Unstylish Ejection From VIP Seat

StyleWeek+Logo+II

It all started with an email from our MP to the citizens’ association offering tickets to a StyleWeek event last Sunday. Gifts from politicians usually come with lots of strings attached. The exchange often goes like this: I’ll give you $5,000 wrapped up in a designer T-shirt and you’d better vote for me. Or else! But this wasn’t election season. So I took the MP’s email at face value:

“Complimentary tickets are available for FashionBlock. When: Sunday, May 28th 2017, starting at 8pm. Where: Knutsford Blvd. Please email me to let me know how many tickets you need. Thanks.” I didn’t have anything planned for that evening, so I decided to take up the offer. I was rather surprised to see on the ticket that admission was free.

A complimentary ticket is not quite the same as a free ticket. Usually, a complimentary ticket is given as a courtesy to attend a paid event. Not a free show. Getting a complimentary ticket for a free event from an MP was a lot like feeling obliged to be grateful that politicians are actually doing the job for which they are elected. And for which they are paid!

Anyhow, I put aside my reservations and headed to New Kingston. I parked at the lot at the corner of Barbados and St Lucia avenues, where some young men had a good hustle charging $200 for entry. I firmly pointed out the fact that this was a government parking lot, which should be free on a Sunday evening. They apologised, waved me in, and kept right on charging other patrons.

 

THE MORAL OF THE STORY

 

I went to the closest entrance to the Fashionblock event, at the corner of Knutsford Boulevard and Barbados Avenue. Unfortunately, I hadn’t read my complimentary ticket carefully enough. That entrance was only for VIPs. My free ticket said: “out barrier, restaurant side.” And it was standing room only.

Umbilical-Cord-Baby-Website-1200-x-683

Now I am not one of those people whose navel string is buried under a VIP tree. But there was no other seating. And I had no intention of standing up to watch “Jamaica’s Biggest Fashion Event Ever”. By the way, that tag line reminds me of Sean Spicer’s ‘covfefe’ declaration that Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Period.

I asked if I could get a VIP ticket, and a nice young man went off to find out. He returned with a young woman who let me in and ushered me to a seat. But she didn’t give me a ticket. About half an hour later, before the show had even started, she came back and told me she was at risk of losing her job. He had broken the rules by putting me in the VIP section. So I had to go “out barrier”.

I asked if there was no one who could allow me to stay. She said no. The lady she would have to ask was not around. Earlier, Dewight Peters, who was putting on the show, had greeted me in passing. I don’t suppose the young woman thought she could ask him to give me a VIP ticket. She escorted me to the exit and I headed straight home.

This story has several morals: 1) beware of ‘freeness’ from politicians; 2) always read the fine print; 3) do not ask for and accept favours from powerless people; 4) know when to retreat; 5) always remember that where bones are not provided, dogs are not invited. In this instance: Where VIP tickets are not provided, certain people are not invited.

 

‘ARTS IN THE PARK’

 

19918310

Earlier that day, I’d gone to Arts in the Park at Devon House. That was an excellent event for which neither a free nor a complimentary ticket was needed. It’s a pity it didn’t seem to have been well advertised. Lots of young artists were exhibiting their work and there was live music. A small exhibition from the JCDC art competition is at one of the shops. The main show is located at the Jamaica Conference Centre.

The National Gallery hosted a panel discussion on the Jamaica Biennial 2017, which closed that day in Kingston. The exhibition at Gallery West in MoBay goes on for another month. A very contentious issue came up. VIP artists are invited to exhibit. Less-important artists have to submit their work for evaluation. If they’re lucky, they get picked. Hopefully, this unfair system will soon be phased out. All artists should have an equal chance to be accepted or rejected.

From Devon House, I went to The Pantry on Dumfries Road, where the artists Philip and Marcia Henry were hosting ‘The Gathering’, an exhibition featuring masters like Alexander Cooper, George Rodney and Ireko Baker, as well as many younger artists. Philip’s Ambokele Vibration drummers and guest artists were in full flight. It was a beautiful marriage of art and music.

There is so much creative energy in Kingston: music, art, literature, fashion and a whole lot more! Last Monday, Jamaica’s first Centre of Gastronomy was launched at Devon House. This Friday, Caribbean Fashionweek starts at Villa Ronai in Stony Hill. With its lush sculpture gardens, the venue was a premier destination for cruise ship passengers coming into Kingston Harbour in the 1960s. In spite of our social and economic challenges, Kingston is a capital city. And not just for VIPs!

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.

ReggaeMonth

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.

devon_house

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?

fos4-copy

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?

FACEY-DRUM-moving-360x639

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.

Israeli Artist Wins First International Reggae Poster Contest

For the first time in its almost 40-year history, the National Gallery of Jamaica (NGJ) is hosting an exhibition of poster art.  It opens this morning at 11:00 o’clock and showcases the top 100 entries from the First International Reggae Poster Contest. Six hundred and seventy-eight designers from 80 countries submitted 1,142 posters! The lyrics of the Hotstepper, Ini Kamoze, are the inspiration for the title of the exhibition: ‘World-a-reggae’.

‘Freestylee’ poster

The contest was co-founded by Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson, a  Jamaican digital poster artist, and Maria Papaefstathiou, a German-born  graphic designer and art director who now lives in Greece.

Michael defines himself as an ‘artist without borders’.  This is not just because he was born in Jamaica, lives in the U.S. and traverses the globe on the digital highway.

Thompson’s conception of his ‘freestylee’ art as borderless also signifies his refusal to get caught in narrow definitions of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture or ‘pure’ and ‘commercial’ art. And his work is ‘outer/national’.  It’s rooted in Jamaican culture and, at the same time, incisively engages with the whole world of international politics.

Maria’s brilliant blog, <www.graphicartnews.com>, documents what she calls her ‘twin passions’:  graphic arts and photography.  She describes her blog in this way:   “It is a blog for graphic designers and photographers, focusing on high quality designs and art photography. The ultimate desire is to constantly inspire people and expand their work all over the world.”

Maria’s ironic design

Partisan ‘Politricks’

Like Maria, Thompson is a politically committed artist whose sophisticated posters lucidly articulate the breadth and depth of his insights.  In an interview posted on the House of Reggae website, he talks about how he started to do poster art.  His story is a graphic indictment of partisan ‘politricks’ in Jamaica.

“My poster art goes back to the late 1970s in Jamaica. My first protest poster was about an incident in Jamaica called the Green Bay Massacre. An incident that took place on January 5, 1978 in which seven youths from the South Side ghetto in Kingston were lured to the Green Bay military firing range in Hellshire, St. Catherine and were executed by JDF (Jamaica Defense Force) Soldiers. This incident was shocking when the truth came out and I had to use my art to protest the massacre by the Jamaican State.

“Some Reggae artist[s] at the time also recorded protest tunes about the incident, songs like ‘Green Bay Killing’ by Big Youth and producer Glen Brown. Incidentally one of the youths who was killed in the massacre was a young Reggae singer name Glenroy Richards who ironically recorded the chune ‘Wicked Can’t Run Away,’ on Glen Brown’s ‘Youthman’ riddim. This chune was later renamed ‘Green Bay Killing’, this was a wicked dancehall anthem and a haunting tribute to those who suffer injustice at the hands of the ‘wicked men’”.

Reggae Hall of Fame

Thompson conceived the International Reggae Poster Contest as a first step towards the construction of a Reggae Hall of Fame Pavillion and performing arts centre in downtown Kingston.  Thompson’s grand vision encompasses not just the intellectual capital of reggae culture but also the symbolic architecture of the building that would house the enterprise.

Biomuseo, Panama City

Michael ‘Freestylee’ Thompson is talking Frank Gehry:  architect of the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain; the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles; the Experience Music Project, Seattle; The Vitra Design Museum, Germany; the Novartis campus, Switzerland.   A magnificent BioMuseo has been designed for Panama but it’s still under construction.

So why not Kingston, Jamaica?  I can just see it.  On Kingston Harbour, the 7th largest natural harbour in the world, with the majestic Blue Mountains as a spectacular backdrop, an organic mass of crumpled steel rises to affirm the indomitable spirit of the Jamaican people.  Well, that’s before the IMF ‘done wid wi.’  Greece and Spain, here we come.

Yes, ‘wi ha fi tek bad tings mek joke’.  But fun and joke aside, doesn’t reggae music deserve a hall of fame worthy of the global reach of Jamaican popular culture?  Who would have thought that out of Kingston’s concrete jungle would have come a ‘riddim’ of resistance that now reverberates across the world?  Reggae music and its wild child, dancehall, symbolize the unlimited potential of the creative industries that enable hard-working, talented people to make ‘nuff’ money out of brainpower.

Jamaica Music Museum

Thompson’s dream of a Frank Gehry-designed Reggae Hall of Fame does not at all diminish the value of the pioneering Jamaica Music Museum, now temporarily located on Water Lane.  ‘Yu ha fi creep before yu walk an den bolt like Usain’.  Mr. Herbert Miller, Director/Curator of the fledgling museum, is doing the best he can in the cramped quarters he’s been assigned by the Institute of Jamaica.

The Museum’s current exhibition, “Equal Rights:  Reggae and Social Change”, uses mostly record album covers, along with sound clips, music samples and poster boards to document social history.   It resonates with the National Gallery’s ‘World-a-reggae’.  Both exhibitions focus on visual sound.  The powerful word and sound of music are transformed into the equally powerful image and ‘zeen’ of graphic art design.

All the same, can you imagine what a Gehry building would do for downtown Kingston? And for the Jamaican economy?  Without a penny in my pocket for the project, I contacted the Frank Gehry practice and was taken quite seriously when I asked if the firm might be willing to consider designing the Reggae Hall of Fame.  What is needed is a formal proposal and a commitment from ‘whole heap’ of people all over the world who love reggae music to come up with the ‘dunny’.  It shouldn’t be hard to do if the overwhelming response to the First International Reggae Poster Contest is anything to go by.

Alon Braier, winner of the contest, is a freelance illustrator and reggae musician living in Jaffa, Israel. His brilliant poster, “Roots of Dub”, features King Tubby, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Augustus Pablo. Alon uses the image of the recurring circle to represent dub echoes. He got it completely right.  I knew he had to come to Jamaica for the opening of the exhibition.  I called my sparring partner, Ainsley Henriques, honorary secretary of the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica.  He immediately caught the vision of cross-cultural exchange.  With the support of the Israeli government, ‘di yute deh yah’ in the Promised Land of reggae.