Many Indo and Afro-Caribbean dances can be ancestrally traced. They are movements encoded with an identity that becomes a strong navigational force in our contemporary world– both in terms of communicating and sharing, but also in asserting identity itself. Historically, these traditions are powerful mechanisms for coping, especially by communities where the body has long been under threat. For Black and immigrant communities, control and ownership of one’s own body has been a central preoccupation, a necessity to create and maintain spaces for respite and escape from the routine of conforming, which has often come part and parcel with industrial, technological, and capital-driven societies. Dance, which seeks to remain free from being stifled or subdued, is the coded desire for self-determined joy and perseverance for communities within colonial, post-colonial, and diasporic locales.
Che Lovelace (b. 1969, San Fernando, Trinidad) leaves his painting studio once a year to dance and perform as “the Blue Devil” at Carnival in Trinidad, the birthplace of the annual festivities that now occur around the world. Even in Western cities – whether in Notting Hill (London), Labor Day (New York) or Caribana (Toronto) – Carnival does not guard or keep private the activities rooted within a treasured ancestral sphere, but rather allows open entry, providing a conduit between communities in complex, diverse urban spaces.
Composed of four intersecting panels, Lovelace’s rich, energetic paintings simultaneously dissect and reinforce the figures and motions of such communities that are responsible for reshaping and breathing life into the social and cultural spaces overseas– one thinks of the reggae dancehalls of London in the 70s and 80s or the genesis of the Notting Hill Carnival seeded by small local Trinidadian groups. Even Che’s landscapes are inspired by Carnival. Far from a generic representation of Caribbean plant life, Lovelace's vibrant palms— in particular, the textures of the leaves— are inspired by Carnival's lush fabrics.
Lovelace emphasizes that creative spaces like Carnival “are survival strategies for smaller communities within a dominant culture, and also help define these groups’ contributions to the complex structures of a larger society, especially for those that depend on diversity and plurality. Yet considering the body as it has been employed by marginalized groups, both historically and in the modern world, movement, dance, and the body can be weapons against oppression.” Exploring the powerful dualism that exists in the healing exuberance and communal defiance of dance, Lovelace’s work boldly occupies both: “On one hand there is the practice of an escapism of sorts that would have been, and still is, a necessary coping mechanism, and on the other hand, movement and dance as a way to firmly locate oneself in the present moment—to reinforce a connection to community and spirituality—that signals a presence in the world.”
"Movement and dance as a way to firmly locate oneself in the present moment—to reinforce a connection to community and spirituality—that signals a presence in the world.”