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HomeNewsArchivesLocal Artist Helps Preserve 'The Art of Moko Jumbie'

Local Artist Helps Preserve 'The Art of Moko Jumbie'

Feb. 15, 2005 – Thirty-year veteran Moko Jumbie performer, Willard S. John, is producing a multimedia Crucian art exhibit – "The Art of Moko Jumbie." The exhibition is opening at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26, at the Walsh Metal Works Gallery in Peters Rest. Featured will be both live performances and the artwork of over 30 Virgin Islands artists, who will explore the theme of Moko Jumbie traditions.
In "The Art of Moko Jumbie," Mr. John will be bringing together a diverse group of over 30 island artists who have each created one or more pieces about Moko Jumbies in various mediums including paintings, sculptures, photography, glasswork, mixed media and more. During the opening reception Mr. John will provide a brief history of the Moko Jumbie tradition accompanied by live performances by the Guardians of Culture Moko Jumbies.
A native Virgin Islander and longtime educator on St. Croix, Mr. John has been vigorously exploring and preserving the art of Moko Jumbie for over three decades. As a college student in the states surrounded by many students of African descent, he found himself hungry for knowledge of his own culture. A family member taught him to perform and he made his debut in the St. Thomas carnival parade of 1974. Mr. John became a self-taught scholar of the Moko Jumbie and has traced its roots back to African and Caribbean traditions and folklore.
Moko Jumbie stilt dancers originated as part of highly spiritual, sociologically significant rituals and celebrations of African culture. Originally, the Moko Jumbie represented God's power, a tall spirit that would protect the village from evil and also initiate young people across the threshold into adulthood. The true spiritual significance of Moko Jumbies had to be masked by enslaved Africans when they arrived in the West Indies, in order to preserve their culture and its traditions. Mr. John is giving residents, students, and visitors to the Caribbean the opportunity to understand the original intent and meaning behind these colorful characters that are such a familiar sight in island festivals and parades. "We want to remind people of their African roots!" he says. "In the African tradition, the Moko Jumbie is always masked so that no human features are visible on the dancers."
Mr. John has produced an "informance" (information/performance) DVD entitled "Mockolution,"(the evolution of the Moko Jumbie) and is also developing a Moko Jumbie Handbook about the history and techniques of the authentic Moko Jumbie artist. "The handbook will explain the history as well as how to teach the techniques, with lesson plans, information on creating the costumes and performing," he says. His research and techniques include the influences of Alvin "Ali" Paul, who in the 1960s modernized some of the Moko Jumbie traditions to include women performers, a change in costuming and performing in venues such as hotels, parties and cultural shows.
Mr. John currently works with two Moko Jumbie groups on St. Croix: the Ricardo Richards School troupe, and the Guardians of Culture Moko Jumbies, a professional group which can be booked for events and entertainment. Mr. John conducts Moko Jumbie classes every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon at the Ricardo Richards school. "This art form is not from me, it comes through me," says Mr. John. "It's my responsibility to pass it on, to appreciate and express my ancestry. After 30 years, the excitement, the drive and the enthusiasm is still there. Fortunately I am still able to perform – and able to pass it on to young people."
"The Art of Moko Jumbie" will be on exhibit from Saturday, Feb. 26, through Saturday, March 12, at the Walsh Metal Works Gallery. The opening reception for the show will be from 5 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, or by appointment. For more information, call the gallery at (340)773-8169.

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