A group of young artists from the Americas (roughly between the ages of 20 and 40) have found companionship, joy and common cause as they work to save the Earth. They are part of a relatively new organization, founded in 2013, called Carnival de Resistance. They convene as often as the budget will allow and whenever a serendipitous connection finds them a time and place to meet. This year they camped out for two weeks in September on the grounds of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Near North Minneapolis, 1800 Glenwood. They slept outside and cooked outside, some food coming from dumpster diving, and tried to leave a small, small footprint on the planet. The camp looked rough, rustic and adventurous, with banners, a mural of an Aztec jaguar, a stone cooking stove, sleeping tents, a large circus tent with a striped roof …
For two weekends, on Friday and Saturday nights, the Carnival community performed free shows. At the one I attended, the opening act was a jazz, funk, reggae and trova band from Honduras, Cien Años. We walked through some muddy grass to the circus tent where chairs were set up on grassy mud. It was cold, but the music provided heat, and made sure you couldn’t keep from dancing. After a Native American sage ceremony, the show began. From the processional to the last song I was transported by the original music performed by a live band with super singers. A pair of hilarious clowns, based on an Italian style of clowning, I was told, mocked our excessive dependence on cellular phones. Modern dancing and the pageantry of elaborate costumes were intriguing, but I could barely understand the words that were spoken. I heard “the cedars of Lebanon” and “Ezekiel” and other biblical names and phrases. My friends Tony and Sarah, who came with me, explained that the “story” was a message to save the Earth (and the trees and the air quality) by getting rid of big oil and big corporations. Afterwards there was a joyful jam session with the live band again and cast, crew and visitors all dancing wildly in the mud. All evening, off to the side, you could see two people at a time riding stationary bikes as fast as they could to power the sound system. The whole experience was of a kind of primitive, low-tech rock concert.
During the rest of the year, when they are not performing shows and living in the Carnival community, the members work as artists throughout South and North America—acting, dancing, singing and painting—and also support activist communities such as Black Lives Matter and the pipeline protest at Standing Rock and other protests protecting resources of the people. They remain connected to each other with an invisible thread until they join up again for a residency such as the one they’ve just finished at Redeemer Lutheran.
One of the company, Dimitri Kadiev, says he feels like a “branch grafted to a healthy vine.” He likes trusting the others as a news source, as most of them have been physically present at places often talked about on the nightly news. And it appears that the connectedness among Carnival members is an antidote to the endemic isolation and loneliness of our times.
In Minneapolis, Kadiev designed and painted a mural, with help from youth at Redeemer Lutheran as well as other Carnival members, on the church at 31st Street and Longfellow Avenue, All Saints Episcopal Indian Mission. When people ask him what he does for a living he says, “I’m a traveling artist for God.”
Kadiev has been living outside and painting murals all of his adult life. He was born and raised in L.A.— until he could “break free of the shackles of Babylon,” the environment of materialism, superficiality, vanity and egoism. He doesn’t say how it happens that he has faith, but he does say God guides him on his journey. He would do anything for God. A connection with the L.A. Catholic Worker community has been instrumental in his liberation.
After a few college courses, he took to the road. He found out early on that if he offered to paint a mural, his offer was usually accepted, and once he had painted a few, he built a portfolio.
In 2003 he helped his parents move to Spain, and then kept on going—around the world, continuing to paint murals. He discovered goodness in people everywhere. Meaningful, positive encounters with the Israeli police and the Palestinian police are not what people typically report from that part of the world, but Dimitri does.
After India, Pakistan, Australia, Chile and Peru, Dimitri landed in Miami with $10 in his pocket. He hitched to New Jersey and then on to LA, sleeping on the doorsteps of churches. When he met the people inside, he was surprised to learn that they were all quite gung ho about the war in Iraq. They wanted to “Go get’em [the enemy].” For somebody who loves Jesus, that was hard for him to understand.
He heard a few Christians and some Buddhist monks in California speaking against the war and the empire. Then he met some Mennonites who recommended he read “Irresistible Revolution, Living as an Ordinary Radical.” The author, Shane Claiborne, said we have to stand with the poor and resist war. (Claiborne had been among the unarmed protesters who went to Iraq as human shields to deter the bombing of Iraq.) Claiborne proposes a lifestyle in which Christians reject materialism and nationalism. He emphasizes love for God and all humans, living in community and voluntary sharing of goods.
After reading the book, Dimitri was so inspired he felt he had to meet the author. Even though it was February, and cold in Philadelphia, he went anyway and met person after person on the same path, including theologian Ched Myers, until he met Jay Beck and Tevyn East, founders of Carnival de Resistance.
His loving, upside-down outlook includes the view that everyone protecting the water at Standing Rock is doing it not only for themselves but for the CEOs of the oil companies and for the policemen who arrest them as well. He believes it’s important to save the waters of the Earth for everyone.
He says the faith of the people in Carnival is not heavy-handed, and clearly, his isn’t either. His joy is luminous and palpable.