The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
“¡Carnaval!,” a timely new exhibit at the Museum of the Gulf Coast, puts the Mardi Gras tradition into international perspective, contrasting pre-lent celebrations from Basel to Bolivia.
“Every country puts their own flavor into it,” said museum director Shannon Harris.
“Some of them are kind of creepy.”
By collecting international folk art and memorabilia from the celebrations of over eight different cultures, this National Endowment for the Humanities exhibit tells a colorful and unexpected history of celebration.
But more than just the history of a party, the touring exhibit shows the festival’s modest beginnings, and the conflict between the pre-Lenten celebrants and the Catholic church.
The first full-blown Mardi Gras celebrations occurred in Italy before the 1500s.
The long-nosed masks at traditional Carnivale, as it is called in Italy, were not just for show, according to Harris.
They were worn by plague doctors and stuffed with herbs to ward off the devastating disease.
“The fear of that disease left an indelible mark on European society,” said Harris.
While some of the objects are originals, others are striking replicas.
“The people that made these objects use them every year and so they were probably no just going to give them away,” said Harris.
The exhibit features 130 items from centuries-old celebrations including, flamboyant masks, gowns and other costumes.
According to Harris, the common thread throughout all of the Mardi Gras celebrations is the need to “exercise the demons.”
Apart from the items arranged by NEH, are a set of pieces from Port Arthur’s first Mardi Gras in 1993.
As with the Mardi Gras memorabilia from other parts of the world, the Mardi Gras Southeast Texas display includes pieces iconic to the local region of the gulf coast. One piece is called “Under the Sea” and includes designs depicting sharks and fishing nets.
The museum will also be a featured site for Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas, which will take place February 16 through 19 in Port Arthur.
“¡Carnaval!” will be on display through March 18.
The Museum of the Gulf Coast is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, located at 700 Procter Street in downtown Port Arthur.
For more information call (409) 982-7000.