After visiting a rural Mardi Gras in southwest Louisiana, I found a personal call to investigate the costumes and rituals that evoke a vibrant and jubilant celebration of debauchery and excess, a worship of earthly materiality. I consider myself a materialist, not one who only seeks pleasure in material goods but one who investigates and is enthralled with the qualities of tactile objects. I support the belief that the forms we interact with aid to determine our identity. And what is more tactile than clothing? Textiles are alluring materials that invite the viewer to explore a sensory experience. They are rich with history and seminal in the development of cultures, the forming of a regional identity. I am focused on the conceptual and practical use of textiles in my work in order to satisfy my own impulses but also to trace the lineage of my cultural heritage. The bright costumes made of colorful cast-off rags used in Mardi Gras affirm the relationship we as humans have to eye-catching materials and how we use them to construct belief systems, cultural history, and form personal identity.
I have grown intrigued, even obsessed, with the historical passage of the Cajuns, a French population that colonized Nova Scotia and underwent a tumultuous exodus to Louisiana in the mid 18th century. Their struggles represent a departure from the French culture and development of a unique identity after surviving as an isolated community. My work as an artist stems from the need to access this part of my history. I am searching for a new take on the historical evolution of my ancestors. By reexamining the past and reinventing researched stories of the deportation of the Acadians from Nova Scotia, I am connecting a personal experience to historical events and rituals of the Acadians. I seek to concentrate on the influence of textiles while providing a narrative. In my recent paintings, Mardi Gras revelers are contrasted against a background reminiscent of a toile de jouy, a textile innovation closely linked with colonial fashion of the 18th century, adorned with scenes that shed light on the Acadian experience. I am using the textiles to become the vehicle of narration, to represent a story of power struggles and upheaval.
Research for this creative project has traced the fashion influences of the elite from the 1600’s during the departure of the French colonists from Europe. Their wardrobe is symbolic of power structures; such as the way that kings used fashion to elevate themselves above others and also the manner in which they dictated fashions. Yet when the cultural mold of power is broken, fashion often is used to overthrow the hegemony of the ruling elite. By creating paintings that appropriate depictions of the ruling class and subverting their likeness into Mardi Gras costumes, I am active in this power struggle and alive with the spirit of sublimation, where I can act out impulsive desires in a culturally appropriate method by implanting the sexual symbolism of Mardi Gras masks into political paintings. Mardi Gras, thus, functions as a forum whereby costumes are symbolically used to subvert societal standards. The earliest forms of Mardi Gras entailed a day of excess and a socially acceptable platform for the poor to beg for food and mock the nobility. This served as a ritual for the lower echelons of the clergy and laity to undermine the imposing structure of the church and royalty. Costumes allowed people to act out role reversals during the Carnival season.
Costumes have a transformative ability throughout the world. Many cultures use costumes, particularly during carnivalesque celebrations, to assume the role of a spiritual figure or a jester that is free from inhibitions. The manifestations of these unique festivals blend pagan and religious practices. My costumes constructed of fabric, painted on canvas, or cast in metal are created in the spirit of the traditional Mardi Gras costumes, but are to be used for my own purposes. I am drawing my own conclusions to their purpose and determining their context. I am further identifying myself from my cultural background by drawing from the history of Cajun Mardi Gras costumes and reinterpreting their use in my creative artwork.