By Neil Armstrong
For six months Canadians will have a chance to check out some of the masterpieces of internationally renowned masquerade designer, Brian MacFarlane, along with Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival photographs. The exhibition, Carnival: From Emancipation to Celebration, opened on July 28 and will close on February 24, 2013 at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto.
No stranger to his work being at museums, MacFarlane’s costume designs are on display in New Delhi, India where he has presented university lectures on the essence of carnival as well as the textures, and the architecture of putting mas and carnival together.
His costume, ‘Fancy Sailor’ is on permanent display at a world museum of music in Texas where the steel pan is also featured. “I feel very humbled and proud to be here,” says MacFarlane about the exhibition at the ROM.
Speaking of his inspiration, MacFarlane says, “I’m very much a naturalist and very much connected to human society in a sense where things, very simple things sometimes bother me immensely, for instance, we just had this crushing of hundreds of turtles clearing up the Grande Riviere Beach in Trinidad.
It still reeks inside of me how could this be allowed. Things like this play on me, and my ideas kind of stem out of those situations, whether environmentally, socially or politically.
But the essence of my designs always come out of that,” says MacFarlane. The exhibition at the ROM offers a journey through his stunning carnival creations from the last three years: Resurrection: The Mas (2010); Humanity: The Circle of Life (2011); and Sanctification In search of (2012).
START IN MAS' COSTUME DESIGNING
MacFarlane said his interest in costume design goes back beyond the age of 15. As a young boy, his parents took him and his four siblings every carnival to their grandparents’ house and they would watch the carnival parade and the carnival bands there.
“There was a year in particular when I was 11 years old where Stephen Leung had brought that year “China: The Forbidden City” and when the band was coming down the road because it was just the freedom of playing mas.
And my mom said ‘let’s go take a little jump.’ That will probably go to my grave with me, it was so surreal seeing this whole elaborate stage set just on a street coming down the road with these guys with their big Buddha bellies, rubbing their bellies with their little Chinese fans and they were performing to Chinese music and calypso not in front of judges but on the street.
It became natural being in the mas’, feeling what it meant to be in that particular costume to create an expressive. I think it was then at 11 years old that I said you know, I’m going to do this one day.
I’m going to have my own carnival bands so it was instilled in me from a very early age,” he said. Getting into school and being very sickly and dyslexic as well, it was difficult for him going through the education system.
There was also a nun in his private school who ridiculed him in front of the entire class calling him an imbecile and a retard. In her absence from the classroom, his classmates would pounce on him with the same epithets that proved too difficult for him.
He subsequently decided to leave school entirely. “So I decided to just walk out at the age of 15 but I knew right away what I was going to do. I was always very much into gardening.
My dad had bought me a lawnmower, I loved cutting the lawn and edging so the next day I did that and the following day I took a shower and said ‘mom, look, I’m going down to Raoul Garib, took a taxi, went down, offered my services, worked three years roughly volunteering, got a meal a day, lucky if you got a meal but I just enjoyed what I did and after two or three weeks, both the bandleader, Raoul Garib and his wife, Brenda, now deceased and the designer, Christopher Santos, would ask where did you learn textures and colours and combining these things.”
They started giving him sections to put together, and after three weeks moved him across to the king and queen costume area on Woodford Street and in those days the characters were huge costumes.
LONDON OLYMPICS 2012
MacFarlane has designed 2,500 costumes that will be showcased at a cultural event during the international sports event.
He said the organisers of the London Olympics decided to also make it a very cultural experience, throughout the entire duration of the Olympics.
“So the definition of that started with the city of London dividing itself into 12 regions for cultural performances that will take place at the beginning and somewhat in the middle of the Olympic season,” he said.
London engaged in the commission of 12 regions and Imaginative Productions contacted him to tender with them on the production.
They came up with mythical Lady Godiva theme in the Coventry region and because it was the home of the old automobile industry of London, she is very mechanical.
There are 50 cycles that move, some of the cycles in the air but they all move different parts of this 35-foot puppet so she can lower to cross at the bridges but she raises back to 35 feet.
“It’s not part of the opening ceremony but one of twelve cultural things. There were 260 cultural tenders for the Coventry region and we won out of 260 so that itself is a huge thing so I’m very excited,” said MacFarlane.
In the last two decades, MacFarlane has won countless awards and accolades for his designs. His work has also been recognized by the United Nations for its environmental and critical content.
The exhibition is also in celebration of the 50th anniversaries of Independence of Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago, and the commemoration of Emancipation Day in Ontario.