Janine Mendes-Franco (Global Voices) writes “Carnival Designer Apologises for Insensitivity to Trinidad’s Colonial Trauma, But Was It Enough?” She discusses the recent controversy in response to Brian Mac Farlane’s “Cazabon—The Art of Living.” The designer has said that, by invoking Cazabon in the title of his work, he wished to “help protect and preserve our heritage spaces the best way I knew how – through art, by interpreting the story of that time.” On the one hand, he has been accused of being racist or insensitive to the traumas of colonial history, and, on the other hand, Cazabon’s descendants were concerned that the negative reception of Mac Farlane’s interpretation of the artist’s themes could have an adverse effect on Cazabon’s reputation. Here is a short segment of the article as a follow-up to our previous post “Trinidadian Carnival: MacFarlane Channels Cazabon (or does he?)”:
Trinidad and Tobago carnival designer Brian Mac Farlane, the man behind the controversial carnival band “Cazabon—The Art of Living”, has issued an apology regarding his 2017 presentation, which some people believe shows a lack of sensitivity to the country’s turbulent colonial history.
Mac Farlane also announced he would remove the portrayals to which people took the most offense — “La Belle Dame and Garçon de la Maison” (“The Beautiful Lady and the House Boy”).
Prior to his statement on October 25, Mac Farlane hosted a Facebook Live event in which he was joined by representatives of Citizens for Conservation, The National Trust and The Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago.
In the nearly hour-long video, Mac Farlane characterised the mid-1800s to early 1900s—the years in which renowned Trinidadian painter Michel-Jean Cazabon came into his own—as “a wonderful, beautiful era for our country”, when art and fashion were vibrant, and architecture was “in its perfect glory”.
In a statement issued later, Mac Farlane said that by invoking Cazabon in the title of his work, he wished to “help protect and preserve our heritage spaces the best way I knew how – through art, by interpreting the story of that time.”
“While I want to always ensure that I accurately reflect our incredibly multidimensional history,” he continued. “I understand that there is still a lot for me to explore, to unearth, to unlearn and to learn. My intention was never to offend anyone, or to come across as ignorant of our truth, or to idealise insensitivity. It was to depict the clothing of the time. However, I understand how and why it hurt some of us. And it is with this realization that I have made the decision to not move forward with this particular section from the 2017 presentation. I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I have caused.”
Mac Farlane said he welcomed “the healthy debate, because it can lead to a deeper understanding of our growth as a connected people,” and asserted that he had “learned a lot from this experience”. His hope, he said, was that “these conversations build us up to listen to each other, journey with our fellow citizen, act as messengers of change and educate future generations as to the richness and diverse nature of our identity and heritage.”
But both Mac Farlane’s apology and his decision to remove the “La Belle Dame and Garçon de la Maison” portrayals were met with mixed reactions. [. . .]
[“Madame Mille Fleur and Monsieur Mille Fleur” — Costumes in the 2017 Mac Farlane Carnival band “Cazabon — The Art of Living”. Photo by Gary Jordan. Source: Global Voices.]