Students taking part in a Winter Term course explore world traditions through art.
Students taking the Carnaval in the Black Atlantic course paraded across campus Thursday afternoon dressed in colorful garb fashioned from shredded T-shirts and other recycled materials.
They braved the wind and cold—temperatures dipped into the lower 30s—tossing strands of beads to passersby and stopping in several different locations along the parade route to perform a dance they choreographed themselves.
The Winter Term course, taught by Assistant Professor of Art History Courtnay Micots, explored the origins of festivals along the trans-Atlantic trade route and their evolution into a contemporary art form.
Students in the class discussed the political and social significance of these festivals in places such as the Caribbean, Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and New Orleans. Many appeared to be pure entertainment but were really developed out of a type of resistance.
“For those in the know who are part of it, it provides a sense of community. It provides a voice to air grievances,” Micots said. “Whether it’s grievances with local authorities, politics or religion, it’s a chance to express their ideas and their heritage. It’s an opportunity to free oneself of the everyday with this aversion to the rules.”
Micots didn’t just want her students to learn about the festivals, complete with parades, masquerade, lavish costumes, music and dance—she wanted them to experience them.
First, she asked them to write about the character they would perform in what she called the “Fancy Dress” parade and then they were charged with creating costumes, choreographing dances and arranging for musicians to accompany them.
“The papers give them the background but from a scholarly point of view,” Micots said. “The parade gives them a chance to be within it.”
They showed up with their makeshift costumes and handmade masks and even brought along fire dancer Jenny Milligan who twirled a flaming hoop, an addition that definitely surprised Micots.
“It’s kind of unexpected, but you never know how these things are going to turn out, which is part of the fun,” Micots said.
Taylor McLean ’14, a religious studies major, took on the role of Pierrot Grenade, a character who was born in France and moved to Trinidad.
“He yells at people and spells thing to prove his intelligence,” McLean said.
Writing about the character and then playing him during the parade, made Grenade come alive for McLean.
“It’s definitely more of a real-life approach to classroom studies,” she said. “I never would have expected to be parading through Elon. This is truly, to me, the Elon hands-on experience.”
Pitchy Patchy, Pierrot Grenade’s counterpart in Jamaica, was performed by Brittany Washington ’13. Pitchy Patchy is part of the Christmas festival called Jonkonnu.
Washington, a journalism major, cut colorful T-shirts and bandanas into strips and pinned them all over her clothes in an attempt to duplicate the character she wrote about. It helped her understand the time and effort spent to bring a festival to life.
“They used their own money to make their costumes, and they took a lot of time,” she said. “I can really appreciate their more elaborate costumes. They take some real time to make.”
Dressed in a bright blue dress with a pillow stuck under the back to accentuate her bottom, Emily Turner ’13, an art major, embraced her role as Dame Lorraine, a mockery of a French plantation owner’s wife. She wore a white straw hat and twirled a matching blue umbrella above her head.
“It’s a retaliation after the Trinidadian slaves were freed,” Turner said.
Hearing about the traditions and then researching and writing about the characters kept the information fresh in her mind.
“It’s helpful to act out what we’ve been learning,” she said.