One of the most unifying and creatively explosive events, which is celebrated in Bristol is St Pauls Carnival. The carnival finds its social and historic origin in the Caribbean and is an expression of culture that encapsulates music, dance, costumes, pageantry, and performance.
Help Debauchee Mas be the premier black-owned and black run carnival mas band in Bristol!
Debauchee is a growing design studio focused on purchasing a large drop-side van and materials, to be used for our mas band, to display at St Paul's Carnival. Our studio will be dedicated to creating and showcasing the work of local black artists and designers, as well as to share tales of our history and celebrate our culture, for everyone to experience and enjoy
For the past two years Debauchee has been gaining traction in the world of costume design and has had much positive feedback for involvement in 2018's St Paul's Carnival costumes as well as at ComicCon events. The founder has also been in discussion with the people living in St Pauls and gaining support for ending the cultural appropriation of carnival and exclusion of its originators.
First launched back in 2018 by myself Abi Rogers - costume and latex designer - I believed passionately that carnival procession, an Afro-Caribbean tradition, should actually feature African & Caribbean people. I decided our city needed a dedicated studio & mas camp to nurture BME (Black Minority Ethnic) creatives, to advance their abilities, and to tell stories about black history through the medium of carnival. I was continually disappointed with disproportionate access to the arts and the inequality in funding opportunities for black creatives. Also, I was especially tired of seeing an endless stream of white faces dominating an art-form that has seemingly been stolen from its marginalized creators due to a large gap of wealth and privilege. So I decided to do something about it and Debauchee Mas was born.
To my knowledge, there are only one or two small, and largely underfunded, black-owned and run carnival camps in Bristol. St Paul's Carnival showcased two black mas bands during its 2019 procession and one of those camps traveled from outside of Bristol. However, the history of St Pauls Carnival is rich in black expression and activism. The first St Pauls Festival, which later became known as St Pauls Afrikan Caribbean Carnival, was in 1968. The organizers were local residents and activists who aimed to bring together the European, African-Caribbean, and Asian communities. They wanted to challenge negative stereotypes. Stereotypes, which still hold strong despite the extensive gentrification in the St Pauls area. All the local primary schools would be involved and there would be a big competition. Although this tradition remains, the community's primary schools have been greatly overlooked in recent years resulting in many children having to either cut up T-shirts or not participate at all.
This shift in focus, from St Pauls' community members to those wealthier outside the community, highlights a greater issue of the commodification of black culture. Bristol should be more conscious of eliminating cultural appropriation due to the fact that Bristol’s harbour was once the leading port city in the world for the transatlantic slave trade and its legacy of the slave trade is still prominent in the city today. We have had the recent success of the Black Lives Matter marches and the toppling of Colston’s statue, a symbolic act for real change, but we need to keep the movement going so I am asking for your help to continue to support better change in our city.
Colston's statue was not the only symbol of oppression and racial inequality in Bristol. Every year more people spectate and take part in St Paul's carnival without ever questioning the cultural significance of the event. Carnival should absolutely be a fun experience but to treat carnival, as if it were a rave, without understanding its deep historical context or the impact it has on the community is disrespectful and, for some, quite offensive. It's my belief that this lack of knowledge has lead to St Pauls carnival becoming so divided, which is why Debauchee Mas intends to host annual workshops, in the lead up to carnival, focussed on exploring African and Caribbean arts, culture, and history.
When we look at other carnivals, such as Notting Hill, Leeds, or Luton carnivals, it's easy to find inspiration in their workmanship. There's accomplished artistry, in these communities, which have never been defeated by wealth or racial divide. Bristol, being such a proud city of artists and free people, is long overdue the same devoted cultural arts space as other cities have provided.
I want to create a space that nurtures the young black creative minds as well as encourages elders, who had previously given up on St Paul's carnival, to take advantage of the new opportunities and develop their skills. I want Debauchee Mas to be a beacon of cultural expression and defiance to all attendees, so that they may choose to learn more about our city's complicated history, whilst showcasing the colourful stories curated by Bristol's black artists.
I am calling on individuals, businesses, and institutions to envision the Bristol we want to live in, after Covid-19, and action this change by investing in local grassroots organizations such as mine. I am calling on you to make this much-needed carnival design studio in Bristol a reality, and back the developing narrative for our city, not just in taking down statues, but also in representation, ownership, diversity, and accessibility to the arts.
So far I have given much of my own time to this project and have discovered some very talented BME designers and makers around Bristol who are as equally passionate about this project as I am. I have also applied for funding from Arts Council England and Bristol City Council in order to keep the project growing year after year.
I will as well be holding regular meetings with St Pauls community to ensure Debauchee Mas is inclusive and accessible. Dates TBA.
I am fundraising for support to realize this project including, but not exclusive to the following:
· Purchase a large vehicle (drop-side van or small lorry)
· Purchase of fabrics and materials for costume making - sourcing from sustainable and environmentally friendly suppliers
· Refurbish the vehicle structurally to ensure it is accessible and can carry musical equipment
· Design and decorate the vehicle - I will commission BME set designers and artists to lead and innovate
· Facilitating educational workshops - I will commission African and Caribbean creatives and historians to host
· Rent and bill costs
· Project Management and Coordination team
· Website and Branding
· Visual documentation of Debauchee Mas development and workshops
Thank you so much in advance for your support – by investing you will be supporting equal opportunities for future generations.