Chetan “Che” Kothari is a noted artist manager, community leader and founder of the non-profit Manifesto Community Projects, but he started out as a photographer who captured empowering images of Common, Ziggy Marley, Talib Kweli and many others. His first step on this epic journey took place on Curaçao in the Caribbean when he picked up a camera to shoot a Carnival celebration. With the 2017 Carnival season officially kicking off February 27 in Trinidad, PRØHBTD asked Che to share his thoughts on the global celebration.
It is so incredible. Life is such a beautiful thing. I went to Carnival in Curaçao, and that was my first introduction to photography and really understanding my purpose and roll. Fast forward a few years later, and I am now managing Machel Montano, who is the biggest Carnival ambassador in the world. I now travel to Carnivals everywhere, and that is what originally got me into photography. I'm so blessed by the circle of life and how everything works.
The root of Carnival is about people power. It’s about speaking truth to power, and should be about speaking up against the oppressor, making fun of the oppressor, masquerading and mocking them on the streets while enjoying yourself. I think some of that has been lost as I travel to Carnivals now, a lot of it has been commercialized, co-opted and commodified. It is actually not as inclusive as I would love it to be because there is a high ticket price and gated aspects to it.
I understand the need to move the culture forward in that way, but at the root of it, I think Carnival is about being free of all inhibitions, expressing yourself on the streets and taking it to public space and ultimately, just being absolutely free in the costumes you choose to wear. To adorn yourself and represent yourself as a butterfly or as a bird or as a peacock or whatever the theme might be—to manifest and personify so many of the elements that we are. To take it to the streets, jump up with the people and represent your community. To head out with family and be free and not bound by societal norms saying you can't dance with this person or you can't be big boned. All body sizes are welcomed. That's what I believe it is about, and that is what I want to see more of… the expression of people celebrating themselves and their cultures.