Mardi Gras costumer adapts to year without parades


Artist Mike Washington works on a Mardi Gras Indian costume in his New Orleans home. Despite the complications of COVID-19, Washington has managed to maintain the traditions of Indian Masking. Photo credit: Gabrielle Korein

Sofia Mongillo

With Mardi Gras parades being canceled because of the coronavirus, many small businesses and artists have found their work disrupted.

Because of the city’s well-known reputation regarding the event, various establishments around New Orleans are centered around Mardi Gras gifts and gadgets. For some, however, the annual celebration provides more than a steady income.

27-year-old Mike Washington, who works in Tulane Mail Services and Logistics, has a long history with Mardi Gras Indian Masking. Creating costumes for Indian Masking is a year-long event that results in the different tribes parading down the streets on Mardi Gras day in intricate outfits decorated with feathers and beads.

It’s my tradition,” Washington said. “It’s what I grew up into.”

The artist considers his passed down passion to be much more than an occupation—it is a part of who he is. Observing as his family participated in Indian Masking through his adolescence and into adulthood, Washington knew from a young age that he too would be a part of the hands-on custom.

“I’ve been drawing and sewing specifically for Indian Masking since I was 13,” Washington said.

“My grandmother and grandfather, Big Queen and Big King, started masking Indian in the late 70s or early 80s,” Washington said. “From there, my father continued on with masking Indian and then after that it was pretty much me and my other siblings, extended cousins and pretty much everybody. That’s just a faction of the Indian world in New Orleans if that makes sense.”

Though Washington has years of experience, the process of creating the intricate costumes is definitely not an easy one, and in a time where social distancing is essential, it can be safe to assume an occupation like Washington’s might be in jeopardy. However, because of the way that Indian Masking is executed, it seems that the pandemic has not impacted the tradition harshly. Instead, it gives him more time to work on his designs.

“For Mardi Gras Indians, the whole year leading up to the upcoming Mardi Gras is when you put on your costumes, so the coronavirus hasn’t really affected us too much,” Washington said.