By Andrea Milam
If you’ve been lucky enough to be here during the St. John Festival parade, you surely took note of the gorgeous costumes, adorned with sequins, feathers, and other eye-catching accents. This type of costume is popular in carnivals across the Caribbean today, but it’s much different than the costumes worn during the early years of masquerading, a practice that started in Africa and took hold in the Caribbean during the plantation era.
If you will be on St. John for the parade this year, you’ll notice a brand new troupe, one that harkens back to the styles of yesteryear—the St. John School of the Arts troupe, whose theme will be “Artistic Healing in the Face of Recovery.”
The troupe was borne out of the free classes the arts school offered to students to compensate for the split-session schedule the public schools followed in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
“We’ve been able to work with a lot of students this year, which has been great,” said SJSA Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jeune Provost. “We understand the power of the arts and how it can help in the healing process.”
With the idea of showcasing what the students have been working on this year, the arts school decided to start their own troupe. One of the projects, mask making as a tool for community expression and healing, lent itself perfectly to carnival culture.
“The project ties in with the history of masquerading in the Virgin Islands,” says Jeune. “It’s two worlds coming together beautifully.”
Elements of some of the art school’s other classes, like Caribbean movement, jazz and hip hop dance, and even choir, will be seen in the troupe’s parade performance. SJSA students were also taught about the history of masquerading and Virgin Islands culture to prepare for the troupe. So keep an eye out for this brand new troupe, whose uniquely decorated masks and hand-painted fabric costumes are sure to grab your attention.
They’ll be on the road with the St. John Festival parade on July 4, beginning at the National Park Visitor’s Center at 11 a.m. alongside other festival favorites, including the Westin troupe, whose appearance in the parade will be a heartening sign of their commitment to recovery and remaining a part of the St. John community.
(And a huge thank you to the Westin for that! -Jenn)