Spectator’s Thoughts: Xa Rodger and Emma Thornton give us an insight to their findings when they attended ‘It’s not all sequins and bikinis’ at Leeds City Museum last Wednesday.
The talk given by Emily Marshall at the Leeds City Museum on Wednesday covered a number of interesting aspects related to the celebration of carnival in Trinidad culture. Her focus on whether the increasing commercialisation of carnival has distanced the festival from its traditionally subversive roots, introduced us to elements of carnival we had not previously encountered. With its roots in colonialism, carnival offered inhabitants of Trinidad an opportunity to critique elements of official culture. In modern times the carnival has become a huge tourist attraction, intent on producing a lavish spectacle. Consequently, the celebration is no longer accessible to all, as many find themselves unable to afford the elaborate costumes.
In an attempt to prevent this commercialisation taking place, the organisation of Leeds carnival has remained firmly in the hands of the people. There has also been an attempt to regain that political aspect of carnival which may have been lost. Quite apart from the political slogans that appear yearly in the crowd, Emily spoke about how woman have begun to challenge the opinion that the carnival has become too sexualised; the idea that there is too much female flesh on show. Women have begun to reclaim the, traditionally male driven, world of carnival. They have turned an event that originally marginalised or sexualised the female form into a celebration of women’s bodies. This is one of the many ways in which carnival has changed for modern times. It is an expression of festival with often unappreciated weight behind it, certainly not all sequins and bikinis.
Most interesting were her comments on commercialism and authority and how these subjects have great effect on modern Carnival. The Trinidad Carnival has always been a symbol of defiance from those repressed to the oppressors, however the modern Carnival can perhaps be described as less of a political statement but as more of a capitalist exhibition. The Leeds Carnival does include a political presentation every year to keep up the anti-establishment traditions but money is still an important and limiting factor every year. In some ways however this works in favour of the Carnival as the mass of volunteers that endeavour to make the event great each year, unite to create a hard working community. Should the Carnival become more about spectacle and therefore money, it would then serve to benefit the very people it was created to mock and resist.
This talk serves to enlighten and raise awareness for Black History Month which serves as a celebration, like Carnival, African-American culture. There is a danger for some Carnivals of becoming too influenced by spending power and therefore inviting the bourgeoisie to enjoy what was once for slaves almost exclusively, at least in African-American societies and culture. There is an argument developing that perhaps it is all about ‘Sequins and Bikinis’, particularly for the younger generations, as they tend to focus more upon the pageant than the history.