Taking Liberties With Marcus Garvey

Jamaican art critics can be very intolerant. Not just the professionals who arrogantly expect us to take as gospel their point of view. It’s also the amateurs who depend on the evidence of our own eyes to pass judgment about the value of art. Especially when it’s about public figures!

I remember the controversy over Christopher Gonzalez’s inventive sculpture of Bob Marley that the Government commissioned in 1981. Born in Kingston, Gonzalez was living in Atlanta. David Boxer, then chief curator at the National Gallery, was sent to check on the progress of the work. He immediately ‘sighted’ problems.

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Bob was growing out of a tree root. Like a merman, the singer had no feet. Worst of all, the face looked nothing like Marley’s. When the sculpture arrived in Jamaica, angry reviewers comprehensively dissed it. They authoritatively declared, “Dat a no Bob.” The statue was a brilliant evocation of the spirit of Marley. But that’s not what the people wanted.

Neither did Bob’s family! Cedella Booker and Rita Marley insisted that the image was inappropriate. Edward Seaga, then prime minister, agreed. Alvin Marriott was commissioned to do a realistic sculpture, which stands (on feet) across from the National Stadium.

Gonzalez’s sculpture is now rooted at Island Village in Ocho Rios after languishing for many years in the National Gallery. It should be transplanted to The Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. There it would inspire students to “be bright and out of order” – as a clever sign on the college campus advocates.

DEADLY REVIEWS

Two Fridays ago, a bust of Marcus Garvey, made by the renowned sculptor Raymond Watson, was unveiled at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona. The swift response of the amateur art critics was uncompromising: “Dat a no Marcus Garvey.” Some of the reviews I’ve heard are deadly: “Im look like im have cancer”; “It look like bees sting im pon im top lip”: “Im deh pon SlimFast”.

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A Gleaner article by Paul Williams, published last Wednesday, records more responses: “‘Tek it dung,’ one woman said calmly. ‘That statue does not represent Marcus Garvey – that’s a fraud,’ pronounced an elderly Rasta, donning the colours of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). With photos of Garvey, and sometimes using expletives, he ranted until way after the formalities were over.”

Edward Seaga, a former distinguished fellow in the School for Graduate Studies and Research at the UWI, could have given valuable advice about the politics of commissioning public monuments. A student of anthropology, Seaga fully understands the power of symbols. He knows that Garvey is the embodiment of Black Power, not just for Rastafari but also for the black majority.

As minister of finance, Seaga played a leading role in bringing home Garvey’s remains from the UK in November 1964. That was an eloquent political statement. Seaga was also instrumental in ensuring that Marcus Garvey was declared Jamaica’s first national hero in 1969. I’m sure Seaga would empathise with those critics who are distressed by Raymond Watson’s representation of Garvey.

MOTHER MARIAMNE SAMAD

unknown-2The worst thing about the image is not that it doesn’t look like Garvey. Most of us haven’t seen Garvey in the flesh. Mother Mariamne Samad, who is 94, is the only person at the ceremony who actually met Garvey. She was five years old and she remembers being at the corner of 132nd Street and 5th Avenue in Harlem when Garvey briefly spoke to her.

Our images of Garvey have been mostly defined by photographs. We trust that they are accurate. But long before Instagram filtering, photos have been touched up, often to remove melanin. At the unveiling, Professor Rupert Lewis, eminent Garvey scholar, declared in a conciliatory tone, “There are many images of Garvey that you can get from his 52 years.”

True! Unfortunately, Raymond Watson’s image of Garvey reveals nothing of the authority, passion and power of more full-bodied representations of our national hero. I wouldn’t go as far as cancer. But Garvey seems poorly. His posture conveys passivity. He looks like a weakling. Who approved this diminished portrayal?

The bust should be replaced with an image that inspires unequivocal admiration of Garvey’s accomplishments as an illustrious pan-Africanist rallying the black world to affirm pride in race. Perhaps the CHASE Fund could support the commissioning of a new sculpture for UWI. And Watson’s could be donated to Liberty Hall: The Legacy of Marcus Garvey. It would take its rightful place among the many images of Garvey archived there.

Under the visionary leadership of Dr Donna McFarlane, director/curator of Liberty Hall, the interactive museum has recently been redesigned by the brilliant creative team, Art on The Loose, based in Chicago. Marcus Garvey’s life story is told in inspiring words, sounds and images. It’s a completely engaging multimedia experience.

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The best thing about the UWI monument is the Garvey quotation inscribed on its base: “What I write today may live with me, but when I die, my writing lives on; therefore, what you do or write must be so clear as to live on when you are gone, that others who may read it might get a clear conception of what you mean.”  The UWI needs a lucid monument to Marcus Garvey that portrays a clear conception of the meaning of the man. Perhaps, next time, it will be a full-scale statue.

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Jehovah Witness Big Up Fi Wi Language

JLUTwo spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

watchtower_2010454aAnytime mi go Papine Market pon Saturday morning, mi see bout four Jehovah Witness a gi out tract. Dem tush, yu see! Dem sit off pon chair eena shady an dem have one stand weh dem put out di tract dem pon. One morning mi go faas wid dem. Mi aks dem a wa kind a easy-life witnessing dem a do. Wa mek dem nah walk up an down eena sun-hot like dem odder one? Di whole a wi start laugh.

Anyhow, one Saturday, one a di woman dem tell mi seh dem a go keep big meeting an dem waan mi fi come. A one special meeting cau di speaker a go chat pure Patwa. Unu see mi dying trial! Any Patwa bell ring mi suppose fi di deh. Mi promise her seh mi wi try come. Mi never write down di date an it fly outa mi head.

Den mi go pictures a Sovereign an mi meet one next set a Witness from August Town Kingdom Hall. Dem tell mi seh pon February 26, di preacher a go chat Patwa so mi fi come. Dem mek sure dem send email fi remind mi. Mi no ha no excuse.

Di meeting a di said same day a di opening a di Biennial a National Gallery. So mi run downtown fi ketch piece a dat, den mi go a August Town fi ketch piece a di preaching. An mi go back downtown fi ketch piece a di Grounation weh di Jamaica Music Museum put on fi Reggae Month. A pure piece a dis an piece a dat fi di whole day. Dat night, mi lucky fi ketch di whole a di Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) award show.

TO DI WORLD!

Di Jehovah Witness preacher did gwaan good-good. Lickle English did mix up wid di Patwa. It no so easy fi some a wi chat so-so Patwa eena certain situation. Den mi get one next email from di Witness dem a tell mi bout di Patwa talk dem weh deh pon dem website, jw.org. Yu click pan ‘Publications’. Den yu go a ‘Books and Brochures’. Den yu pick ‘Jamaican Creole’. An a wi dat.

Unu fi go listen. A 9 talk di deh. See di topic dem ya. An dem all write eena prapa-prapa spelling. Mi change it over to chaka-chaka: Yu tink pain an suffering a go done one day? Wa yu tink a go happen inna di future? Wa a di main ting fi mek yu fambili happy? Di kingdom a God – a wa? Who really a control dis ya world ya? Wa yu tink bout di Bible? Weh wi can find answer fi di question dem weh worry wi di most eena life? Yu tink seh dead people can come back alive? Listen to God an yu wi live fi ever!

change-the-world_0.jpgDi Jehovah Witness dem know seh yu ha fi preach to people eena fi dem heart language if yu waan fi reach dem heart. An some a fi wi heart well hard. It tek whole heap a preaching fi mek it soft. A long time now nuff preacher eena Jamaica know how fi use fi wi heart language fi touch people. If yu go certain church eena disya country, a pure Patwa yu a go hear.

A more an 750 language Jehovah Witness a use fi spread fi dem message. Dem know seh English a one worl language. But a no di ongle language eena di whole world. A nuff a dem. An Massa God know di whole a dem. Mi glad fi see Jehovah Witness a help carry fi wi God-bless language to di world!

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

Enitaim mi go Papine Market pan Satde maanin, mi si bout 4 Jehovah Witness a gi out chrak. Dem tush, yu si! Dem sit aaf pan chier iina shiedi an dem av wan stan we dem put out di chrak dem pan. Wan maanin mi go faas wid dem. Mi aks dem a wa kain a iizi-laif witnisin dem a du. Wa mek dem naa waak op an dong iina son-at laik dem ada wan? Di uol a wi staat laaf.

Eniou, wan Satde, wan a di uman dem tel mi se dem a go kip big miitn an dem waahn mi fi kom. A wan speshal miitn kaa di spiika a go chat pyur Patwa. Unu si mi daiyin chraiyal! Eni Patwa bel ring mi sopuoz fi di de. Mi pramis ar se mi wi chrai kom. Mi neva rait dong di diet an it flai outa mi ed.

Den mi go pikchaz a Sovereign an mi miit wan neks set a Witnis fram August Town Kingdom Hall. Dem tel mi se pan Febieri 26 di priicha a go chat Patwa so mi fi kom. Dem mek shuor dem sen iimiel fi rimain mi. Mi no a no ekskyuuz.

Di miitin a di sed siem die a di opnin a di Biennial a National Gallery. So mi ron dountoun fi kech piis a dat, den mi go a August Town fi ketch piis a di priichin. An mi go bak dountoun fi kech piis a di Grounation we di Jamaica Music Museum put aan fi Reggae Month. A pyur piis a dis an piis a dat fi di uol die. Dat nait, mi loki fi kech di uol a di Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) awaad shuo.

TU DI WORL

il_340x270.683382019_i7g3Di Jehovah Witness priicha did gwaan gud-gud. Likl Ingglish did miks op wid di Patwa. It no so iizi fi som a wi chat suoso Patwa iina sortn sitiyieshan. Den mi get wan neks iimail fram di Witness dem a tel mi bout di Patwa taak dem we de pan dem websait, jw.org. Yu klik pan ‘Publications’. Den yu go a ‘Books and Brochures’. Den yu pik ‘Jamaican Creole’. An a wi dat.

Unu fi go lisn. A 9 taak di de. Si di tapik dem ya. An dem aal rait iina prapa-prapa spelin: Yu tingk pien an sofarin a-go don wan die? Wa yu tingk a-go apm iina di fyuucha? Wa a di mien ting fi mek yu fambili api? Di Kindom a Gad – a wa? Uu riili a kanchuol dis ya worl ya? Wa yu tingk bout di Baibl? We wi kyan fain ansa fi di kwestiyan dem we wori wi di muos iina laif? Yu tingk se ded piipl kyan kom bak alaiv? Lisn tu Gad an yu wi liv fi eva!

Di Jehovah Witness dem nuo se yu a fi priich tu piipl iina fi dem aat langgwij if yu waahn fi riich dem aat. An som a fi wi aat wel aad. It tek uol iip a priichin fi mek it saaf. A lang taim nou nof priicha iina Jamieka nuo ou fi yuuz fi wi aat langgwij fi toch piipl. If yu go sortn choch iina disya konchri a pyur Patwa yu a go ier.

A muor an 750 langgwij Jehovah Witness a yuuz fi spred fi dem mechiz. Dem nuo se Ingglish a one worl langgwij. Bot a no di ongl langgwij iina di uol worl. A nof a dem. An Maasa Gad nuo di uol a dem. Mi glad fi si Jehovah Witness a elp kyari fi wi Gad-bles langgwij tu di worl!

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES CHAMPION OUR LANGUAGE

Anytime I go to Papine Market on  a Saturday morning, I see about four Jehovah’s  Witnesses  giving out tracts. They are so sophisticated! They’re seated on chairs in the shade and they put out the tracts on a stand.  One morning, I nosily asked them how come they were taking it so easy with their witnessing. Why weren’t they walking up and down in the sun like other Witnesses?  We all started to laugh.

Anyhow, one Saturday, one the woman told me that there was going to be a big meeting that she wanted me to attend.  It was quite special meeting because  the speaker was going to talk in only  Patwa. You see my troubles! Anytime there’s a  Patwa issue, I’m supposed to be involved.  I promised her I would try to attend.  I didn’t make a note of the date and it completely escaped me.

Then I went to the movies at Sovereign and met some other Witnesses from the August Town Kingdom Hall. They told me that on February 26, the preacher was going to be speaking in Patwa so I should come. They made sure to send an email to remind me. I had no excuse.

The meeting was the very same day of  the opening of the  Biennial at the National Gallery. So I hurried downtown to get a bit of a that, then I went to  August Town for a bit of the  preaching. And I went back downtown to catch a bit of the the Grounation put on by the Jamaica Music Museum in Reggae Month. It was only bits and pieces for the entire day. That evening, I was lucky to catch all of the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) award show.

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TO THE WORLD!

The Jehovah’s Witness preacher did very well. A little bit of  English got mixed up with the Patwa. It’s not so easy for some of us to speak only Patwa in certain situations. Then I got another  email from the Witnesses telling mi about the Patwa recordings on their website, jw.org. You click on ‘Publications’. Then you go to ‘Books and Brochures’. Then yu select ‘Jamaican Creole’. And that’s us.

You should check it out.There are  9 recordings there. Here are the topics. And they are all written in the official writing system for Jamaican. I’ve translated them into English: Do you think  pain and suffering will end one of these days? What do you think the future will bring? What’s the main thing to make your family happy? Di kingdom a God – what’s that? Who really controls this world? What do you think about the Bible? Where can we find answers to the questions that  worry us the most in life? Do you think dead people can come back to life? Listen to God and you will live for ever!

The Jehovah’s Witnesses know that you have to preach to people in their  heart language if you want to reach their heart. And some of our hearts are quite hard. It takes a  whole lot of  preaching to make it soft. Many preachers in  Jamaica have long known how to use our heart language to touch people. If you go to certain churches in this country, all you’re going to hear is nothing but Patwa.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses  are spreading  their message in more than 750 languages. They know that English is a world language. But it’s not the only language in the whole world. There are many of them. And God recognises all of them. I’m glad to see that Jehovah’s Witnesses are helping to take our God-blessed language to the world!

What’s up at the National Gallery?

Last Sunday, the main exhibition of the Jamaica Biennial opened at the National Gallery downtown Kingston. It was a grand affair, attracting an unusually large crowd of enthusiastic patrons. There are also exhibitions at Devon House and the National Gallery West.

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Devon House, First Home of the National Gallery of Jamaica

The Biennial has four levels of exhibits, as outlined in the beautifully produced catalogue: six special projects by invited international artists; two tribute exhibitions honouring Alexander Cooper and Peter Dean Rickards; elite invited artists; the juried section.

Why are some artists automatically given a free pass into the Biennial? And so many of them! Thirty-four invited artists entered 61 pieces. One hundred and ten artists submitted entries to be judged. Forty-nine were accepted with a total of 66 entries. If both the invited and juried artists had been restricted to one entry each, at least 44 additional juried entries might have been included.

Dr Veerle Poupeye, executive director of the National Gallery, addresses this contentious issue in her insightful ‘Introduction’ to the catalogue: “By far, the most vexing question has been whether the invited artists system should be retained, or whether the Biennial should become a fully juried or curated exhibition instead. As is to be expected, many invited artists would not like to lose their status, but others in the artistic community feel that this perpetuates undesirable hierarchies and also makes it difficult to give curatorial cohesion to the exhibition.”

‘PRACTICAL FEASIBILITY’?

In email correspondence with me, Dr Poupeye confirmed that one of the criteria used to select entries in the juried section is “practical feasibility, for instance with regards to size”. Why is this criterion selectively applied to the juried section and not to invited artists?

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Fosuwa Andoh, Visual Griot

Which brings me to that hell of a drum made by invited artist Laura Facey, in collaboration with the unacknowledged international African artist Fosuwa Andoh, visual griot. Fosuwa is a textile artist and ceramic/glass crafter who came to Jamaica to direct a Prince’s School of Traditional Arts project. She established a successful pottery workshop in Rose Town. Fosuwa provided technical advice for curing the cowskin and she attached it to the body of the drum. Without her input, the artwork would be nothing but dead wood. And you know how unfulfilling that can be!

Decorated in the red, white and blue of imperial flags, Facey’s drum seems to embody colonialist fantasies: “I made the drum so that we may talk to our ancestors and bring more peace and reconciliation into our lives.” But the scale of the drum is far beyond human proportions. Our African ancestors would not recognise it as an instrument of communication. This monstrous drum has shock value, and that’s about it.

And it was quite a production to get the drum into the Gallery. According to a Gleaner article published two Sundays ago, “The two sections of the entrance door were completely removed”. In addition, “a glass partition, mounted on a concrete wall, and which separates the lobby from the drum’s temporary resting spot, also had to be taken out”. How practical and feasible was that?

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Then, “with the effort of 37 Jamaica Defence Force soldiers, the drum was slowly brought into the space. The lifting and pushing of the drum itself brought some entertainment to onlookers as the instructor raised and lowered his voice, army-style, in giving directions to the able-bodied men”. Was this regular JDF work? Or was it a roast?

The 30-foot drum sounds much smaller in metres: only 9.144. But, however you measure it, that’s a lot of space in a relatively small gallery. The drum dominates the main exhibition hall, leaving little room to view the exhibits on the adjacent walls. How many more juried entries might have been able to fit in that space, I wonder?  And Ms Facey has two more pieces in the exhibition at Devon House!

DIGITAL JAMAICA EXHIBITION

As soon as I stepped into the main gallery, a well-known artist said I looked like a work of art and I should just stand there and let people walk around me. I had a good laugh. This was my cue. I gleefully told her I was making a subversive fashion statement.

Donnette.dress 3Donnette.dress 2

Images of the work of one of my favourite artists were printed on my dress – thanks to graphic designer Rodane Gordon at Hot Off The Press who did an excellent job! The artist had submitted two entries to the Biennial and both had been rejected. But I made sure the beautiful work was at the exhibition, if not in it. The artist I was chatting with completely understood my visual statement. Her work had also been rejected.

I’ve decided to curate a Digital Jamaica Exhibition. I’m inviting the 61 artists whose work was rejected by the Biennial jury. I also welcome those artists who were not included in the invited category. Well, I’m not actually curating. It’s an open-entry exhibition. Whosoever will may come. I’ll let the viewers decide on the value of the work.

I’ve secured the services of an internationally recognised art blogger who will design the website. I know some of the rejected artists may not want to appear in the ‘Fringe Biennial’ for fear of never ever being accepted in the ‘real’ one. A pity! Those artists who do want to participate can contact me for details at the email below. When one door is closed, many more are open.

Putting a price on our musical heritage

JaMM-Grounation-2016

On  Sunday February 21, everybody in the lecture hall at the Institute of Jamaica was on a high, I’m sure. And there was not a spliff in sight. It was the third in the Reggae /  Black History Month ‘Grounation’ series on Don Drummond, hosted by The Jamaica Music Museum. The final session was on February 28, ‘Don Cosmic: Mad With the Madness of a Great Maestro’, featuring Dr Earl McKenzie, Dr Clinton Hutton and Prof Fred Hickling.

Grounation is a word coined by Rastafari to describe a ritual of reasoning. Philosophical conversation, music and dance are all essential elements of the Grounation. And, of course, the holy herb! It’s a gathering that is grounded in African traditions celebrating word, sound and power.

Four brilliant trombonists spoke about Don Drummond’s music and performed their interpretations of his work: Steve Turre of Saturday Night Live fame; jazz master Delfeayo Marsalis; youthful Andre Murchison, the current trombonist with the Skatalites; and our own Romeo Gray.

It was sublime. Or as the young people say, awesome! These days, the word ‘awesome’ has been watered down. In the 16th century, it meant “profoundly reverential”. Now, it’s American slang for just about anything, no matter how ordinary.

That Grounation was truly awesome. It felt like church. You know that moment of transcendence when you forget about everyday reality and enter an elevated space of pure spirituality. So I’m getting carried away. That is exactly what it felt like. Possessed by the spirit!

img_3350I overheard one of my breathless friends telling Herbie Miller, director-curator of the museum, that he didn’t need to do anything else after that programme. I knew what she meant. It’s the kind of thing you say when you’re high. But I couldn’t agree with her at all. There is so much more that needs to be done to make the Jamaica Museum Music what it ought to be.

HIGH-PROFILE SETTING FOR REGGAE

Next year, a major exhibition on Jamaican music will open in Paris. It’s called ‘Jamaica, Jamaica! Innovations and Inventions of Reggae Music’. The exhibition venue is the brand-new Paris Philharmonic, which opened in January 2015. The first concert was a performance of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem by the Paris Orchestra, in honour of the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

The 2,400-seat concert hall is part of a magnificent cultural complex known as the City of Music. It includes the Music Museum, which houses a collection of about 4,400 musical instruments, some dating from the 16th century. And there’s a temporary exhibition space. This is the high-profile setting for ‘Jamaica, Jamaica!’

12631467_10153828301264098_7768649976598216411_nThe curator is the visionary Sebastien Carayol, a French journalist and documentary director. This is how he describes the project:  “Before anything, this exhibition is a musical exhibition – where the Jamaican music’s journey is used as a starting point and an Ariane’s thread of sorts to broach on the political, social, economic, religious and philosophical history of the island.

“Few other musical genres have generated so many of their own different, on many levels: Jamaica has been at the avant-garde in music (the offbeat rhythm), graphic and visual arts, as well as fashion. Hence the deliberate call in the exhibition to a vast array of non-photographic visuals, memorabilia, illustrations, paintings – all the way to conceptual artworks inspired indirectly by this culture.”

Ariane’s thread is a reference to Greek mythology. Ariane is the French spelling of the name of the Greek princess Ariadne. She fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of string to guide him out of the maze in which he was trapped. So, for Carayol, reggae music is the thread that connects all the elements of Jamaica’s complex culture.

WE JUST SALT

Carayol has been collecting artefacts for the exhibition from all over the world. Not surprisingly, Jamaica’s musical heritage is scattered across the globe. We just didn’t take the music seriously so we no longer own our heritage. And we certainly don’t have the money to buy it all back. Now that others have recognised its value, we just salt.

 

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Mural outside Jamaica Music Museum

What is even worse is this. Suppose we were to ask Sebastien Carayol to bring his exhibition to Kingston after Paris and he agreed. Where would we put it? So we don’t have a Philharmonie de Paris. That building cost approximately €386 million! But we certainly couldn’t take the exhibition to our makeshift museum space on Water Lane.

We need a state-of-the-art music museum in downtown Kingston that’s worthy of our UNESCO designation as a Creative City of Music. I suppose we could go and beg the Chinese for the building. But what would we give them in exchange? Cockpit Country? Dunn’s River Falls? The Goat Islands? All of the above?

We must remember the warning of Marcus Garvey: “The Negro who lives on the patronage of philanthropists is the most dangerous member of our society, because he is willing to turn back the clock of progress when his benefactors ask him so to do.”

We can’t depend on philanthropists for our music museum. We have to start building for ourselves. It’s a daunting task. But we can’t fold our hands and wait. We have a new Government that has promised to take us from poverty to prosperity. If only it was as easy as a campaign slogan!

Too African to be human?

Reggae_Jamaika8For a small city, Kingston is quite cosmopolitan. And this has nothing to do with our deceitful national motto. That’s a whole other story about large-scale self-deception. Out of which many? Jamaica is a nation of African people with a minority of other racial groups.

And as for those black Jamaicans who don’t want to be African, Peter Tosh sets them straight:

“Don’t care where you come from,

As long as you’re a black man

You’re an African.”

So what’s cosmopolitan about Kingston? It’s all those cultural events every single week. And many are free. Our colleges and universities offer so much: public forums, film screenings, book launches, concerts, theatrical productions. And foreign embassies provide regular opportunities to explore other cultures.

The Alliance Francaise recently screened a brilliant documentary, Trop Noir Pour Etre Francaise?/Too Black To Be French? It’s framed as a question. But the implied answer is definitely affirmative. The filmmaker, Isabelle Boni-Claverie, was at the screening and generously answered questions.

trop-noire.pngIsabelle was born in Ivory Coast and at four months went to live in France. She returned at eight and had a hard time fitting in. Her classmates mocked her accent and decided that she was stuck up. She was too French to be Ivorian and too black to be French.

Isabelle’s 2015 documentary starts with her privileged family. She’s the granddaughter of Alphonse Boni, a distinguished jurist from Ivory Coast who became the first French magistrate of African origin. When Ivory Coast became independent, Boni was appointed as minister of justice and then president of the Supreme Court.

Isabelle’s grandmother, Rose Marie Frederique Galou, was a white law student from rural France. Her grandparents’ marriage in 1931 took place at midnight in complete privacy. In racist societies like France, class privilege cannot protect black people (and their white companions) from constant abuse.

WORKING LIKE A NIGGER

Too Black To Be French? widens its perspective to include other voices reflecting on what it means to be black in France. The documentary was provoked by a rather stink remark made on national television in 2010 by the perfume maker Jean-Paul Guerlain. Talking about a new product, Guerlain casually said, “I worked like a nigger. I don’t know if niggers have always worked like that, but anyway.”

Demonstration-against-Jea-006Talk about adding insult to injury! Isabelle was enraged. She launched an Internet-based campaign against Guerlain and, along with other protestors, organised demonstrations outside Guerlain’s flagship store in Paris. But many nice and decent French people couldn’t see what the fuss was about. Working like a nigger was just a common expression. All the same, Guerlain was convicted in court for his racist insult and fined €6,000. Small change!

Two other films by Isabelle were screened in Kingston last weekend, thanks to David Morrison. Her 1998 short film, Le Genie d’Abou/Abu’s Genie, explores the issues of race and sexuality in a murderously disturbing way. Her 2004 film, Pour La Nuit /For The Night, beautifully shows how Muriel and Sam, total strangers, comfort each other the night before her mother’s funeral and his wedding.

Speaking of being cosmopolitan, for the last 15 years, David has been showcasing foreign films on Friday and Saturday nights, first at Redbones, then at the Liguanea Club. He’s now at an intimate venue, 3 Stanton Terrace. There’s no admission charge. David welcomes contributions to offset costs.

OTA BENGA

Last month, the Africa World Documentary Film Festival was held at the University of the West Indies, Mona. Twenty films were screened over three days. Admission was free. I was surprised that Ota Benga was not included. The curator of the festival, Professor Adeniyi Coker of the University of Missouri-St Louis, explained that since he co-directed the film with Jean Bodon, he didn’t think it appropriate to select his own work.

OtaBengaI understood his reservations, but I persuaded him that we needed to see the film. It was screened as a brawta to the festival. The film sensitively tells the traumatic story of Ota Benga, a man from the Congo, who was put on display at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis. Things got rather worse for him.

On Sunday, September 9, 1906, The New York Times published a story with the headline, “Bushman Shares a Cage With Bronx Park Apes”. The article did admit that “some Laugh Over His Antics, but Many Are Not Pleased’. It added, “‘Something about it I don’t like,’ was the way one man put it.” We don’t know who this man was. But he did have a conscience.

The next day, black clergymen met at Harlem’s Mount Olivet Baptist Church to strategise. That afternoon, they went to the zoo to see for themselves. They confronted the zoo’s founding director and curator, William Hornaday, who insisted that the exhibition was all in the interest of science! By the end of September, more than 220,000 visitors had viewed Ota Benga. The zoo had never made so much money so quickly.

national-museum-african-artProvocatively billed as “From Ota Benga to President Obama”, the film had its world premiere on November 1 at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC. How much has changed over the last century? Just think of those demeaning cartoons of Michelle and Barack Obama as apes. The White House is certainly not the preferred cage in which diehard racists would like to see them.

Patwa Gold Chain Inna Fashion Show

Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist phonetic system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.

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CHAKA-CHAKA SPELLING

It sweet mi so til! Patwa step up inna life an a bling pon gold chain. Di Friday night a Caribbean Fashion Week (CFW), mi buck up one journalist mi know long time. Im name Rob Kenner an im fly een from New York fi CFW. Im run Boomshots.com an im av one TV show pon Youtube an one Internet radio show. Im deh all bout.

Rob did a wear one chain hitch on pon one piece a plastic. Mi aks im a wa dat. Wen mi look good mi see seh di plastic did cut out fi show writin. An guess weh it a seh? TUN UP. Rob tell mi seh a one a im fren mek di chain an she deh pon di fashion show dat deh night. Im ha fi represent.

ReshmaB-chains-CFW2015-selfie-BOOMSHOTSDi designer name Reshma B. She a music journalist an she call herself Reggae Girl About Town (RGAT). Fi her website a bawl out. Reshma born a London an from she a pikni she a listen reggae music. An she love Jamaica culture an fi wi language. One a di first gold chain she mek a REGGAE GAL.

Everywhere Reshma go, people a aks ar bout di chain dem. So she mek up her mind fi launch di line last year an she call it Reshma B chains. Rob do one interview wid her weh come out inna April inna Vibe magazine. Hear weh she seh: “I’m inspired by the street slang in my travels from London to Brooklyn to Kingston”.

Some a di Jamaican liriks pon di chain dem a DASH OUT, BRUCK OUT, SLAP WEH, BENZ PUNANY an MAAD. Some a di other word dem a TRILL, WAVY, FADED, RATCHET, SWAG an NANG. An Reshma just put out some new chain wid so-so ganja leaf.

PATWA WID ENGLISH ACCENT

Out a di whole a di chain dem, di one weh sell off nof nof a WAH GWAN. Mi did ha fi tell Reshma seh WAH GWAN no spell right. She lef off one a di A inna GWAAN. An she shuda put one next A inna di miggle a WAH an GWAAN. Dat naa stop di chain dem from sell.

An wen mi tink bout it, mi see seh same way wi fix up English fi suit wi, a di said same way English people a fix up fi wi language fi suit dem. Dem a chat patwa wid English accent. So ‘wa a gwaan’ turn inna ‘wa gwan’. An wi dis ha fi lou dem. Wi cyaan chain up fi wi language. It change up wen it go a foreign. Same like reggae music.

chain2Reshma B du special chain fi all kind a cebrelity. Popcaan did love WAH GWAN chruu Worl Boss did av one liriks weh im aks, “Wa a gwaan Papcaan?” So im link Reshma an she mek a chain fi im an im Unruly Crew: TR8. Dat stan fi “Straight”. Popcaan seh, “Real thugs never figet di dump land or weh we come fram”.

An lickle before Reshma come a Caribbean Fashion Week, she mek up one special order fi Madonna fi ar “Rebel Heart” tour. Seet deh! Mi av nof rispek fi Reshma B. Shi done know bout ‘total fashion’, as mi breda, Kingsley, seh inna di ad fi CFW.

An talking bout cebrelity, all a unu weh did read mi column two week aback, “Celebrity Wedding at UWI Chapel”, an did a aks mi fi picture a Erica Reid an Nardo Currie, unu better buy Gleaner. Dem inna Flair magazine. TUN UP!

PRAPA-PRAPA SPELIN

It swiit mi so til! Patwa step op ina laif an a bling pan guol chien. Di Fraide nait a Caribbean Fashion Week (CFW), mi bok op wan jornalis mi nuo lang taim. Im niem Rob Kenner an im flai iin fram New York fi CFW. Im ron Boomshots.com an im av wan TV shuo pan Yuuchuub an wan Intanet riedyo shuo. Im de aal bout.

Rob did a wier wan chien ich aan pan wan piis a plastik. Mi aks im a wa dat. Wen mi luk gud mi si se di plastik did kot out fi shuo raitn. An ges we it a se? TUN UP. Rob tel mi se a wan a im fren mek di chien an shi de pan di fashan shuo dat de nait. Im a fi reprizent.

ReshmaB-chains-CFW2015-13Di dizaina niem Reshma B. Shi a myuuzik jornalis an shi kaal arself Reggae Girl About Town (RGAT). Fi ar websait a baal out. Reshma baan a London an fram shi a pikni shi a lisn rege myuuzik. An shi lov Jamieka kolcha an fi wi langgwij. Wan a di fos guol chien shi mek a REGGAE GAL.

Evri we Reshma go, piipl a aks ar bout di chien dem. So shi mek op ar main fi laanch di lain laas ier an shi kaal it Reshma B chains. Rob du wan intavyuu wid ar we kom out ina Iepril ina Vibe magazine. Ier we shi se: “I’m inspired by the street slang in my travels from London to Brooklyn to Kingston”.

Som a di Jamaican liriks pan di chien dem a DASH OUT, BRUCK OUT, SLAP WEH, BENZ PUNANY an MAAD. Som a di ada word dem a TRILL, WAVY, FADED, RATCHET, SWAG an NANG. An Reshma jos put out som nyuu chien wid suoso gyanja liif.

PATWA WID INGGLISH AKSENT

Out a di uol a di chien dem, di wan we sel aaf nof nof a WAH GWAN. Mi did ha fi tel Reshma se WAH GWAN no spel rait. Shi lef aaf wan a di A ina GWAAN. An shi shuda put wan neks A ina di migl a WAH an GWAAN. Dat naa stap di chien dem fram sel.

reggae_RGATCHAINSwahgwanbigsmall1An wen mi tink bout it, mi si se siem wie wi fiks op Ingglish fi suut wi, a di sed siem wie Ingglish piipl a fiks op fi wi langgwij fi suut dem. Dem a chat patwa wid Ingglish aksent. So ‘wa a gwaan’ ton ina ‘wa gwan’. An wi dis a fi lou dem. Wi kyaahn chien op fi wi langgwij. It chienj op wen it go a farin. Siem laik rege myuuzik.

Reshma B du speshal chien fi aal kain a sibreliti. Popcaan did lov WAH GWAN chruu Worl Boss did av wan liriks we im aks, “Wa a gwaan Popcaan?” So im link Reshma an shi mek a chien fi im an im Unruly Crew: TR8. Dat stan fi “Straight”. Popcaan se, “Riil tugz neva figet di domp lan ar we wi kom fram”.

An likl bifuor Reshma kom a Caribbean Fashion Week, shi mek op wan speshal aada fi Madonna fi ar “Rebel Heart” tour. Siit de! Mi av nof rispek fi Reshma B. Shi don nuo bout ‘total fashion’, az mi breda, Kingsley, se ina di ad fi CFW.

An taakin bout sibreliti, aal a unu we did riid mi kalam tuu wiik abak, “Celebrity Wedding at UWI Chapel”, an did a aks mi fi pikcha a Erica Reid an Nardo Currie, unu beta bai Gleaner. Dem ina Flair magaziin. TUN UP!

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

I was really amused.  Patwa has gone upmarket and is blinging on gold chains. The Friday night of Caribbean Fashion Week (CFW), I ran into a journalist I’ve known for quite some time. He’s Rob Kenner and he flew in from New York for CFW. He runs Boomshots.com and he has a TV show on Youtube and an Internet radio show. So he’s large.

Rob was wearing a chain with a bit of plastic attached. I asked him about it. When I looked closely, I saw letters cut out of the plastic.   And guess what the word was? TUN UP. Rob told me that one of his friends had made the chain and she was on the fashion show that night. He had to represent.

11094513_953402994711747_1889982551_nThe designer was Reshma B. She’s a music journalist who goes by the name Reggae Girl About Town (RGAT).  Her website is hot. Reshma was born in London and she became a reggae fan quite early.   She loves Jamaican culture and our language.

Everywhere Reshma went, she was asked about the chains. So she decided to launch the line last year.  And she called it Reshma B chains. Rob did an interview with her that was published in April in Vibe magazine. Here’s what she said: “I’m inspired by the street slang in my travels from London to Brooklyn to Kingston”.

Some of the Jamaican expressions on the chains are DASH OUT, BRUCK OUT, SLAP WEH, BENZ PUNANY and MAAD.  There’s also TRILL, WAVY, FADED, RATCHET, SWAG and NANG. And Reshma just put out some new chains with a ganja leaf desgin.

PATWA WITH AN ENGLISH ACCENT

OF all the chains, the bestseller is WAH GWAN.  I had to tell Reshma that WAH GWAN wasn’t spelt correctly.  An A was left out of GWAAN. And she should have put another one between WAH and GWAAN. That’s not affecting sales at all.

And when I thought about it, it struck me that just as we adapt English to suit ourselves, English people adapt our language to suit themselves in exactly the same way. They speak patwa with an English accent. So ‘wa a gwaan’ becomes ‘wa gwan’. And we just have to let it be. We can’t chain our language. It changes when it goes abroad. Just like reggae music.

MASSIV-PopUpShop-KGN-JA-Dec-18-2014-ReshmaB-Chains-URL-TopReshma B does custom chains for all sorts of celebrities. Popcaan loved WAH GWAN because Worl Boss had a song in which he asked, “Wa a gwaan Popcaan?” So he got in touch with Reshma and she made a chain for him and his Unruly Crew: TR8. That’s “Straight”. As Popcaan says, “Real thugs never figet di dump land or weh we come fram” [Real thugs never forget the dumped up land or where we come from].

And just before Reshma came to Caribbean Fashion Week, she did a special order for Madonna for her “Rebel Heart” tour. There you have it! I have a lot of respect for Reshma B. She understands ‘total fashion’, as my brother Kingsley, says in the ad for CFW.

And talking about celebrities, all of you who read my post, “Celebrity Wedding at UWI Chapel”, and were asking for pictures of Erica Reid and Nardo Currie, you must buy the Gleaner. They’re in Flair magazine. TUN UP

Jamaican Art Disappears In Cuba

In May, on my way home from Havana, I ran into Ebony Patterson at the airport. She was one of the international artists invited to exhibit in the Havana Biennial. And the only Jamaican! On Saturday afternoon, I had happily wandered around Old Havana with my sister, Donnette, and our friend, Ifeona, trying to find Ebony’s three installations.

Ebony.CubaWe managed to track down one of them. It was a typically complex image, both alarming and strangely beautiful: A mutilated male body lying in a bed of flowers. Dread reality transformed by the artist into a seemingly pretty picture. The body was carefully camouflaged, dressed in flowers that blended with the background.  The underwear was visible, bearing the K-Mart/Sears brand, Joe Boxer.

This is how the brand is described on its website: “Joe Boxer was founded in 1985, with the very simple idea of taking the most basic elements in men’s clothing and remaking it to reflect humour, fashion and popular trends. Because the product is based around the idea of having fun, it gives consumers a chance to identify with, and be a part of the brand.”

Ebony takes all the fun out of Joe Boxer. On the waistband of the underwear, she subversively inserts the word ‘Joeker’ between the repeated brand name. The joke is quite serious. Ebony explained that the work is one of a series focusing on murder, masculinity and consumerism. There are signs of other trendy accessories: fashionable sunglasses and mismatched shoes.

I don’t suppose the owners of the Joe Boxer brand would be too pleased with Ebony’s deadly refashioning of the product line. But they can’t determine exactly how consumers “identify with” their brand. Artistic licence permits Ebony to turn Joe Boxer into a vulnerable male model for so many youth who end up dead, just trying to have some sort of fun.

WHOSE IDEA AND EXPERIENCE?

The theme of this year’s Havana Biennial is ‘Between the Idea and the Experience’. And the curators took the decision to move some of the art out of conventional exhibition spaces into the street. They wanted people to experience art as they were going about their everyday business. Along the busy Malecon, the seawall that protects Havana, installations kept popping up.

inti-balance-2Right outside our hotel there was a grouping of beautiful rocking chairs, titled ‘Balance Cubano’. But some of the chairs were joined in such a way that you couldn’t actually sit in them. As the artist, Inti Hernandez, put it in the exhibition guide, “Furniture that could very well comfort a person and interact with the surrounding community becomes a rigid and unpleasant object.”

I must confess I thought the installation a waste of perfectly functional furniture. But Hernandez, who lives and works between Cuba and the Netherlands, wanted to make an intriguing point about a society in transition: “I dedicate these works to Cuba and its present interesting situation, aware of the many opportunities and yet also faced with challenges.”

One of Ebony’s pieces was installed on the Malecon. On Sunday morning, when she went to photograph it, she was amused to see that it had disappeared. She did admit that when she was installing it she had overheard some entertaining reviews from onlookers. They said the work would make excellent bedspreads and curtains. Not the design; the actual object! They, obviously, didn’t see the dead body. Only the flowers.

The curators’ rather ambitious concept of the biennial seems to be a far cry from the basic needs of ordinary Cubans. There appears to be a big gap between the curators’ ‘idea’ and the people’s ‘experience’. Art taken out of the ‘protected’ space of the gallery and put on the street for mass consumption assumes new functions.

THE ART OF DEAD BODIES

So it looks as if somebody decided that Ebony’s installation, like those rocking chairs, was a waste of useful material and simply repurposed it. And that’s why the installation disappeared. The fate of Ebony’s artwork made me think about the value and cost of art in societies like ours where people are literally dying of hunger. How do we justify the seeming excess that is art? Does public art, for example, make the life of the poor more bearable? Or is it a luxury we simply cannot afford?

Stop-ED-image-300x284In countries with erratic governance structures, ‘disappearance’ is often a destabilising fact of life. Just think of those 43 male students in Mexico who disappeared last September on their way to protest at a conference put on by the wife of the mayor of Iguala. Disappearance is often a code word for murder, plain and simple. The victim is abducted, often tortured, then killed and the body disposed of so there is no evidence.

The disappearance of art is clearly not comparable. Quite the contrary! Unlike so many human beings, the disappeared object is certainly not violated. It is preserved because it is highly valued. So somebody, somewhere in Havana, is enjoying Ebony’s public installation in private. Perhaps, it hasn’t been turned into home furnishings. It may have been captured by a collector who knows that it’s really ‘art’, meant for a wall.

I suppose we won’t ever know the fate of Ebony’s installation. We can only be philosophical about its disappearance. Ebony’s startling artwork about dead bodies ends up like a corpse in an unmarked grave. That’s the terrifying appeal of Jamaican culture.