Focus Exhibit, Carnaval de Barranquilla & Carmen S. Dence
Carnaval de Barranquilla & Carmen S. Dence
Folk Arts Focus Exhibit
October 1, 2019 – February 7, 2020
In October 2019, the Missouri Folk Arts Program installed its inaugural focus exhibit, featuring the work of Carmen Sofia Dence, a master Colombian folk dancer, choreographer, and costume designer, from St. Louis, Mo. Dence and MFA Director Lisa L. Higgins worked together to identify the objects for the exhibition case and to draft exhibit and object text. Dence visited the Museum of Art and Archaeology on October 5, 2019 for Museum Day to share information about her hometown, its heritage, and its dance traditions.
Carmen Sofia Nunez Trujillo Dence, a long-time participant in the Missouri Folk Arts Program, is a passionate keeper of the traditional folkloric dances of her native Barranquilla, Colombia. For decades, she has shared these traditions with her dance students, performing ensemble, Grupo Atlántico, and audiences across Missouri. She and her husband settled in St. Louis in 1978, where she pursued a career in radiochemistry research at Washington University School of Medicine and he taught chemistry and mathematics.
As a child in her coastal city’s San Jose barrio, Dence copied the footsteps of her mother Margarita and Aunt Emelda. Young Carmen learned, and then perfected, the rudiments of dances like cumbia, porro, and gaita as well as their distinctive narratives and origins in tri-cultural Colombia. Just as she learned in her youth, Dence always teaches her students and audiences about the Spanish, indigenous, and African influences on the traditional dances that were integral to life in her family and barrio. Local dance and music traditions instilled a sense of identity, grounded in heritage—and gaiety. Still, Dence tells us the annual Carnaval de Barranquilla was, and is, the defining tradition in her hometown, an event that she relished as a child and continues to relish as an adult. She is not alone; the event’s catchphrase is “¡Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza!” [Those who live it, enjoy it!]
Carnaval is a flamboyant festival tradition—rooted in Catholicism and observed especially in Latin American communities. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, boasts the largest carnaval. However, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) recognized Barranquilla’s version as an “intangible heritage masterpiece” in 2003 by proclamation. In the seaport city, Carnaval is an unceasing, four-day celebration in the pre-Lenten season. From Saturday through Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday, dancers, musicians, everyday citizens, and cultural tourists mark the festivities with vibrant costumes, symbolic masks, boisterous parades, elaborate floats, and folkloric dances anchored in narrative.
Click on the images below to open in gallery mode.
This exhibit was made possible with the financial support of the Museum of Art & Archaeology, the Missouri Arts Council, a division of the Office of the Lt. Governor, the National Endowment for the Arts, and individual donors.
[Posted January 27, 2020 by Lisa L. Higgins]