I’ve enjoyed carnival as a photographer, spectator, masquerader, and party-man many times before. But this particular year had me preoccupied with what I would come to term as ‘Disposable Carnival’. This preoccupation first found me in 2018 on the last day of Carnival going into town after hours, at dark. This was long after when I’m usually recovering on my couch from a rather ‘tired’ week. I arrived on the main intersection into the parade and was surprised to see the town still buzzing with activity. The general public and costumed masqueraders were still whining up and jumping under the view of: street-lights, car lights and disco lights from massive party trucks. But in-between these people, and more so underneath them , were bright flickers of light. Looking closer I noticed that those flickers were bits and pieces of costumes strewn across the street floor. After noticing these pieces of costumes on the floor I spent equal time looking down at trash as I did up at the parade walking throughout town. With my focus pointed downwards I saw how prevalent the trash was, seeing everything from: plastic cups, sunglasses, shoes, false-hair, to almost entire costumes littered through all the streets of Kingstown.
Scenes of beautifully designed costumes hanging from tired masqueraders or along the floor define the ‘Aftermass’ . This was the point that I found carnival had already begun the process of being forgotten, and the streets were beginning to collect those old memories.
Closer to mid-night, it was hard to even figure out which of the masqueraders belonged to what band as the remaining individuals had discarded most of their costumes to find some comfort in knowing their performances were over. I had wondered if I was even looking at masqueraders at some point. It was not 24 hours after the ‘Vincy Mas 2018’ day parade had started and it already seemed like it was over. The colors of carnival were now more prominent on the floor than they were on people, and the usual Kingstown urban fashion began to dominate the crowded scenes.
Vincy Mass 2019
For the carnival of 2019 I traveled into Kingstown at dusk to witness the beginning of the end of Carnival. I saw in real time pieces of carnival costume flying through the air, from anonymous hands in the crowd. I also saw masqueraders handing their costumes to people on the side of the road. It was actually somewhat rare to see these acts first hand. But despite this rarity, pieces of costume where scattered all throughout town.
The day-light helped prove how prevalent the discarded costumes were as people continued to parade through the town. The vibrant colors were conspicuously prominent among the trash. It was sad to see the costumes I knew to define the epitome of carnival experience and a tossed away plastic cup, both indistinguishable in value.
There were surprisingly some pieces of costume which were in pristine condition in the public path, totally left untouched as countless individuals of all ages walked by. I thought that that someone would pick it up at some point, but it seemed like the moving unaffected crowd would determine its worth, with not so much as a glance below as I stooped to take photos of the pieces.
One of the most interesting things was observing countless kids sheepishly sneaking looks at the piles of carnival pieces laying on the roadside. Their heads darted back and forth to the pile as they were ushered through the crowds by their parents or peers. Their expressions were of such childish desire and imagination , but they just couldn’t find the courage to take them. More and more people would walk by the piles of costume laying tantalizingly still as they continued to grow in size, only budging when another discarded piece was laid on-top.
This truck was following behind a line of masqueraders picking up pieces of costume hanging or laying around town. Choice pieces were being identified, grabbed up and tossed over the shoulder into the truck bed to make an assortment of near pristine pieces. I moved closer towards the crew “What are all of these for?!” I yelled over the pounding music, “WHAT?” they responded. I eventually pointed at the pile in a game of charades to try defeat the music, getting my question across. “YEAH TAKE IT, NO PROBLEM” they said, assuming I just wanted a piece. I decided that this was no time to have a lengthy interview, “ IS THIS TRASH?!” I yelled and they looked at me and nodded “Yes”. However, I wondered if they might be actually recycling the pieces considering they were only picking up certain ones which looked particularly ‘choice’
This scene of costumes laying next to the bins determined that some masqueraders do in-fact consider their costumes as disposable. Yet the bins that are allocated for carnival weren’t so much as half full, including this one.
Jouvert turned my attention to the idea of carnival being associated with ‘single use-products’ and it was easy to see why. The amount of plastic cups, bottles, bags and items dedicated to one day was overwhelming. A sea of trash which accumulated throughout the night, now carpeted Kingstown.
Jouvert’s environment seems to be more geared towards creating trash than the other events. This was not only from the amount of littering I saw as I walked around, but also seeing the behaviors of people quite commonly littering in front of me which were seldom seen on the masqueraders parade.
My active participation of Jouvert of 2019 as a party-man provided me an interesting insight into the sense of ‘Disposable Carnival’ which I was developing. I consider Jouvert one of my favorite events for carnival celebration. I had a sense that I wanted to celebrate the idea of Jouvert by using items which were either ready to be thrown away, or could be used again after. This idea was not made up on my own, but rather through years of observing Jouvert and seeing people use old clothes or ‘almost in the trash’ items to create unique personalities to participate in the event. This interesting contrast of recycling clothes for partying, but then creating so much use for single waste products was one of the most interesting parts of Jouvert for me.
I reached out to certain individuals to gather some insight which would expand my knowledge on how others are saving pieces of carnival as treasures, quite literally preventing the pieces from becoming trash.
“It felt like not only was I taking part in the party, I was preserving and recycling some of its beauty! Not to mention that I was the only one in my outfit!”
It was a very last minute decision to make it home for carnival last year (2018). Being a late comer all costumes and sizes were already sold out. Fortunately, I was able to join on with Skinny’s crew and make my costume up as the road continued. I love to dress up, so I was somewhat prepared for the occasion. My top and bikini bottom were the right colors, and then everything else was taken from what I found on the streets.
Feathers had broken off wings, jewels and other fallen attachments were everywhere allowing for me to create my own Andromina inspired outfit,
From a young age I re-used waste and would always find ways to make plastic bottles or pieces of wood and the like into toys or something useful. (My mother would then chuck them out) But seeing the potential to create my own outfit with what was just lying on the road was rewarding. It felt like not only was I taking part in the party, I was preserving and recycling some of its beauty! Not to mention that I was the only one in my outfit!
The costume was so pretty, I needed to bring it all home. For awhile I just had the wings pinned on my wall. I had a lampshade I didn’t like, so I wanted to do something new. I was inspired by the Hollywood glam….LA Vincy fusion.
People (like myself) wait all year to buy these beautiful costumes, so I wanted to make it last as long possible.
Worn from the road in Kingstown to decorating the home in Canada.
Words From Mirage, Band Leader with 30 years of carnival experience.
How long have you been designing and producing costumes for Vincy carnival?
Over 30 years…
. What do most people do with their costumes after Carnival?
Most of our masqueraders tend to keep their costumes after Carnival. A few will put them on our trucks and we bring them back to our warehouse. Very rarely you seen our costumes thrown throughout Kingstown after Carnival Tuesday
Manufacturing the costumes
(i) How long does each costume take to make?
Varies – any where from a couple hours to a few days.
(ii) What are the costumes made of(generally)?
Wire frames, feathers, spandex, plastics
(iii) Are the costumes hand made?
Yes each one is hand made
(iv) Where do the materials that make your costumes come from (generally)?
Trinidad, US, China
4. Are any part of the costumes recycled after carnival?
A lot of costumes are recycled. We strip our backpacks and reuse the feathers and wire frames. We also trip some of the body wear pieces for stones etc. And we usually have a lot of requests for costumes to be used as decorations so we tend not to dismantle everything.
Are the recycled costumes used , un-used or both?
5. Do you consider your costumes as a ‘one time-use’ item?
Definitely not, our masqueraders tend to use them for decorations, or even in other carnivals throughout the world.
6. What environmental/economical initiatives have you taken when preparing for carnival in regards to your production of costumes and planning for your band?
We definitely try our best to ensure that our costumes are made of the highest quality so masqueraders would want to keep them for future use. We also evaluate what items we can reuse every year.
7. What can you recommend to your masqueraders or masqueraders in general towards being more environmentally conscious?
Outside of costumes, we also provide to our masqueraders reusable mugs, so we don’t have plastic cups throughout the band.
8. What actions can you recommend the general public take become more environmentally conscious when preparing for their carnival experience?
I would definitely like to see more reusable cups throughout events and on the road on carnival Monday and Tuesday. It sad to see the state of Kingstown with plastic items thrown all over.
When reviewing the interview from Rebecca Gonsalves, I remembered that I myself had kept my entire costume from Vincy Mas 2014 (left above) playing with her band Mirage. I kept the headpiece in my old room above my bedhead for all these years as a reminder from how much I enjoyed carnival. I recovered the piece and took this portrait in 2019 (right above), post carnival. If I ever soon participate in Carnival again I would be happy to re-incorporate it into a truly unique costume which has a history.
Finally I wish to leave you, the readers, with a few questions to ask yourself.
What do you consider disposable?
How can you plan ahead more to prevent unnecessary waste?
What do you have currently that is ready to be discarded but can be recycled for something beautiful and unique?
I want to give a special thanks to Gabija, Maya, and Rebecca for contributing their perspectives in this piece.
Thank you for Reading.