Oxford gears up for Carnival Arts Conference


The 9th International Conference on Carnival Arts and Cultures kicks off at Oxford Brookes University on Friday, July 1 and continues the following day. The two-day event is completely free.

The program is packed and includes high-level speakers from the Caribbean, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

If you’re not based in Oxford itself, it’s worth catching an early train to hear Kela Francis’ Friday talk, intriguingly titled ‘Bikini, Pearls and Feathers: The Latent Ritual Potential of Pretty Mas’.

This is followed by a panel on the topic of ‘carnival communities’ – carnivals in Oxford, Notting Hill and Toronto will all be featured. After the lunch break, the focus is on the steelpan – in church, in the yard and in France.

Soca News has a representative at a panel discussion on Carnival archiving, and the day ends with a thought-provoking discussion on “Calypso in the Diaspora”. Participants include Canada’s Roger Gibbs, ACASA President Vincent John and calypsonians Alexander D Great and De Admiral.

Saturday’s keynote sees Emily Zobel Marshall explore the topic of “Women in Carnival: Mas Intersections.” Emily gave a memorable presentation on Baby Doll last year, so we’re looking forward to her follow-up.

Mas is front and center in the morning panel discussion exploring themes of legacy, past and future. Also listen to Greta Mendez, who will explain her dramatic and haunting use of the traditional mas in the film Ah! Downpour.

After lunch, the conference discusses the possibilities and pitfalls of the Digital Carnival. After two years of virtuality imposed by the pandemic, what part of the Zoom era do we want to keep and develop for the future Carnival and what do we never want to see again?

The barracks yard takes center stage in the next session as the panel examines its role in steelpan education. Finally, Lynda Rosenior-Patten launches an “inspiring call to action for professionals in the creative sector”, in a move “towards a decolonized and community-oriented strategy for the development and production of arts and culture”.

There is also a closed session to discuss the future of carnival in Oxford. It is a hot topic as the hugely popular Cowley Road Carnival, which was due to take place on Sunday July 3 at the gates of Oxford Brookes, has been cancelled. Let’s hope they find a way to resolve the crisis.

Day 1 takes place in room AB115a in the Abercrombie Building, Headington Campus, Oxford OX3 0BP. The Day 2 venue is a complete contrast – the Green Room in historic Headington Hill Hall across the road. Trains to Oxford leave from London Paddington and Marylebone (60-80 minutes); the cheaper Oxford Tube bus runs from London Victoria directly to Oxford Brookes, via Notting Hill Gate (120 minutes).

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