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Caribbean Festival Arts

DATES September 07, 1990 through November 05, 1990
COLLECTIONS Contemporary Art
  • June 1, 1990 Caribbean Festival Arts, the first exhibition to examine the elaborate arts associated with traditional Caribbean festivals, will open at The Brooklyn Museum September 7, 1990. Focusing on the three most important Caribbean celebrations, Carnival, Hosay, and Jonkonnu, this unique exhibition will highlight traditional costume types and their histories. Using an innovative installation design consisting of life-cast mannequins, video displays, taped music, and large photo murals, the exhibition puts the costumes into context, by re-creating some of the sights and sounds of the festivals. The exhibition will be on view in the Museum’s East Galleries, located on the fifth floor, through November 5.

    Caribbean Festival Arts is made possible at The Brooklyn Museum with generous support from The Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Missouri Arts Council.

    Thirty-five complete costume ensembles, twenty-four wire screen masks, as well as a ceremonial tadjah, a tomblike structure used in the Hosay festival, are included in the exhibition. The brightly colored costumes range from human scale to 16 feet tall and are made of various materials including mirrors, sequins, rhinestones, feathers, and beads. Some of the costumes[,] such as the Bahamian Bat and Diana, were created for the exhibition based on actual festival designs by traditional festival costume designers. Others are costumes from past festivals. The critically acclaimed exhibition, which originated at The Saint Louis Museum of Art, will be enlarged in Brooklyn. There will be six additional costumes drawn from Brooklyn’s own annual West Indian Carnival, which has taken place on Labor Day weekend over the past 30 years in front of the Museum.

    Of the many festivals in the Caribbean, there are three major celebrations on which Caribbean Festival Arts focuses: Carnival, a pre-Lenten festival; Hosay, the Islamic festival commemorating the death of Hasan and Husain; and Jonkonnu, a Christmas celebration. While festivals are indigenous to the entire West Indies, Jamaica, home to Jonkonnu, and Trinidad, home to Carnival, are most heavily featured in this exhibition. A gallery focusing on the diffusion of festival arts will display costumes from festivals in other parts of the world as well, such as Brooklyn, London, New Orleans, and Toronto.

    The people of the West Indies are of African, East Indian, Caribbean, Anglo-Saxon, Spanish, French, Chinese, and Middle Eastern origin. Each culture’s religion, costume, and music contribute to the themes, characters, and colors of Caribbean festival arts and will be explored in the exhibition.

    Caribbean Festival Arts was organized by John W. Nunley, Curator, The Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, The Saint Louis Museum of Art. Consulting Curator is Judith Bettelheim, Professor of Art History, San Francisco State University. It will travel to The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., The Brooklyn Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

    The exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum is organized by William Siegmann, Associate Curator for African, Oceanic, and New World Art at the Museum.

    Accompanying the exhibition is a fully illustrated book written by Mr. Nunley and Ms. Bettelheim, with contributions by the Hon. Rex M. Nettleford, O.M., Robert Farris Tompson, Dolores Yonkers, and Barbara Bridges. It was published by the University of Washington Press in association with The Saint Louis Art Museum (204 pages: 130 color illustrations, 35 black-and-white photographs; $39.95 clothcover, $24.50 softcover).

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1989 - 1994. 04-06/1990, 101-103.
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  • August 1, 1990 The Brooklyn Museum has organized a wide variety of public programs in conjunction with its major traveling exhibition, Caribbean Festival Arts, on view September 7 - November 5, 1990. Featured will be leading Caribbean experts as well as well-known figures in the fields of music and costume-making. Programs will include outdoor concerts, costume workshops, music demonstrations, video screenings, gallery talks, and storytelling. The programs are designed to explain and put into perspective many of the traditions associated with the Caribbean festivals explored in the exhibition, like Carnival, Hosay, and Jonkonnu.

    All programs are offered free with Museum admission.


    Two outdoor concerts will present traditional Caribbean music that has become an integral aspect of festival celebrations in the West Indies and abroad. THE BWIA SONATAS, Brooklyn’s leading West Indian steel band, will present the first concert on Sunday, September 9, at 3:00 p.m. (raindate: September 17, 6:00 p.m.). Brooklyn-based calypsonian KING WELLINGTON will perform the second concert on Saturday, September 15, at 3:00 p.m. (raindate: September 17, 6:00 p.m.). Concerts will be introduced by Dr. Ernest Brown, Associate Professor of Musicology at Williams College and will take place outdoors in the Museum’s Frieda Schiff Warburg Memorial Sculpture Garden.

    Costume Workshops
    Two costume-making workshops for families and children will be offered, along with a studio component in which participants will create headdresses of their own. The first workshop, on Saturday, September 15, at 1:00 p.m., allows children ages 8-10 with an accompanying adult to explore the varied cultural sources that comprise many Caribbean festivals. The second, on Saturday, October 20, at 2:00 p.m., offers children ages 6-12 a look into costumes design, how they are made, and worn. These hands-on events have limited attendance; places can be reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Museum’s front Information Desk one-half hour before each program.

    Music Demonstration
    On October 6, at 3:00 p.m., the internationally renowned Ken “Professor” Philmore will present a steel drum demonstration reviewing the history and rhythmic versatility of this unique Caribbean instrument. On October 27, at 3:00 p.m., the calypsonian Hollis “Flash” Lashley will discuss the history of calypso and demonstrate the various themes and rhythms of this important genre of Caribbean music.

    On Saturday, October 13, at 3:00 p.m. Jamaican storyteller Marline Martin and company will perform the enchanting and animated tale of Olive, the frisky twelve year old girl who, against the wishes of her grandmother, joins up with the Jonkonnu dancers as they come to town. Sign-language interpretation for hearing-impaired visitors will be provided.

    Video Screenings
    Daily weekday video screenings of Mas Fever: Inside Trinidad Carnival (1989) by Glenn Micaleff and Larry Johnson and Celebration (1989) by Karen Kramer will be offered at 3:00 p.m. in the Museum’s Education Department, located on the first floor. Both tapes explore Carnival from “behind the scenes,” with the latter tape focusing on Brooklyn’s own Labor Day celebration.

    Gallery Talks
    Throughout the duration of the exhibition, Caribbean specialists will present gallery talks focusing on a particular theme or festival. Gallery talks include: “Caribbean Hosay,” “Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago and Brooklyn,” “African and European Origins of Caribbean Festivals,” and “Jamaican Jonkonnu.”

    The exhibition was made possible at The Brooklyn Museum with the generous support of the Rockefeller Foundation and Brooklyn Union Gas. Additional support was provided by Amerada Hess Corporation. Educational programs were made possible with the support of The New York State Council on the Arts and by funds appropriated to the Museum by the New York State Legislature through the Natural Heritage Trust.

    This exhibition, organized by the Saint Louis Art Museum[,] was made possible by the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1989 - 1994. 07-09/1990, 131-133.
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