Sunday, October 17, 2010

Humanity Cycle of Life : Is this, Mac Farlane's tribute to Christianity?

The washing, MacFarlane 2005.
When I first saw Mac Farlane’s ‘Humanity Cycle of Life’, my first reaction was that Mac Farlane had either completed a creative cycle or simply ran out of ideas. Looking at the band its shapes etc I could not fight the feeling of déjà vu because of amount of echoes of carnivals past that resonated within this presentation.
To me this had to be deliberate, the end cycle of a journey that started with the washing in 2005 in white ends in 2011 in black and white....

The unclenching fist resurrection 2010

The first element of the launch that caught my attention was the hand with the eye in the middle, this symbol was present on the road for Mac Farlane’s Resurrection for C2010, I wondered what the reason for its presence was then and I did again when I saw it for the HCL launch this year.

The eye in the palm of the hand is used in some cultures to ward of the evil eye, (bad eye) the open palm drawing in positive energy in the process Gibran also painted  such an image after he saw it in a vision  he called the painting ‘the divine world’.
the open hand 
The symbol is made up of 2 parts, an eye, that observers, and the hand, that does or performs actions, together they represent sight and knowledge, i.e.: seeing, omniscience, or unlimited knowledge and the hand, action, or power , i.e.  omnipotence , or unlimited power and authority.
That is to say the power of God.
What is Macfarlane saying by using this Icon I wonder, maybe that he is powered and protected by God?
This band goes deep.

In the book ‘The Prophet’, a man of wisdom Al Mustafa about to start a journey home after a long absence is surrounded by people and questioned on the virtues of life and humanity. Gibran’s protagonist the prophet Al Mustafa seems almost Christ like in his replies to the questions he faces on life and the human condition.  After sharing his knowledge and wisdom the prophet returns to his boat and leaving the people of Orphalese behind.

While Gibran’s verses provide a philosophical structure to Mac Farlan’s   observation on the cycle of life from birth to death, Mac Farlane  has constructed through the medium of mas a  visual, tangible,body to Gibran’s narrative, not in the in the celebratory colour of  carnival  but in black and white as Mac Farlane himself states,

 “... the band is black and white , our life stories are told constantly in black and white. Our births are printed in the press, our schooling, our education, our socializing, our achievements, our accidents, our marriages and even our obituaries are in the press, everything is printed in black and white...” 
However If one was to eliminate the poetic music of Gibran’s verses, from the band a second transcript is revealed within the mas.


In 1995 Peter Minshall walked into a quagmire of controversy with his presentation Hallelujah. The term Hallelujah meaning praise the Lord is used by Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and Catholic’s alike, and to these Christian groups the use of the word in the realm of Carnival was nothing but vile and blasphemous.

The presentation s title caused national debate in Trinidad and Tobago, but in the end Minshall triumphed, he kept the title Hallelujah, won band of the year, and his queen costume the queen of carnival title, but there is no doubt that mixing religious themes with the traditional creativity, revelry, and sexual atmosphere of carnival could prove to be a volatile undertaking.

Regardless of this Mac Farlane has in the 14 section band, at least 6 sections that make use of Christian or Christian related Icons or symbols, (possibly 10 or more) and in my opinion the use of these icons and symbols, transform the band to much more than a philosophical observation on life...

Baptism:  In this section the descending dove and the clam or scallop shell dripping water are both Christian symbols of baptism, the shell is also said to be a symbol of pilgrimage.

Good and Evil
Good and Evil:  while this section makes use of black and white representing good and evil and  the ying yang symbol representing the relationship between  the two, the devils tail and the angel’s wings are clear icons of traditional carnival. However, the devil or angels are not described in the bible , the devil with the tail horn and pitch fork can be traced to the middle ages, angel wings go back even further but there is no doubt that this iconography came to the Trinidad Carnival via Christianity.

Prayer: this section even at a glance has an acolyte vibe to it.  In this section Mac Farlane make use of two Christian symbols, one is the cross with the four crosses in it is known as the Jerusalem Cross, according to wikapedia,

 “it was on the papal banner given to the Crusaders by Pope Urban II for the First Crusade, and was a symbol of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The four smaller crosses are said to symbolize either the four books of the Gospel or the four directions in which the Word of Christ spread from Jerusalem. 

An interesting choice of cross if I don’t say so myself.

The second symbol used in this section is the fish known as Ichthys or the Jesus fish. This symbol was used by early Christians when they were being persecuted by the Romans,
 “when a Christian met a stranger in the road, the Christian sometimes drew one arc of the simple fish outline in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, both believers knew they were in good company.

There is a third symbol that of a halo, while this icon is multi cultural it became part of Christian art around the fourth century and is used to indicate a holy or scared figure...
A fourth symbol is the caduceus the 2 snakes that form a double helix around the pole; it is the symbol of Hermes the divine messenger of the gods in Greek mythology.


MARRIAGE: While the institution of marriage is another multi cultural and multi religious institution, once again MacFarlane uses the dove an halo motif, and crowns it all with what looks like a scale “the Scales as a Christian Symbol is a symbol of justice and corresponds as a metaphor of matters being "held in the balance" and may be used to represent the final judgment.” The joined rings also represent the union of two people under Christ in the sacrament of holy matrimony".

Joy and Sorrow.
JOY AND SORROW: the symbol that can be linked to Christian iconography in this section is the trumpet, throughout the bible the trumpet is used as a signal of gods coming or celebrating god’s presence.

KNOWLEDGE: this costume, can be clearly linked to two images we can identify with, the gown and headpiece (called the mortar board worn by graduates) and the Pierrot Grenade a descendant of the Pierrot who poked fun of the scholar through satire. However the hat of the scholar is said to be developed from a hat worn by the Roman Catholic clergy called the bierreta. The hat was called the mortar board because it resembled a board used by masons to hold mortar.

While Mac Farlane’s mortar board is exaggerated and the costume still has a link to Christianity or the church, it can also be linked to other institutions and societies.

WORK: this is a minimalist section indeed the hard hat with what looks like a chain  is the only symbols of work  with a massive flag  im 50/50  on this section its simple and modern yet a little too simple I get the impression Macfarlane  literally drew a blank on this one.


In the section ‘Birth’ the costume features a spiral motif, this Spiral is Celtic in origin and represents not only life itself but people and humanity.  The costume itself echoes Mac Farlane’s past designs with that caged dress concept he is known for the standard and fabric back piece.

2011 Baptism:
right 06 Treads of joy.
In BAPTISM the male costume features the staggered leg piece that Mac Farlane has done before, to be honest and if memory is right 2006, India.

LOVE: while I  do like the Love section any time I see it i get that Alice in wonderland feeling, between the hart standard,  collar and crown I can almost hear her shout ‘of with his head’!

TIME: time in this costume is reflected in not only the clock face motif of the head piece but in the repetitions of the rings that the costume is made up of , cycles of life, cycles of time, this circular design has been heavily relied on in his mas this year.

Passion female
PASSION: this section represents sexual passion between a man and a woman, Mac Farlane makes use of the male and female symbols we are used to on each costume highlighting the male sexual organ with the phallic symbol of an arrow and the female’s organs with a spiralled wire bra and symbol of the sacred yoni to the front dress. The head piece is designed with a curve that for me recalls the style of the Phrygian hat of ancient Rome that was symbols of freedom and were also known as liberty caps.  If this was Mac Farlane’s intention it would reflect sexual liberty in passion, a concept that fits perfectly with the theme.

The Phrygian cap is a soft conical cap with the top pulled forward, associated in antiquity with the inhabitants of Phrygia, a region of central Anatolia. In the western provinces of the Roman Empire it came to signify freedom and the pursuit of liberty, perhaps through confusion with the pileus, the manumitted slave's felt cap of ancient Rome. Accordingly, the Phrygian cap is sometimes called a liberty cap; in artistic representations it signifies freedom and the pursuit of liberty.”
FREEDOM: this circular costume for me is the weakest in the band, with broken chains around the wrist of the masquerader that without a doubt represent freedom and the Liberty like crown of a headpiece   a section of swirling costumes can make a visual impact but for me it’s the weakest link. It also echo’s past works of Mac Farlane.
FAREWELL: I wonder why the mas man MacFarlane called this section farewell and not death after all birth was called birth, and not hello, but seriously if death is not the end of life’s cycle then farewell is a just name. The design is another classic Mac Farlane, the caged skirt and conical head piece is reminiscent of the hennins of Europe’s middle Ages can be found in the 2005 band the washing, once again completing a circle in black that started in white...
In this band MacFarlane makes constant use of the circle while this use does fit with the theme (a cycle of life) the circle also has Christian connotations,
“The circle represents eternity and the everlastingness of God Who has no beginning and no end.”
For me this band is a tribute to Christianity, that religious institution that shaped and dominated the socio/cultural and even economic standing of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean, and if not most of the known world.

Passion male.
Looking at Mac Farlane’s past presentations he has called on man to return to his humanity in ‘the washing’, in ‘treads of joy’ he used treads and colour as a metaphor to humanity uniting to form a tapestry (or society) of love. He has looked to and paid homage to India and Africa the origins of the islands two biggest ethnic groups and cultural contributors. And he has paid homage to the carnival traditions through resurrection.  Now Mac Farlane returns to the theme of humanity via virtues and symbols of Christianity.

Visually, Humanity Circle of Life is not the strongest band MacFarlane has produced in the past 6 years. In my opinion aesthetically it is his weakest, yet there is no doubt that if he competes; H.C.L will be another Band of the year title for him. As to date there is no other band out there to seriously challenge him for the crown, and the weakness in this band means that carnival 2011 is the best time for another band to make that challenge.
I know everybody has a time limit period, this is my time, this is my moment in the sun, if you want to call it that, but it is quickly gone. Minshall had his moment, Berkley had his, George Bailey, all of them had their moments, mine would be gone and we have to hope that people can hold on to it, understand it and continue it. Because if it dies, the culture is dead and people who do not have culture are an empty people, they have nothing.” Brian Mac Farlane (Trinidad Carnival Diary)

Band Launch  photos via: Carnival Jumbie

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