In Trinidad, it’s said that while Carnival lasts for a few days, the rest of the year is spent either preparing for it or reminiscing about it. Tara Keens-Douglas has only missed two in the past 13 years.
“I am Trini-to-the-bone,” says the young architect. “I played in Carnival every year. And it was that ecstatic celebration that led me to thinking what the costume does for the body—the loosing of inhibitions and becoming something new and different.” Keens-Douglas left Trinidad to attend college and grad school in Canada, receiving her Master’s of Architecture from University of Waterloo in 2011. Her graduation project, a series of Carnival costumes called Ecstatic Spaces, investigates the relationship between architecture, the female body, and performance.
“It is truly an out-of-body experience,” she says of Carnival, which began in Trinidad amongst slaves and indentured servants who were outlawed from participating in the French Mardi Gras celebrations. It’s since become one of the best-known Carnivals in the world, drawing crowds with its live music and wild, boundary-pushing costumes. “They are all tools of communication, a medium between body and space,” Keens-Douglas says, speaking about the evolving fashions of Carnival. “Over the years, costumes challenge the officials and the onlookers. They are daring, controversial, and crude… That’s why I chose the female form as my muse for my costume designs, using the ornament of costume to amplify the grotesque.”
For her thesis, Keens-Douglas designed four costumes, each based on a different cerebral word: appropriation, exaggeration, submersion and sublimation. Appropriation uses repetitive shapes based on origami to evoke the silhouette of a dragon, while Exaggeration is a hyperbolic parroting of female geometry, made from twisting white rope. Submersion is a wild tangle of folded paper. Sublimation is a fantastic, performative sculpture, which gives the wearer operable wings.
After working for firms like Arquitectonica and KPF, Keens-Douglas returned to Trinidad to work for a local architect, but she hopes to explore the edge territories between architecture and fashion. “The costumes are an ephemeral architecture—fragile and mobile,” she writes. “They are, in a way, architecture of the persona.”