Carnival is a space in which bodies gendered and racialized into a social position of exclusion and further imprisoned by forced notions of religious chastity and social responsibility, take prominence, prominence nonetheless through sexual prowess. But how much of this sexual space is facilitating the subversion of power, which arguably has been the historical role of carnival? Or rather is it the perpertuation of these power dynamics?
That is where Carole Boyce Davies’ article comes in. In her essay, “Black/Female/Bodies Carnivalized in Spectacle and Space,” Boyce Davies explores the black female body in the context of its negotiating the space of carnival, commodification, resistance and freedom. Boyce Davies also explores the black female body in the context of the triangular slave trade route and the vulvic metaphor in which that trade route, and the space between, came to represent the female body.
The most relevant aspects of this article in the context of carnival is that carnival puts the black female body in prominent local and international visibility, creating a space where its social metaphors can be explored more intimately than the periods outside of carnival where such forms of embodiment are relegated to abjection and obscurity.
With regards to carnival, Boyce Davies asserts, “The black female subject in the New World is born within the context of commodification and has only been able to resist it when deliberately reclaiming herself outside of the terms of and in resistance to this commodification” (Boyce Davies, 190). Boyce Davies also explores how the black female subject reclaims that power through movement. By referencing the dance “the butterfly,” Boyce Davies argues, “Pursuing the ritual of dance and sexuality, the butterfly, an early nineties dance which mimed with the legs the movements of the butterfly’s wings, revealed the female body opening and closing, allowing possibilities for entry and simultaneously barring entry, giving life and also taking it in all its gestures.” (Boyce Davies, 191). Referencing specifically black female Caribbean choreographer Pearl Primus and scholar Katrina Hazzard-Gordon, Boyce Davies contextualizes the dance, and specifically African dance from the African continent and the “New World” as “carrying its own language and vocabulary...carrying many unread messages of resistance.” (Boyce Davies, 191).
The movement is where women find their agency.
What I can pull from this in my overall study of “Fashion as Social Justice”?
When exploring fashion as a hegemonic form of embodiment, declared in vogue depending on the point in history, or hegemonic or “dominant culture” standards of what forms of embodiment should and shouldn’t represent dominant society, carnival becomes a space where subjects often barred from dominant culture regain power through the dance and movement forms. While reducing the definition of fashion to expensive Eurocentric garments and the systems of commerce and branding that supporting hegemonic classification, it excludes the agency of people disempowered by this system to reclaim their power through movement and agency. While potentially commodified as a sexualized carnival image on the internet, the black female body in the performance of carnival can challenge being silenced because of their race and gender through engaging in powerful and provocative movement vocabularies that can disempower the voyeur by entrancing him. Thus, by exploring fashion as a negotiation of embodiment rather than a set of hegemonic ordinances, and exploring fashion as a form of embodiment that includes movement and performance rather than static objects and images, fashion can become a site of populous movement building and inclusive social change.
Carnival is also a space where people outside of this Eurocentric paradigm pay premium couture prices for the experience of fantasy embodiment- isn’t that what clients do with European made couture garment, except the color palette and silhouettes of carnival are more diverse, not explicitly Eurocentric, body confirming and in many ways revealing? What truly distinguishes a $2,000 carnival costume and experience purchased from a mas camp from an independent produced demi couture dress purchased for a fundraiser other than the Eurocentricity of the latter social context?
Boyce Davies, Carole. "Black/Female/Bodies Carnivalized in Spectacle and Space" in Black Venus 2010.