My Mas

Posted in Adele Todd by Adele Todd on February 25, 2009

Performance – Jouvert Carnival Monday – on the road
an interpretation of “The Examination of the Herald by Aubrey Beardsley”
Monday,23rd February 2009


Copyright Richard Bolai 2009

Carnival Monday is quickly becoming a memory. Yet a few weeks ago the idea of making a piece for Performance for Jouvert (morning opening) with Three Canal’s band Paradise, was foremost in my mind.

Over the years I have grown wary of Carnival. Last year I felt that it seemed packaged for tourists over residents of the island. The same old warmed over songs and costumes had worn too thin and I was seriously considering spending time away from the country.

But this year I was approached by a fellow artist, as disgruntled as myself. He had an idea to play ‘cow’ mas, the history of which is very interesting. It had been very prevalent at the early part of the last century, but violent incidents marred its continuance.

My agreement to be part of this small band of artists made me focus on the way women are portrayed and portraying themselves in Mas. Of late the Dame Lorraine has been played by women, in many ways a misnomer, as this was played by men parodying women. Today women play it in self parody, and in some ways it is a less than empowering image.

Contemplating this fact, I thought of a way to shift this perspective,and almost instantly I recalled The Examination of the Herald by Aubrey Beardsley. He has two drawings, one with two characters, an older Shylock character with his hand slightly forward, the other younger man, his hands on his hips. The second drawing is of the two men with their genitals exposed.

The image is quite provocative, and it informed my decision to re-interpret the Dame Lorraine. But actually it is incorrect to state that that is indeed what I am doing, as I am not exaggerating the female form in any way, but over-emphasizing the male organ.

I procured materials from a few sources and built the costume in a few days. During Dimanche Gras, I started to prepare the costume, securing my basket that I wore as a hat with a long white plume.My prosthesis placed with much careful twisting of material to anchor it in place. My cape was draped, comfortable shoes chosen and I was ready to go.

One of the interesting things about getting into a character for a performance is that after thinking and planning it for a long time, I always have a moment where I let go. I literally feel the character in every pore of my being, and when this is done, I forget how it may appear to others.

So when I got to my friends’ business place and heard the reaction of everyone present, I was struck by just how strong an impression I was making, and I had not even left the building! Mas in Trinidad and Tobago consists of people wearing traditional costumes, historical or fantasy.

On any given Carnival day, we can see people dressed as bats, Indian warriors, minstrals, Africans, sailors, the Dame Lorraine, which is a stuffed female body with full breasts and bottom, devils of all types, the moko jumbie that goes to several feet above the regular masquerader.


Copyright Richard Bolai 2009

A woman wearing a bouroquite costume, which was the way mine looked at first blush, is not unusual. But a woman wearing a horse costume that is not a horse but a penis is in many ways a unique moment. Carnival is open to so much, and I have seen many memorable types of mas over the years. For myself have found that there is a need for more creativity, and there have been people trying to do just that in their little ways. But much of this work owes so much to one of the most creative and original mas men, Peter Minshall, that many people sit back and instantly say, “We see dat already!”

My choosing to do this in mas was greeted with shock and amazement, and I still have so much to add about what the experience was like, but I am still taking in what I experienced. The woman who came into the band dressed as the Dame Lorraine was instantly assaulted with wine by a short guy who ran up behind her and started gyrating. For me, the reaction was completely different. No one pushed up on me, they approached and asked for permission to touch, to take pictures and to comment.

Much more must be discussed with this mas, and I shall do so further very soon. I am working on something for early March based on dimensional embroidery.

Jouvert 2009


2 Responses

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  1. Mashaun said, on March 3, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

    Are you tension? panic?

  2. Iyaba Mandingo said, on March 7, 2009 at 3:48 am

    Keep the posts coming

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