London’s October Gallery presents an independent exhibition of new work by artist Sokari Douglas Camp CBE that examines the “Jonkonnu” masquerade both in its Caribbean context and in the broader context of the African diaspora through July 23, 2022.
The “Jonkonnu Masquerade” exhibition will be a continuation of the enormous sculpture “Europe Supported by Africa and America,” on view at the V&A as a companion to the “Africa Fashion” exhibition, which opened on July 2, 2022.
Two more of his impressive sculptures, again related to “Jonkonnu,” will also be part of Kensington and Chelsea Art Week.
While exploring the beginnings of the “Notting Hill” carnival during the pandemic lockdown, Sokari Douglas Camp CBE was fascinated by a series of shaded lithographs by Isaac Mendes Belisario, depicting “Jonkonnu” revelers in Jamaica in the late 1830s.
The Jonkonnu festival originated during the era of servitude, when estate workers celebrated the two days of permitted revelry each year with overflowing melodic masquerades that recalled their African heritage.
During these festivities, slaves would mask themselves in outfits that drew on and satirized Western paradigms: naval officers, sailors, rulers, estate owners, entertainers, etc. Each with a sensational hood, while mingling with these figures were madmen, nature spirits, evil presences, etc. The roots were further back in the African genealogical customs.
The striking hairstyles of the concealed revelers helped the craftswoman recall the exhilarating Kalabari masquerades of the Nigerian beach where she grew up, figures she has recently studied in her work.
The resulting deluge of figures is a potent mix of strange characters that follow the overlapping links between African masquerades, Caribbean fair customs and their latest manifestation in the city of London, at the highly costumed “Notting Hill” carnival parades.
With these exciting new works, Sokari Douglas Camp CBE pays due respect to the steadfast “righteous soul” who does his duty in spite of all misfortunes.
These sculptures energetically bring together various elements from the interrelated worlds of innovative masquerades, celebratory parades and amusement park parades. In this way, they certify the strong engagement of African and Caribbean societies in the multicultural city of London today.
While the Notting Hill Carnival has been cancelled for the past two years due to the pandemic, the imperative energy of these moving characters anticipates a time – soon – when the joyous revelry will return and the entire region will come together to celebrate all of our strengths once again.