Elimu Paddington Arts Band holds a unique position amongst mas bands in that they create, in their words, a ‘moving exhibition’ on the roads of Notting Hill Carnival. Welcoming creatives with their own interpretations of what a carnival costume can be, the presentation is a diverse homage to the pageantry of the artform.
We spoke to one of Elimu’s 2018 designers, Kartonia Regis, whose unique designs brought together the historic and the contemporary to form an innovative and cohesive trio of costumes.
We were so impressed with your designs for Elimu’s Notting Hill Carnival 2018 presentation. Have you been taking part in Carnival for a long time?
Thank you so much. I was born into Carnival. My mum joined Elimu when she was 16, so my brothers and sister and myself grew up with summers that were filled (and still are filled) with sequins, glitter and beads.
What is your artistic background?
For as long as I can remember I’ve always been into creating – drawing, painting, writing, and making all manner of props. Art was always my favourite lesson at school. I studied it for my GCSE’s but that was as far as I went with it academically. As I mentioned, I grew up in a Carnival band, so from a very young age, I was surrounded by extremely talented people. Meilin Sancho was Elimu’s designer when I was growing up, and she mesmerised me. I looked up to her, and still do. I’d watch her fingers create magic with all kinds of materials. My mum’s very artistic too, so my creativity was always well nourished and encouraged.
Is this your first time designing costumes? How did this come about?
Yes. This is my first year. (When I was six I did draw a picture of a butterfly/fairy/princess that got turned into an individual costume, but that probably doesn’t count.) I’m always creating something or other, which leaves me with art that never sees the light of day. Last year, I wore some of my pieces to accent a crown that was designed by another designer. I realised then that I wanted my pieces to be seen, and that I was ready and confident enough to design for Carnival. I told Ansel Wong (Artistic Director of Elimu) that I was interested in designing – and here we are.
What was the inspiration for your designs?
All kinds of things inspire me – all of the time. Film, fashion, nature, the cosmos, books, etc. With these designs it was definitely a combination of many things, including history. History fascinates me, with all it encompasses – the good and bad – and then there’s the art, architecture and fashion. With 2018 being a year filled with so many important anniversaries – 70th anniversary of Windrush, 70th anniversary of the NHS, 100 years since women won the right to vote, etc – I wanted to design costumes that gave a nod to the past. I focused on Black Britons, with the intention of shining a light on a history that is so often left in the shadows.
I looked at Mary Seacole, a British nurse in the 1800’s, and was inspired by her strength, perseverance and virtues. I looked at Dido-Elizabeth Bell and was inspired by the pomp of the 1700’s that she was born into, and the fact that she was a Black British aristocrat. And then I looked at Ignatius Sancho, and was inspired by the fight and warrior-like virtues of this activist, who taught himself to read and who also became the first Black Briton to vote – in the 1700’s. In the end I had my three costumes which, together, I called the ‘TAPESTRY’.
It looks like you’ve used really interesting mixed media to form the costumes. Was your process led by the materials, or by a view of the end result (or something else)? How did things evolve as you went through the process?
The view of the end result definitely determined what materials I used. I started off just by sketching what I wanted. I didn’t restrict myself with the idea of using any particular medium. Then, when my sketches were done, I went shopping with my sketches in hand and tried to figure out what I needed and what looked as if it could/would work. In the end, I tried lots of different materials that didn’t work for the vision I had in mind. But, slowly, the more I pieced things together and pulled things apart, the materials that were right for me shone through.
Looking forward, where would you like to go within mas?
To infinity and beyond. I love mas and I love creating, so I really want to express myself and my art in what I think is the perfect place for it. I want to use all kinds of materials and push the boundaries. Ultimately, I want to reach a place where I’m creating art that people love and want to wear; art that does what art is supposed to do – inspire and make people feel something.
What do you think of the overall picture of mas in Notting Hill Carnival at the moment, and do you think there are any changes that should be made?
Mas in the Notting Hill Carnival is a beautiful, vibrant, all-inclusive wonder in London. I, personally, love it. As for changes, I think there’s always room for improvement. For starters, I wish people knew how accessible being part of mas actually is. So many people I speak to who aren’t involved with carnival say that they know of the Notting Hill Carnival / had attended as a spectator, but most didn’t know they could be a part of it, or how.
I’d also get lots more costumes on the road. Like, LOTS more. I know there are heaps already, but my hunger for them is insatiable. I want the costumes to outnumber t-shirts. I want a sea of colours, shapes, sequins and feathers charging towards me all day. But then again, I am a lover of art who’s obsessed with costumes, so what I’m asking for might be a bit much for some.