Iowa City Carnaval Project

Carnaval in the Caribbean is traditionally a Pre-Lenten celebration with roots in European festivals and African rituals. Begun during a time of French, Spanish, British, and Portuguese colonization and the Middle Passage slave trade, carnaval in countries such as Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil resulted from a mixture of foreign and indigenous cultures and traditions. Over the 19th - 20th centuries, this unique festival art form grew and changed to reflect the changes in the Caribbean and Brazil – including slave emancipation and national independence and civil rights movements.

Carnaval parades – the main events – have always been an exciting display of the visual arts and music in dynamic motion, growing larger and larger in scale over time. Today carnival is a strong vibrant tradition in several island nations and Latin American countries as well as urban centers around the world. New carnaval traditions have been created as people have emigrated to other countries, including Canada, Great Britain, the U.S., Germany, and the Netherlands, just to name a few. Migrating carnavalist have taken the traditions and celebrations with them to celebrate the culture of their countries of origin as well as the new communities that they now call home.

Community members and carnavalists young and old from diverse backgrounds worked together for over a year to translate Iowa stories and themes into 12-50 foot works of art. In the process of making art, people themselves become works of art. A carnaval parade is art on parade to celebrate both individuality and community. Carnaval continues to transform communities and enrich people's lives all around the world, even in Iowa City. In an increasingly technological and impersonal world, the carnaval arts can be utilized to bridge differences and celebrate human resilience and creativity.

On June 9, 2013, the first Iowa City Carnaval Parade was held downtown, bringing together international and local cultures and showcasing Iowa stories through unique visual pieces and costumes. See photos from this event below. The parade takes place annually in June during the Iowa Arts Festival.

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Project Organizer

Loyce Arthur is the organizer of the carnaval project and all carnaval-related events leading up to the June 2013 Iowa City Carnaval Parade. She is head of design, director of undergraduate studies, and associate professor in the UI Department of Theatre Arts in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She has researched carnival traditions in the UK, Toronto Canada, Rio de Janeiro Brazil, the Netherlands, Trinidad and around the world. From 2006-2010 she was a guest artist at Mahogany Mas Camp in the UK working with award winning Carnival designer Clary Salandy. In 2004 she presented her work on Trinidad Carnival at a symposium in Santiago de Cuba. She received an Old Gold Award to study mask making with Donato Satori in Italy and a West African Research Association fellowship to study ritual and performance in Ghana. Other research grants have broadened her knowledge of Balinese mask traditions, East Indian Kutiyattam and Kathakali theatre forms and West African Research traditional arts and performance.  She was co-director of the 2001 National Theatre Mask Conference, the first of its kind ever held in the United States. Read more.

Carnaval designers

Clary Salandy, is an award winning carnival artist and theatre designer specializing in large scale body sculptures for events such as London’s Notting Hill Carnival and the 2012 London Olympic Games Arts Festival.  As Artistic director of Mahogany Community Ventures Limited, UK, founded in 1989 with fellow designer Michael Ramdeen, she has established a centre of excellence for Carnival, designed to raise the awareness of the arts in the community. Mahogany has presented spectacular performances at the Queens Golden Jubilee Parade, the Millennium Dome Opening Ceremony, Chingay (a Chinese New Year Festival), the Thames Water Festival, Sweden’s Water Festival, and the Brent Diwali Parade.  Salandy has also designed the opening and closing ceremonies of the first Afro Asian games in Hyderabad India, the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics in Leicester, the Millennium Gran finale, Singapore, and the recent London Olympic Games Arts Festival.  Her designs appear annually in London’s Notting Hill Carnival and the Lord Mayor's Parades.

Architect and interior designer Jaime Cezário is also one of the most famous Brazilian Carnavalescos in Rio de Janeiro. Mr. Cezário has been an award-winning designer, internationally recognized for his work as an avid carnival researcher, professor and contributor for many carnival magazines and newspapers in Brazil.  For the past 20 years he has created, designed and directed numerous carnival parades for some of the most important Schools of Samba of Rio de Janeiro, including São Clemente, Porto da Pedra, Acadêmicos de Cubango, Caprichosos de Pilares, and the prestigious Estação Primeira de Mangueira.  He has also worked with schools of samba through out Brazil.  . He has received SAMBANET awards including the best School of Samba, best series of sculptures and collection of costumes among others as well as the Plumas e Paêtes, best Carnavalesco, best design for a female costume, best allegories and best sculpture in the carnival parade.  

Award-winning carnaval costume designer Fitzgerald DeFreitas has over 50 years of costume design and creation experience. He is a native of the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago and was born in Belmont, an urban town in the outskirts of the capital, Port of Spain. He is well known through North American Caribbean communities for his presentations and he is dedicated to promoting the art of costuming. DeFreitas visited the University of Iowa in fall 2012 to present his work as a carnaval designer and lead costume construction workshops focused on the art of wire bending.

In the News

Contribute to next year's carnaval

Get inspired by George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From” - Submit your own stories online, which may be turned into works of art for next year's Iowa City Carnaval Parade!