J’ouvert Genesis Immersive Experience celebrates Caribbean culture and tradition at Lefferts Historic House

J'Ouvert celebration at Prospect Lefferts House
The J’overt Genesis Immersive Experience at the Lefferts Historic House features traditional costumes, instruments, and more.
Photo courtesy of Prospect Park Alliance

The Prospect Park Alliance, along with City Lore and the JouvayFest Collective, opened the brand-new J’ouvert Genesis Immersive Experience at Lefferts Historic House this week.

J’ouvert, the festival which originated in Trinidad and Tobago, marks the official start of Carnival in the Caribbean and usually takes place the two days before Ash Wednesday. Participants wear elaborate costumes and while calypso and soca bands perform music as revelers dance through the streets.

On Aug. 1, opening day, Brooklynites celebrated the start of the exhibit — the first to be displayed in the newly-reopened Lefferts House —with a special procession from Grand Army Plaza to the historic house, with performers decked out in traditional outfits and playing steelpan drums. 

 J'ouvert costume at lefferts historic house
The exhibit explores the more “misunderstood” parts of the holiday, according to the Prospect Park Alliance, so it can be fully appreciated.Photo courtesy of Prospect Park Alliance

The family-friendly exhibit, on show through Oct. 29, features character J’ouvert character costumes and instruments, large-format photographs taken during J’ouvert celebrations of the past by artist Jason C. Audain, and video produced by filmmakers Mario T. Lathan and DeAndre Vidale.

Over the next few months, the static exhibition will be accompanied by regular workshops on the music, food, and dance of J’ouvert in Trinidad and Tobago. 

J’ouvert – which translates to “opening of the day” or “I open” in French — was initially celebrated by formerly enslaved Africans in predominantly French-speaking colonies in the Caribbean. The vibrant and expressive holiday was created as a means of resisting enslavement and part of the struggle against the ruling class as enslaved and formerly enslaved Africans were prohibited from participating in pre-Lenten festivities of the predominantly white ruling class.

The tradition was officially recognized in Trinidad and Tobago in 1881 following the historic Kambule’ riots, where formerly enslaved communities burnt valuable sugarcane exports to protest and resist colonizing groups and their attempts to stifle and oppress them.

Since then, J’ouvert has become an incredibly popular holiday, celebrated by people all over the world and throughout the Caribbean diaspora. Brooklyn’s large Caribbean community celebrates each year with a parade and other festivities. 

lefferts historic house
The Reimagine LEfferts initiatives aims to accurately reflect and educate on the history and culture of the neighborhood. File photo by Elizabeth Keegin

The J’ouvert Genesis Immersive Experience is part of the Prospect Park Alliance’s Reimagine Lefferts initiative which aims to re-envision and modernize programming to reflect the the lives, experiences and histories of the indigenous Lenapehoking, on whose ancestral land Lefferts Historic House sits. The Alliance said the experience will focus on the more “misunderstood” parts of J’ouvert, so the important cultural tradition can be better understood. 

During exhibition hours, visitors of all ages and backgrounds are invited to share thoughts, ideas and contributions to enhance future programming through immersive and interactive activities with local partners.