Queens of carnival aren’t your run of the mill beauty queens. For the most part they a big people – big costumes, big responsibilities, big personalities – if not externally, they are internally extroverted and it shines when they strap on the harness of a 200 lb costume and prance across that stage in “de Big Yard”. There was a controversial beauty queen show that, during the height of the Black Power movement caught the wrath of the people for being a throwback to a colonialist ideology of “bright is right” and only allowed, or awarded young women of a certain “class” and “colour” the opportunity to be carnival queen. But the contemporary Queen of the Bands is a masquerader wearing a large costume that is the highlight of a section or the central idea of a carnival band.
Gloria Dallsingh, the only female queen who designs, builds, and decorates her own costumes in the adult Queen of the Bands competition. To quote Gloria, “I eat, sleep and dream mas!”
In January 2010 Support Women Arts NOW (SWAN), a non– profit organization geared at promoting women artists, announced their third annual SWAN Day. People were invited to host their own events across the US and internationally, and announce them on the SWAN Day calendar. I decided that I would use my trip to Trinidad & Tobago Carnival as an opportunity to focus on women who compete in the national Queen of Carnival competition, and women who lead children’s carnival bands during the festival. I compiled a list of bandleaders and carnival queens, with the help of writer/poet, Zahra Gordon, made some contacts and readied my gear. This culminated in a photo exhibit in Washington DC in spring of 2010.
I found the Mas women accessible, inspiring and a joy to interview. They seemed passionate and committed to their mas and they were pleased to share a part of that joy with me. You can listen to the interviews and view more photos from the Mas Women and Women Behind de Mas: A Photo Exhibit by clicking here .
Gloria Dallsingh, Wings of Freedom, Carnival 2010