As you entered Mille Fleurs you were greeted by large king and queen costumes on the grounds as well as in the building.
This year’s second-place queen costume, Madame Cocoyea, stood behind the podium as the president of the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) Rubadiri Victor addressed the media at the launch of Pantheon II – The King and Queen Costumes of TT Carnival, at Mille Fleurs, Maraval Road, Port of Spain.
The exhibition includes six King and Queen costumes, five installations and three mannequinned King tunics on the grounds. He said three other King and Queen costumes were moved due to arising commercial opportunities and repair. Inside there are three more King and Queen costumes, 33 panels of King and Queen exhibition info with 24 small signs and info panels.
"There are 12 other installations pertaining to the tribute to the artisans, wirebenders and traditional mas. Over five King and Queen costumes will visit to dance on our special event days. We expect as many as eight more costumes to join the exhibition. All are landscaped with lights," he said.
At the exhibition’s launch on March 9, Victor called on corporate TT to adopt a costume and have it displayed in their atriums, lobbies and other spaces.
The exhibition was first held last year at Woodford Square, Port of Spain.
Victor said the exhibition will be open from 10 am-6 pm daily. There will be four special events during the exhibition’s run he added: two moonlight lectures, a tea party and a family day on the closing day, March 27.
The exhibition costs $50 for adults and $20 for children. He said NGOs, schools and other institutions can make special requests for discounts or have the fee waived. The funds raised from the tea party will be for the National Trust and the upkeep of Mille Fleurs (its headquarters) and other heritage buildings under its purview.
For Victor, the king and queen costume tradition is the pinnacle of the Carnival arts and artisan arts.
“It is where artisanry, engineering, the imaginative extravagance of the Trinbagonian personality and all of these things come to bear. It is the greatest kind of symbol and expression of our creativity at large,” he said.
Victor said TT pioneered a form of costume-making which signified great ideas and embodied things from insects to gods. Mas pushes the envelope in terms of human expression, imagination and engineering, he said.
“We are celebrating here all aspects of that tradition.”
“We make human idea dance in space,” Victor said, talking about the costumes.
He said one of the gestures that happened after the exhibition’s first year was its adoption as a part of the calendar of events held in the city.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the costumes are destroyed after Carnival, but you can adopt a costume and have it situated in your atriums, your lobbies, in your sports club and different spaces for the year,” he said.
“We are also calling on state agencies, the lobbies of NAPA (National Academy of the Performing Arts), SAPA (Southern Academy of the Performing Arts), Queen’s Hall and all of those spaces to adopt one of the great costumes for the year.”
He added it should be a matter of course that the costumes go to the lobbies of state spaces like Piarco Airport for at least six months of the year and then tour for the other six.
He said the National Trust was the first adopter, and also asked corporate TT to tip its hat to the new Carnival museum.
While Victor himself “tipped his hat” to president of the Carnival Bands Association (TTCBA) Rosalind Gabriel and her team for being able to get the Carnival museum going, he believes a larger space is necessary for housing the costumes.
In February, First Citizens Foundation presented the TT Carnival Museum with the use of its Penny Bank building on Charlotte Street, Port of Spain. The Carnival museum has not opened as yet and is in the first phase of planning.
“Finally, there is a home where some things can be housed. But we all know that the Carnival museum is not a 40x40 office space of some Exim Bank…It is something that will take up the footprint of the North Stand or the Grand Stand, and that is where it should be,” he said.
He said the 100 greatest costumes of all time should be rebuilt and 30 should be present within those walls and the other 70 in storage or rotating all over the world.
A warehouse facility should be given, he said, and the space should be managed with the help of the wire-bending association so people could re-learn the engineering of wire-bending skill that the country was losing.
Responding to criticisms that the costumes in the exhibition appeared to have been dumped in the grounds of Mille Fleurs, Victor said, "The reaction from most of the public has been overwhelmingly positive, and there are literally hundreds of compliments coming in."
To those who made the comments, Victor said the exhibition was staged precisely because of the difficulty, and to confront TT with particular issues.
"The exhibition is about presences and absences. One of the presences plenty Trinidadians expect is that all of a sudden the great costumes of Wayne Berkeley, George Bailey and all of those things would materialise out of thin air, where they were being stored in heaven waiting on Trinidadians to have an exhibition.
"But that is not how it works. You have to create the heritage warehouse, the proper national Carnival and steelband museums...and all of these institutions to house, transmit skill and to recreate the said costumes. Ninety-nine per cent of them are destroyed."
Victor said many of the costumes on the grounds would have been destroyed already, were it not for the exhibition.
"It is to confront Trinbagonians with that reality.
"The other reality is, heritage spaces are supposed to be purpose-built. So we had to turn down requests for really spectacular costumes. Why? One, they can't be housed in the building and they are too delicate to be housed outside. They require purposely built space for them.
"Trinidadians need to be confronted with that. We don't think these things through. We just expect these things to drop from the sky."
Port of Spain mayor Joel Martinez was also at the launch and repeated his 2019 statement that a Walk of Fame for TT’s icons will be created.
When Port of Spain was named the sixth city in the region to join the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Creative Cities Network, Martinez said the Walk of Fame, along with the Carnival museum and music zones, were planned initiatives.
During the launch of Pantheon, referencing Barbarossa bandleader Richard Afong – who died on March 1 – Martinez said the Walk of Fame would honour TT’s heroes and legends. He said it was already in council and had already been voted on, and all the city is doing now is working on the components.
Martinez said, “When you’re putting it on the pavement, it has to be of a certain quality (so) that it would last longer on the pavement, and so on.”
Martinez said they still also had to look at the design, since there would be people from different spheres.
For him, Pantheon II is “exciting and innovative.”
“Pantheon is – based on what was said – is really about bringing alive our history of something that was started by our people many years ago and spawned all over the world…
“The power of Trinidadians and Tobagonians is...in the gift that we have called talent – our culture.”
Martinez said when Victor came to him last year and asked if the coalition could have the event, he jumped at it.
He said when he looked around the city during his first year as mayor he said, “We are the mecca of Carnival. The birth of Carnival, the birth of the steelpan – show me symbols that represent what we discovered, what we started and what we developed for the world.”
He said TT had symbols such as the blue devils, the pierrot grenade, midnight robber and moko jumbie, but challenged people to show him one park or square in Port of Spain that contains something which symbolises TT’s traditional Carnival.
He said this was something TT has to work on, and what ACTT was doing was a start. Martinez added that Victor’s work is helping TT preserve what it owns.
He said the Spanish city of Barcelona was changed by legendary masman Peter Minshall’s work.
“We transform Trinidad at Carnival time, but by Ash Wednesday we don’t want to see nothing of Carnival. Isn’t that a shame?
“We are developing a Carnival museum, thank God. At last.”
Martinez said TT should work toward the preservation of Carnival.
“Every costume that comes off that stage – king and queen from here on – should find a place.”
He added if TT preserves its costumes, it may one day be lending its art to museums across the world.