The Beautiful and ‘Sweaty Concepts’ of Caribbean Carnival Costumes
Through spectacular acts of costuming, a space of visibility, expression and presence is created for the Caribbean diaspora at Toronto’s annual Caribbean Carnival, an event that draws over one million spectators to watch more than 20,000 masqueraders dance in their elaborate costumes called mas (short for masquerade). Examining Toronto Caribbean Carnival costumes and their design processes within critical discourses of multicultural nationhood, community, and be/longing can open an inquiry “on how appearance normativity is challenged, subverted, re-conditioned and altered through the event and practice of costuming” (Hann 12). This paper explores Caribbean Carnival costumes as a way of thinking, feeling, and being in a world that is challenging, especially for the raced, classed, and gendered bodies of Caribbean descent in Toronto. Drawing upon Sara Ahmed’s notion of “sweaty concepts”, inherent in describing “ a body that is not at home in the world”, I seek to discuss the “difficulty” of the lived experience a Caribbean Carnival costume makes visually and materially manifest. In particular, I see the “sweatiness” of costumes and acts of costuming in Toronto Caribbean Carnival occurring in three ways: 1) as a peripatetic and material knowledge; 2) as a kinaesthetic archive of migration, and of personal and community identity; and, 3) as the relationship to the multicultural Canadian nation-state made materially present. Using Michelle Reyes’s 2018 award winning “D’Rise of de Cherry Blossom” costume as a case study,
I will discuss the complexity of a costume that artfully and beautifully renders the difficulty of a raced and gendered body “being-in-the-world”, not as a means of obscuring that labour, but rather exposing and exploring how beauty and sweat commingle in the lived experience of Toronto’s Caribbean diaspora.
Jacqueline Taucar received her PhD at University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. Her dissertation, “Acting Out(side) the Multicultural Script in Ethno-cultural Festivals,” examines popular ethno-cultural festivals, including Toronto International Caravan, Caribbean Carnival, and Taste of the Danforth. Jacqueline builds “big mas” and assists Michelle Reyes, the designer and performer of Saldenah Carnival’s Queen mas. Their collaboration on “D’Rise of de Cherry Blossom” won the 2018 Ontario Science Centre Innovation in Mas’ Award. Currently, Jacqueline is working to establish an archival infrastructure for documenting and preserving the primary materials and oral traditions that inform the design, creation, and performance of Toronto Caribbean Carnival costumes.