Carnival doesn't have to end today
The sights, sounds and atmosphere of the biggest carnival outside Rio de Janeiro will endure only in the memories of the masqueraders and spectators, and in snapshots taken by a few amateur photographers. The music and pageantry of previous years, meanwhile, live on just as hazy recollections.
Astonishing though it seems, this annual explosion of creativity and folk art is not immortalised in any museum or archive. There is no official record of an event that spans more than three decades and is now firmly embedded in the nation's cultural life. Bits and pieces have been conserved by a handful of individuals. The Museum of London has accumulated a few things, piecemeal. But there exists no comprehensive collection of photographs and video footage that capture the spectacle and exuberance of Carnival, of audio tapes that record its musical heartbeat, of leaflets and posters that document its history.
And most lamentable, the costumes that are the dazzling focal point of the parade have not been preserved. These elaborate and fantastical confections, months in the design and making, are works of art and are richly evocative of Carnival's Caribbean roots. Yet they are on show for just two days over the August Bank Holiday and then stored in warehouses, by the 50 mas (costume) bands, to be dismantled and recycled in future years.
Recently the Museum of London hosted a conference on the question of establishing a Carnival archive. The participants - who included the Notting Hill organisers as well as members of mas and music bands and representatives of the London Arts Board - were enthusiastic, and decided that a survey was needed to establish what had been kept over the decades.
The wonder is that the idea has never come up before. Carnival, after all, is a popular art form at which Britain excels. Notting Hill not only attracts more than two million visitors over two days, but it is acknowledged as one of the top three carnivals - together with Rio and Trinidad - in the quality of its performance art and creative talent.
Notting Hill is also distinctive in being the most cosmopolitan of carnivals. The dancers, musicians and masqueraders hail from around the world: this year, there are groups from Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines, as well as African and South American countries.
One reason for the failure to establish an archive before now must be the ambivalence that characterises public perceptions of Carnival. In the early years, when a few thousand Trinidadians paraded along Portobello Road in west London accompanied by steel drums, it was regarded as a quaint folk festival, at best. After the riot between black youths and police in 1976, it became a metaphor for violence and thereafter was seen principally as a public order problem. Despite the growth of Carnival into a major international event that reflects London's rich cultural diversity, both these impressions linger. Carnival also represents much that is alien to the British temperament: large crowds of people taking over the streets, ethnic communities giving powerful expression to their artistic identity, noise, colour, anarchy, vibrancy.
Other cities recognise the value of Carnival. Rio and Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital, have major exhibits in their national museums. New Orleans has no fewer than four museums devoted to its Mardi Gras.
The Museum of London is willing to house a Notting Hill archive, but a dedicated space would be preferable. The problem, of course, is funding. This year's official Carnival guide contains a goodwill message from Chris Smith, MP. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport should put his money where his mouth is. A Carnival centre would be a project to match his grandiose title.
Life & Style blogs
Who is Teresa Fidalgo? Debunking the fake ghost story that's got Instagram spooked
The 10 Best Scotch Whiskies
Scottish salmon sales leap as Asia develops a taste
Grim second life of the 'breastaurant': The oft-loathed sector is booming in the States thanks to Hooters, Twin Peaks and Tilted Kilt
Health: When masturbation can be fatal: The practice of auto-erotic asphyxia is often concealed by a coroner's verdict. Monique Roffey looks at a lethal taboo
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
- 1 The political parties aren't all the same – which means 2015 will be a 'big-choice' election
- 2 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 3 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 4 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 5 Naomi Wolf reacts to Isis 'conspiracy theories' critism after she questions whether beheading videos are real
Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...
£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...
£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...