Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Mourner's Carnival

Over thirty years ago, a few months before my birth, my mother, father, brother and I attended Carnival on the island of Antigua. Carnival is a big event held every summer celebrating Antigua’s emancipation from slavery. It is a time of great bacchanal and enjoyment, masquerade and steel pan music. It celebrates a reconnection to freedom of spirit and imagination, and is homage, not only to liberty, but to our ancestors.

From my Mother’s womb, I sensed the lights and colors, and how they flashed in ways not typical. I sensed dancing presences, my spirit warmed by the heat from fire, felt great fear, then overwhelming peace. I, on the brink of birth, the latest descendant of Africans who were once enslaved, felt the revolutionary energy in this celebration. Later on, as a growing child, my first love outside of my parents and older brother was the gift of my imagination, and because I knew we all had this gift, I was convinced that the true nature of any human being is that we are essentially free. At my first carnival, right there from my Mother’s womb, blissfully non-verbal, I learned this: it is possible to transcend suffering through imagination. It is possible to reclaim unfortunate legacies with color, word, music, image, dance and line. Before I was born, I was inspired! My inspiration further deepened by ruminating, in later years, on the meaning of me – one of the products of the union between my parents, both immigrants to this country, brilliant, beautiful, full of hope, believing in their dreams. Since my Mother’s passing, much of these memories return to me now in the form of impressions and insights, things I had forgotten along the way or had become ashamed of; our society puts highest value on linear thought. The nature of memory is not linear and explanations serve to oversimplify the experience of being within my mother, both witnessing and immersing myself at the same time, in a celebration with ancient roots; a complex, colorful, musical, spirit driven work of art.

Since my mother’s death, carnival images appear to me in my dreams. I draw them obsessively as a way to cope with my grief. I derive comfort from the carnival beings that spring up from my imagination. Their colors are healing and their secrets are many.

Above is an excerpt from a carnival comic I am working on.


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