These elders got style.
About a dozen seniors showed off their elaborate hat designs at the Jonkuunu Hattitude Masquerade Show at the Ozone Senior Center on June 29. The old timers first learn about the extravagant Jamaican Christmas custom called Jonkunnu, and literally pull skills out of their hats to create intricately designed lids, which they were thrilled to model, said the organizer of the event.
“They did a whole runway thing and they lit up,” said Andrew Clarke, founder of Braata Productions. “This was really a hat show inspired by Jamaican jonkonnu masquerade and what inspires them.”
The golden-aged artisans dedicate hours studying how to create the peculiar headgear, and also get to use familiar day-to-day items for their designs, added Clarke.
“They work in two-hour sessions twice per week and work closely with us and we guide them,” he said. “They mostly use common household items and we might include feathers and additional trinkets, we’ll encourage use of utensils and creatively finding ways of making hats inspirational.”
The hat show is part of the city’s SU-CASA initiative, which encourages art and cultural organizations to engage with aging New Yorkers in the arts. The program allows for an enriching and informative experience and encourages more people to explore it, said Clarke.
“I think what is interesting is that the vast majority of the residents there are not Caribbean and are mostly of Latino descent, African American, or Caucasian, and this work is educational and not something many of them have ever heard of,” he said. “It’s one of the things to spend months learning about something you saw, and it’s another thing to see these artists come alive.”
He adds that the exposure of jonkuunu’s traditions to non-Caribbean people helps keep the custom in the spotlight for future generations.
“It’s about the cultural exchange and experience to those who might not have otherwise had it, and of course in doing so we preserve our culture because it’s so important to preserve that,” said Clarke. “I’m passionate about folk culture and we are in the age of the Internet, social media, and television and that culture is the order of today, and having a workshop like this is important because it not only engages, but also broadens our mandate to preserve the culture.”