While the Europeans started Carnival — a series of celebrations usually done just before Lent — the people of the Caribbean Islands took it to the next level.
In a new photo exhibit at York College, photographers Mario Picayo of Cuba and Mariano Hernandez of the Dominican Republic take viewers on a colorful adventure to experience Carnival, as Tess McRae reports in this article for The Queens Chronicle.
“Caribbean Carnival Portraits” may not sound like a party, but the images showing painted faces and outrageous outfits are evidence enough.
“Rainbows of color enhance rainbows of skin tones moving through time and space in costumes ranging from opulent and expensive to modest and clever,” Margaret Venryes, director of the York College gallery and co-currator, said. “No matter that masks are made of cardboard, macaroni, burlap or bottle caps, the inventions of characters with stories old and new are energetically performed and enthusiastically appreciated by all those who see them.”
It’s true, while some of the costumes are covered in sequins and beading, others are merely made with face paint and simple shirts, but all practically scream “Caribbean pride.”
Picayo and Hernandez, who take action shots, as opposed to setting up people in a studio — the way portraits are typically done — do well in conveying the sheer joy many experience during Carnival.
While some of the figures are scary, others are silly and all clearly demonstrate how well those living in the Caribbean took on the traditions of the countries that once colonized them, without loosing part of their own culture.
Many of the costumes and traditions used during Carnival in the Caribbean are heavily influenced by West African culture.
As the Caribbean acted as a half-way point for many slaves before they were brought to America or Europe, much of the African culture rubbed off on those who lived on the islands.
Most of the costumes worn during Carnival involve hiding or disguising one’s face — something often used by certain African cultures as a way to fend off evil spirits — and though it is no longer widely believed that the disguises trick the supernatural, the culture is still honored today.
With any exhibit that seeks to introduce the public to a different type of people or tradition, there is a fine line that needs to be tread upon and Picayo and Hernandez have done that with “Caribbean Carnival Portraits.”
The photos demonstrate the differences between American culture and Caribbean culture without making the viewer feel too alienated.
Having the exhibit’s U.S. debut at York College is also quite appropriate.
The school and the community that surrounds it has a massive West Indian and Caribbean population.
For Haitians, Dominicans or Puerto Ricans who visit the exhibit, the photos are sure to lead to reminiscing and rediscovery.
“Caribbean Carnival Portraits”
When: Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Oct. 15
Where: York College Gallery, 94-20 Guy R. Brewer Blvd., Jamaica
Tickets: Free, york.cuny.edu