Moko Jumbie sculptures, British Museum

The British Museum has installed two 7 metre high carnival figures on stilts made by the UK-Trinidadian artist Zak Ové, they celebrate African contributions to world carnival.

According to the British Museum website:

The Museum commissioned these figures to coincide with London’s Notting Hill Carnival at the end of August. Moko Jumbie figures became a key feature of carnival in Trinidad in the early 1900s. Oral traditions describe the Moko Jumbie as a guardian of villages who could foresee danger and protect inhabitants from evil forces. Traditionally, Moko Jumbie figures wore long colourful skirts or trousers over their stilts and masks covering their faces. They were sometimes accompanied by dwarfs – represented in the installation in the Great Court by two ‘lost souls’, on loan to the Museum from Zak Ové – who provided a visual height contrast.

Zak Ové works with sculpture, film and photography. He uses these ‘new-world’ materials to pay tribute to both spiritual and artistic African identity.

The relationship between carnival and Africa derives from the enforced movement of peoples during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Between around 1500 and 1900, millions of people were transported from West and Central Africa to the Caribbean and North, Central and South America.

Carnival in Trinidad began as a predominantly elite event. In the late 1700s French immigrants arrived on the island to run plantations, bringing with them enslaved Africans. The plantation owners staged elaborate masquerade balls during the carnival season. Africans also brought their own masking traditions of which the Moko Jumbie is but one. Masking for Africans in the Caribbean was a way to connect to ancestors and nature as well as ideas of ‘home’. But traditional masquerades were also used to satirically depict their masters and turn a critical eye on plantation society. After full emancipation in 1838, Africans took over the streets at carnival time, using song, dance and masquerade to re-dress the still existing social inequalities.

Today, carnival on the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago is an all-inclusive national festival which takes place every year before Lent in February or March. It has become a global spectacle that celebrates the rich diversity of Caribbean culture and heritage. Celebrating Africa explores a variety of African cultural issues through a series of events at the British Museum. 
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