featuring Trinbagonian and South African performing artists. This year, CMF activities continue with the weaving of a carnival experience into planned visits to various South African sites in what has been called a Carnival Safari and Tour. The tour package is a mix of sightseeing trips to places like the Apartheid Museum, Sterkfontein Caves and Kruger National Park with T&T-style carnival parties and street performances replete with costumed-revellers. Hoyte’s exhibition has added a visual arts dimension to the tour.
Entitled “Reconnections” the exhibition has been, as the artist acknowledges, an opportunity for Hoyte to rediscover ties to his African ancestry – this year was the first time he visited the African continent – but his artworks also serve in a way that allows us to return to notions of identity, emancipation, imagination and space which are bound up in carnival discourses and the history of the Caribbean and its peoples. Hoyte’s masks are vehicles of memory, which trigger recall of acts of veiling which became coterminous with identity under a colonial regime. Within the plantation system, people played mas’, in other words, they participated in diurnal masquerade in an effort to retain a sense of self. According to Cozart Riggio: “Subjugated peoples living under laws they do not make themselves tend to develop a Janus-like double face, looking outward with impassive expressions, often accompanied by a deceptive ‘yes massa’ cooperativeness, while their vital lives are turned inward, to their own enclosed community. The face that points outward becomes a mask, disguising and hiding the personality beneath. In their own space – their homes or the yards or huts they inhabit – the people free up, manifesting independence of spirit…” (2004: 93-94).
The references to Africa, which are suggested in the design patterns on Hoyte’s masks, also call to mind the early nineteenth-century period in history when the abolition of slavery in the British colonies impacted on the character of the Trinidad carnival. With emancipation, carnival was soon suffused with African elements from those formerly enslaved. European masques – entertainment consisting of dancing and acting performed by masked participants – took on a different inflection. Historian, Bridget Brereton explains: “Before emancipation carnival had been a…social affair of the white Creole upper class. It had involved masked balls, house-to-house visiting, street promenading…. The leaders of society would appear masked in the streets; the masques were mainly European. Emancipation led to a complete change. The ex-slaves and the lower classes in general participated increasingly, and correspondingly, the upper classes withdrew…. Around the 1860s carnival came to have a distinct character: the ‘jamette’ carnival. The festival was almost entirely taken over by the jamettes, who had created in the backyards of Port of Spain their own subculture” (2004: 53-54). The word “jamette” comes from the French “diametre” meaning “below the line.” The jamettes therefore, were considered the lower class. Hoyte’s masks are channels for reconnecting with and honouring the masques or carnival celebrations of those members of the society who were deemed to have a low status.
His piece entitled “Freedom” captures a whirl of emancipatory energy, connecting carnival with liberation and release. The female arcs her body without restraint, creating a tuning fork configuration. She becomes an acoustic resonator that generates a pitch that sets the flurry of dots and sinuous lines in motion around her. Her body is the source of pure music. She establishes the tone of the carnival festivities. In “Metamorphosis of the Mind,” Hoyte gives emphasis to the potentiality in carnival for harnessing the power of the imagination. The artwork is a visual call for a transformation of the mind, from a state of habitual and often deliberate torpor or lethargy, to that of innovative conjuring and radical conceptualisation. The mind is rendered as an animated ball, lit up with the hues of creative possibility. In his orbs, Hoyte offers us what he describes as an aerial view of carnival revellers in the street but he also opens up a conversation about space. Central to carnival is the appropriation of space: the claiming of the streets and the crossing of boundaries whether social or physical. Carnival, to use Claire Tancons’ words here, calls for “a reversal of the status quo as a means to mediate between opposite ends of the social spectrum and to create a shared, if fleeting, space to live side by side – a sort of Foucauldian heterotopia, or lived utopia.” In Hoyte’s orbs, forms seem to live side by side, coalescing in a shared space. Yet, the piece lends further insight to space in relation to carnival. By presenting his view of carnival from above, in a circular canvas that can represent the globe, Hoyte points us in the direction of space understood as both material/physical and cosmic. We are reminded that Carnival can operate and be enacted at these different spatial dimensions.
Fitzroy Hoyte’s latest body of work allows us visual access to engage with various facets of carnival and history in ways that are palpable. The inclusion of his art in the Caribbean Mas Feeva initiative has been a key step in disseminating how carnival might be understood and experienced.
Brereton, Bridget. “The Trinidad Carnival in the Late Nineteenth Century.” Carnival: Culture in Action – The Trinidad Experience. Milla Cozart Riggio, ed. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Caribbean Mas Feeva Fact Sheet.
Cozart Riggio, Milla, ed. Carnival: Culture in Action – The Trinidad Experience. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Hoyte, Fitzroy. Personal interview. November 9, 2012.
Tancons, Claire. “Occupy Wall Street: Carnival Against Capital? Carnivalesque as Protest Sensibility.” December 30, 2011. Accessed December 13, 2012.