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Photographer Jason C. Audain’s portraits of traditional Carnival masqueraders record both their intricate costumes and the human energy that powers their performance

  • Susan Leung-Yuen placed first in the Dame Lorraine category of the 2019 T&T traditional mas competition with her portrayal of The Invincible Power of Who I Am — “paying homeage to our women ancestors and women of today — working hard, swizzling the
  • Sandra A. Morris Bell portrays Jab Jab From the Other Side — a tribute to the deceased calypsonians and pan men. Bell is a third-generation Carnival designer from the talented Morris family of Belmont, Port of Spain. Photo Jason C. Audain
  • Anderson Patrick, portraying Wadaga Raja Oltanaga, has performed Black Indian mas for over thirty years. Outside of Carnival, he is the Chief of the Warriors of Hurrican, part of the First Peoples community. Photo Jason C. Audain
  • Tekel “Salti Lingo” Sylvan, king of the moko jumbie band Moko Somõkõw, also competed in the 2019 traditional mas competition, portraying Blazing Moko. Photo Jason C. Audain
  • Wicked grin, curving horns, red-tipped wings: Nemai Ali’s character Satan is a longtime mainstay in traditional devil mas. Part of the band Gulf Inferno, produced by visual arts students at the University of the West Indies, Ali made his traditional mas
  • The title of Nelly Joseph’s Dame Lorraine presentation, Madame Picong, suggests a tongue as fiery hot as the orange of her costume. Photo Jason C. Audain

Mas requires a costume, but a costume alone isn’t mas. The masquerade tradition at the heart of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is a hybrid artform that combines visual spectacle with the narrative of theatre and the ritual of dance — a living, breathing, art in which both masquerader and spectator are equally crucial, energy and recognition passing from one to the other and back. It is, in its quintessential nature, ephemeral: a surge of emotion — whether joy or alarm, familiar or surprising — like an electrical charge, leaving traces in onlookers’ memories — and in photographs. 

For many people in today’s audiences, the most vital energy of mas is to be found in the performance of traditional characters like Fancy Sailors and Indians, Midnight Robbers and Dame Lorraines, moko jumbies and the multiple varieties of devil mas. In the thick of Carnival Monday and Tuesday, such characters can seem lost and outnumbered, but the performers keeping these time-hallowed masquerades alive come into their own at the annual traditional mas competition in the final week of the Carnival season. In 2019, photographer Jason C. Audain set up a makeshift outdoor studio to document traditional masqueraders just offstage at the competition venue in Port of Spain. The portraits in the following pages record details of their intricately designed and crafted costumes, but above all they record — in the faces and gestures and stances of these masmen and maswomen — the human energy and personality that are the true medium of mas.