DCFA showcases Baby Doll mas

A traditional baby doll Carnival character interacts with observers at The Old Yard. - ANGELO MARCELLE
A traditional baby doll Carnival character interacts with observers at The Old Yard. - ANGELO MARCELLE

THE baby doll traditional character is experiencing a resurge in visibility, with practitioners exploring new meanings to the character. The Department of Creative and Festival Arts (DCFA), University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, is exploring and chronicling this resurgence in its exhibition Baby Doll Mas': Old and New Interpretations, which began on Sunday.

The exhibition features visual and photographic work by Maria Nunes, Kevin Adonis Browne, Rebecca Foster, Abigail Hadeed, Donald "Jackie" Hinkson, Arnaldo James, and Colin Williams. There is also a display of a contemporary baby doll mas, courtesy Tracey Sankar-Charleau's mas band The Red Thread Cycle. The exhibition also features excerpts of essays on the mas by students of the UWI course mas: history, development and meaning.

Emily Rennie portrays the baby doll character during the St James Social and Cultural Committee's parade of traditional mas characters at the St James Amphitheatre, Western Main Road, St James, on Wednesday night. Tracey Sankar-Charleau of the mas band The Red Thread Cycle says more children should be encouraged o play baby doll mas. - SUREASH CHOLAI

Curator, lecturer and visual arts co-ordinator Dr Marsha Pearce said the baby doll mas is currently experiencing heightened visibility, as with the moko jumbie mas.

"It seemed that people are really re-energising these traditional forms and I think they're closing that gap, seeing them not as past performances or past characters, but really seeing their relevance in today’s context."

Mas history, development and meaning lecturer Omari Ashby said the course was exploring how the traditional masquerade forms are being used in a contemporary sense and the baby doll was one of the most effective, as well as one of the most accessible in terms of doing research. He said the students were given a new perspective following a presentation by practitioner and researcher Amanda McIntyre, who gave them a good entry point into the masquerade.

Jude Charleau portrays a baby doll in the St James Social and Cultural Committee's parade of traditional mas characters at the St James Amphitheatre, Western Main Road, St James, on Wednesday night. - SUREASH CHOLAI

Lecturer and Carnival arts co-ordinator Dr Joanne Tull said the exhibition was an extension of the decision to feature a contemporary baby doll band during The Old Yard, the DCFA's annual traditional mas character event. The band featured was the Belmont Baby Dolls, founded by choreographer and dancer Makeda Thomas, with this year's theme being Spirit Dolls, in collaboration with visual artist Brianna McCarthy. Tull said traditionally the showstopper at the Old Yard focused on the performance of a traditional mas character, but this year she wanted to have the mas give a message to the audience.

"Mas speaks, and we should be able to listen to mas. In TT and even in the region, we have been plagued with issues to do with gender-based violence (GBV), and the baby doll character in its contemporary interpretation and manifestation has always sought to give some kind of message around women’s issues, women’s rights, the marginalisation of women and by extension other marginalised groups in our society. So, in 2020, why wouldn't the University of the West Indies try to give that kind of message to Carnival through its own The Old Yard, and in that regard, the baby doll just seemed quite fitting."

A baby doll masquerader, played by Christian-Kendahl Rock, embodies the mas during the DCFA baby doll mas exhibition on Sunday. - Paula Lindo

She said the exhibition featured a collection of work by artists in TT who have similarly seen the importance and significance of the baby doll character, and in so doing, showed TT that traditional mas is not dead.

Thomas said being invited to display and play her mas at The Old Yard feels like an affirmation of the work she has been doing.

"I loved the amazing comments that we’ve had from people who understand what we’re trying to do, that it’s absolutely grounded in tradition, but that it’s daring to go for something else. We’re here with some real mas people, within a major institution about learning and culture, so it feels great."

Sankar-Charleau, said while it felt really good to see the baby doll mas being featured, she wished there were more people playing it. Her band was inspired by a poem in author Shivanee Ramlochan's book Everybody Knows I Am A Haunting (Peepal Tree Press, 2017).

Belmont Baby Dolls masquerader Jamie J Philbert and Nyah Thomas, daughter of band leader Makeda Thomas, play mas at DCFA's Old Yard on Sunday.

"We need to encourage more children to play it in the sense of being a doll. It’s a heavy, powerful mas and it has a lot of layers that could be tapped into and go further with that whole baby doll character, not just what we’re accustomed doing over the years. With a lot of the issues that we have going on now in the country, that character has a voice and could speak on these topics, rather than just the normal illegitimate father and I’m looking for the milk and the money. We can give the character a voice and also a voice to speak on behalf of its baby, its children."

The exhibition continues until February 26 at Exhibition Hall, DCFA, Gordon Street, St. Augustine.


"DCFA showcases Baby Doll mas"

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