Women in Carnival: Joy, Labour and Play

Wednesday 31th August

Leeds Beckett University in partnership with The University of California, Santa Barbara in present Women in carnival: Joy, labour and play


In this dynamic, interdisciplinary symposium we will be exploring how women (inclusive of anyone who identifies as a woman) use carnival as a platform for tackling gender politics across the Caribbean and its diasporas. We interrogate the often-underappreciated labour of carnival that falls on the shoulders of women (sewing, making, costuming) as well as scrutinising the perception of female body on the road. We will also consider what are the politics of so-called ‘pretty mas’ and what does it represent, both inside and outside the Trinidad carnival space.

The symposium takes place two days after Leeds West Indian Carnival, the first Caribbean-style street carnival in Europe, and Notting Hill carnival in London. Fresh from the carnival space, we will be inspired to examine the complexities and tensions inherent in this vital cultural phenomena.

This is a symposium where the academic and artistic collide and entwine, so as well as academic papers there will be theatre, dancing, poetry and mas making.

Speaker biographies

Our keynote speaker is carnival expert Dr. Samantha A. Noël, Associate Professor of Art History at Wayne State University, US, a specialist in the ‘Pretty Mas’ aesthetic. Kim Vaz-Deville, Professor of Education at Xavier University of Louisiana, will share her expertise on the Baby Doll mas of New Orleans. Carnival Designer and Artist Rhian Kempadoo-Miller will exhibit her carnival-inspired artwork and examine the craft of carnival. Dr. Cathy Thomas (University of California, Santa Barbara), Dr. Adeola Dewis (Laku Neg) Dr. Adanna Kai Jones (Bowdoin College, US), Dr Emily Zobel Marshall (Leeds Beckett University) and Dr. Tola Dabiri will bring their expertise on the gendered, literary, cross-cultural, performative, psychological and African-rooted aspects of carnivals and discuss the potent, transformative power of mas.

Rope Jab masquerader ‘Whip Princess’ Renella Alfred, Activist, Baby Doll expert and mas performer Amanda McIntyre and Poet, Playwright and Cultural Activist Eintou Springer will be joining us online from Trinidad to share their philosophies and practices of mas. There will be contributions from local community group Chapeltown Arts directed by artist Sandra Whyles, a performance of a traditional mas inspired theatre piece by Actor and Director Leah Francis, Co-founder of Black and Asian Theatre company and ‘Speak Woman Speak’, and a discussion on the artistic creation and labour of carnival from the Mama Dread Masqueraders Leeds West Indian Carnival troupe. Leeds-based poet Abdullah Adekola will also share his poetry and ‘Carnival City’ project with us. Dancer and academic Adanna Kai Jones will lead is in a ‘wining’ dance workshop – getting us out of our seats and moving our hips!

This is the third symposium in the AHRC-funded Women in Carnival global network coordinated by Emily Zobel Marshall, Cathy Thomas and Adeola Dewis (Women in Carnival project Advisor). Our last two symposiums took place in Trinidad (Feb 2022) and California (May 2022). Come and join us for our grand finale in Leeds in discourse and dance!

Series description

This is the last in a series of three international workshops (Trinidad, Feb 2022, California, May 2022) examining the role of women and carnival – based on a successful AHRC research networking bid and led by Emily Zobel Marshall, Cathy Thomas and Adeola Dewis. The focus for this workshop will be ‘Joy, Labour and Play’.

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