Calls for revamp of Carnival costume judging criteria

Heather Doram
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By Carlena Knight

A national designer and veteran of the Carnival costume scene is calling for broader judging criteria for mas’ costumes.

Covid-19 has seen this year’s popular parades cancelled but Heather Doram, a stalwart in mas’ designing for over 15 years, believes the long-standing methods used to assess costumes need an overhaul to embrace the fresh styles that are now a part of the summer festival.

“The criteria needs to be changed a bit and it’s something I have been saying for years that perhaps the mas’ makers and creatives need to approach the Festivals Commission about [it],” Doram, who also designed the country’s national dress, explained.

“The criteria is the same as in the beginning when I started. I think there probably needs to be a shift in that and now have different categories like party band or real serious mas’ which is depicting something. It should be judged different than to someone who is just in it for the fun of it,” she said.

She believes that this will help inspire greater creativity, which she says is fading from Carnival, and motivate designers to showcase their talent on a grander scale.

In terms of post-Carnival celebrations, Doram is suggesting that a cultural museum or gallery be instituted where costumes that were impactful during their era could be preserved for future generations.

She says it is disheartening as a designer to see hours of work be tossed in the trash at the end of the annual festivities instead of being used for tourism purposes, while preserving the cultural identity of mas’ making.

“The creative industry really needs some kind of support, and these are some of the ways we can do that, by giving us a space where these wonderful works of art can be stored,” she continued.

“You can’t keep all of them, but you can pick out maybe the winners of each year and then maybe put them in storage and at one point have a retrospective and showcase the costumes throughout the years.

“There’s so much that we can do, and I am hoping that the new minister and Festivals Commission would be open to having something like that.”

Doram is however of the opinion that today’s designs lack the creativity of some of their earlier counterparts.

“Unfortunately, sometimes progress is not always the most exciting thing. Yes, materials are more easily available, they are much more fantastic. Personally, I think the costumes and how we made them back then took a lot more creativity.

“I didn’t just get up and make the costume and then when I was finished, which is what I see these days, take a name and fling it at it. No, you started with a name, with a theme, whatever it is you are thinking. Let’s say something to do with the Emperor of China or something then I would have to go and do research.

“It depends also on where you want to enter your costume as well, whether individual, fantasy or cultural so although I do my research, I want it to be more fantastic and more creative so I stayed away a bit from the historic aspect and made it more fantasy but that is just life,” Doram said.

“People are not as interested in that, but I know for me, as an artist, and I am sure a lot of the other designers who used to be involved in Carnival have a sort of nostalgic feeling about losing some of that.”

Former Assistant Director of Culture Alister Thomas shared similar sentiments regarding the museum. He believes that it should even be broadened to showcase all aspects of the festival.

“I think I would have pioneered the whole idea of establishing a Carnival museum which would be one of its kind in the Caribbean,” he said.

“In fact, we have had some mock-up drawings with the whole idea of a new tourist entity in which signature pieces from years gone by would be placed in the museum preserving the artform, preserving the creativity, preserving the craftsmanship. It would be something unique for us.”

Thomas said during his tenure two buildings were identified for such a venture but nothing ever came to fruition. He added however he is open to holding discussions with the relevant authorities on the way forward for this matter, and also for finding avenues such as teaching the craft of mas’ making in schools so as to keep the artform alive “as it will generate revenue for more local costumes to be made than having to venture overseas”.

Alister Thomas
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