A big, joyous Brueghel opens this riveting show at Kettle’s Yard on carnivals all the way from 16th-century Flanders to the present-day Caribbean. It’s all dancing, drinking, brawling and leering, viewed from a vantage point high above a village. Lovers grapple, drinkers swear eternal friendship, pie-eaters compete, chains of dancers flail to the tunes of windy bagpipes before collapsing in a heap. It is the ultimate free-for-all.
Or is it? Brueghel’s painting presents two questions for the viewer. One is pictorial and relates to the conundrum of representing huge crowds without any loss of individuality.
These traditions were all imposed on Caribbean populations by western colonisers down the centuries, from colossal feather headdresses to gold and scarlet masks. The religious procession becomes the carnival of floats; the ball becomes the dance.