Saturday, June 28, 2008
If there’s any good news to report from Kingston its from the cultural scene which has been galvanized into action for the second year in a row by KOTE (Kingston on the Edge), an ‘urban art festival’. Titled ‘This is Art’ and dedicated to Chaos, a founding member who checked out prematurely last December, KOTE delivered “visual art shows, movie showings, plays, concerts, an art auction, open houses, digital/multimedia shows and anything else anyone can think of”.
Curiously ‘Galvanize’ was the name of a similar venture in Trinidad and Tobago which took place almost two years ago. Built around a core of nine artists' projects titled "Visibly Absent", Galvanize debuted in late 2006 with the aim of becoming an annual or biennial festival. “The ultimate aim of Galvanize is the establishment of a regular (annual or biennial?) series of arts programmes based in Port of Spain…bringing artists, critics, and audiences into fruitful conversations. The presence of several hundred artists and arts administrators in Trinidad in September 2006 for Carifesta IX is the stimulus for starting this project--you could say we've been galvanised into action by the resurrection of Carifesta--but this project is best thought of as an independent effort aimed at addressing precisely those questions that Carifesta, with its 'Independence moment' origins, seems blind to."
Likewise KOTE was designed to address: “The relative lack, in Kingston, of outlets for creative and innovative artists” which “combined with the huge surfeit of talent and ideas, means that this Festival is both necessary and inevitable.” Remarkable, isn’t it that two such cultural junctures have been reached in two different outposts of the Caribbean at roughly the same time? Clearly the younger generations have decided that its high time they stake their claim on the culture pie. In years to come its possible to imagine both these events collaborating, creating a chain of creative activity across the region.
Meanwhile Carifesta X is slated to take place in Georgetown, Guyana this August and it is feared will feature the usual, by now graying suspects, patting each other on the back and clapping vigorously at the all too familiar output. Yes, vintage stuff, but unlike wine culture doesn’t always age too well, particularly when it lacks new input.
I went to most of the visual-arts related events offered by KOTE; for a brief moment in time we were treated to the kind of vibrant effervescent atmosphere we ought legitimately to expect from a well-connected and functioning art scene. For years the norm has been for each aesthetic field to operate in mutually exclusive spheres hence you rarely see visual artists at musical, theatrical or literary events and the latter are also visibly absent from visual art events.
For a week KOTE changed all that. On Monday the 23rd there were openings of art shows accompanied by multimedia performances at four of Kingston’s galleries. A small but landmark exhibit at Gallery 128 featured the photographs of the Afflicted One or Peter Dean Rickards, the innovative writer, photographer and editor of First who set off a new wave in image-making some years ago. His former protégé, Observer photographer Marlon 'Biggy Bigz' Reid, showcased his award-deserving photograph of the moments after a patron was shot at the British Link Up dance at La Roose some months ago.
Sunday saw the soft opening of The Rock Tower Project with a show called Artists without Borders at the Old Red Stripe Brewery downtown, an awe-inspiringly ambitious venture proposed by sculptor Melinda Brown, who moved her studio from the meat-packing district of NYC to downtown Kingston about three years ago. Following the by now classic model of renovation and resuscitation of abandoned downtown and waterfront areas by visual artists Rock Tower has the potential to intervene creatively and sustainably into the chronic decay and systematic decline of historic downtown Kingston.
Brown, originally from Australia, worked with a group of potters from Rosetown (a community near Trenchtown, Tivoli and other such locations) to produce a host of what she calls ‘Guardians’—terracotta figures displaying a blend of African, Mayan, Chinese and even Etruscan influences—made with clay from Trenchtown and nearby areas. Previously these potters produced flowerpots, which are available by the roadside in various parts of uptown Kingston.
The Rock Tower Project involves the creation of an indoor (as well as outdoor) forest of indigenous medicinal plants as a living sculpture installation. Signaling organic methods of healing and renewal the proposed transformation of abandoned, decomposing spaces into vibrant, green living areas encapsulates one solution to the myriad problems facing Jamaica. The symbolism of literally taking the masses of organic waste from nearby Coronation Market and using it as mulch and compost for the medicinal forest cannot but graphically point in the direction of a much needed regeneration and renewal of society in general.
Showing alongside the Rosetown potters are artists Laura Facey-Cooper, Scheed and Sand who is possibly Jamaica’s newest ‘intuitive’ artist. For a rather grainy slideshow of images click here:
Thursday the 25th saw the launch at the Art Centre Gallery (formerly the Olympia art centre started by A.D. Scott) of a provocative show curated by Ebony Patterson called “Taboo Identities: Race, Sexuality and the Body—A Jamaican Context”. Featuring a number of younger artists such as Ainsworth Case, Camille Chedda, Sean Gyshen Fennell, Patterson herself and Andrene Lord, the exhibit signaled the arrival of a new generation of visual artists in Jamaica and not a moment too soon. Noteworthy were Fennell’s innovative sewn canvas portraits and Chedda’s playful two-dimensional revisions of Laura Facey’s Emancipation Monument. In one you gradually notice the presence of two penises instead of one, the figures’ heads almost touching each other in what seems like a kiss, a blasphemous idea, considering that this is Kingston, ground zero of homophobes as it were.
Well, i'm fast approaching my self-imposed outer limit of a thousand words so I must draw brakes now and curtail this blog. The next thing looming on the agenda like a veritable tsunami is the Crossroads 2008 conference taking place at the University of the West Indies, Mona, next week. Check it out. Till soon!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
For more click here.
This is an open letter to tell all editors, journalists, columnists and stenographers calling yourselves journalists:
This blog is not your enemy.
This blog is a fan, a friend. This blog wishes you well.
This blog follows your work closely, reads your lines and then between your lines. Can this blog not be forgiven for thereafter scribbling in the margins?
For standing up for those mostly marginalized by the pigmentocratic power you wield and challenging the kleptomaniac clique your silence shields.
This blog is not your enemy.
As a postscript i also want to note the passing of Tim Russert of NBC News. Described as adept at conducting "the prosecutorial interview without a sharp edge" he was definitely one of the better, more congenial American TV journalists/talking heads around and will be missed by many all over the world.
Friday, June 13, 2008
...in many ways our Nobel laureates hold irreconcilable views of the Caribbean and the world. While Walcott has acknowledged the dark colonial past that begets so much of Naipaul’s pessimism, he has also dared to hope, epically, that we may somehow climb clear of our wrong beginnings. Naipaul, by contrast, has built a career around making our darkness visible. At different times the Caribbean itself seems to take different sides in the matter. Election season in Guyana is pure Naipaul, as is much of Trinidadian politics; but the West Indies team at its best, Marley’s prophetic lyricism or Minshall’s extravagant imagination all fit with Walcott’s vision. Who among us can confidently dismiss Naipaul, or dispense with Walcott’s hopes? And who, having read either man carefully, would wish to?
From the Staebrok News in Georgetown, Guyana, ladies and gentlemen--Brendan de Caires-- with a great take on Walcott's Mongoose. Read the rest of "Calabashing Naipaul" here...
Meanwhile the bashing (as some people see it) continues...The MG Smith conference opened at UWI, Mona, day before yesterday with a no-holds barred address by Professor Orlando Patterson of Harvard University. Stand by for a blow-by-blow account of the conference in a day or two...
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Described as “the best in the world at boiling down – without dumbing down – complex issues” Bombay-born Zakaria was formerly managing editor of Foreign Affairs and is currently editor of Newsweek International. In GPS Zakaria manages to come across as a brain without being nerdy and displays a certain hipness when he tosses off statements such as "...and because history is cool" when introducing a videoclip on CNN's humble beginnings however many years ago.
I can just hear my left-wing friends chiding me for bigging up a ‘”rightwinger” (which Zakaria is perceived to be) but hey if there’s one lesson we should have learnt from the last few years it is that its time we started listening to each other, no matter what party, faction, sect, subcaste or global group we align ourselves with. No one side has the privileged vantage point or all the answers and with a book called The Post-American World how could what Zakaria has to say be irrelevant? He speaks for many of us whose views thus far have been inaudible and invisible in international fora.
If Zakaria is the most recent example of a subcontinental/Asian/person from the global South to gain international visibility in a highly competitive field, Salman Rushdie--also Bombay-born--was perhaps the first, in the Anglophone world at any rate. So my curiousity was piqued when I read a harsh review of Rushdie’s latest novel, The Enchantress of Florence, in the New York Times. The reviewer, an obscure American writer named David Gates, freely admitted to being afflicted by a ‘philistine cussedness’ saying “I’m probably not Rushdie’s target audience: in literature, at least, I find the marvelous tedious, and the tedious — as rendered by a Beckett or a Raymond Carver or even a Kafka — marvelous.”
Perhaps the New York Times should have asked someone more competent to review Enchantress. Or at least someone with a nodding acquaintance of and sympathy for the literary mode of magical realism. The latter does little for my gladbag either but Gates seems to use the review as an opportunity to take the mickey out of a great writer, dismissing Rushdie as a “multicultural dream weaver” whose fiction “revels in writerly self-congratulation”.
I’m hardly a great Rushdie fan myself (I don’t consider people’s sacred beliefs to be fair game for caricature; cows are sacred in my opinion and should be handled with care and respect even when they’re obstructing traffic) but Gates’ hostility moved me to read the first chapter of Enchantress the NYT made available along with the review. What, i wondered, was Gates fussing like a walrus with a sore tusk about? For what it’s worth I’ve decided on the basis of the first chapter to buy this book though I haven’t read any of Rushdie’s novels since the first three. So thanks Mr. Gates for inadvertently leading me to rediscover why Salman Rushdie has the reputation he has. Let’s hope you get there someday.
In the meantime here are two interesting quotes by the author of Midnight’s Children. As Rushdie poignantly observed in another recent NYT article on him (Now He’s Only Hunted by Cameras, May 25, 2008):
“There’s a writing self which is not quite your ordinary social self and which you don’t really have access to except at the moment when you’re writing, and certainly in my view, I think of that as my best self,” he said. “To be able to be that person feels good; it feels better than anything else.”
And this detail from the first chapter of Enchantress sheds light on the use of the word ‘coolie’ in the Indian context where it is often a synonym for ‘porter’:
“Turbaned coolies in red shirts and dhotis ran ceaselessly hither and yon with bundles of improbable size and weight upon their heads.”
As discussed at length in an earlier post the term ‘coolie’ is as overloaded and burdened as the porters signified by it who often carry baggage two or three times their weight at Indian railway stations.
There is much else to talk about; San Andres was a trip and a half and I didn’t get to blog much about Calabash, which was outstanding this year. Nicholas Laughlin gives a good account of it though in his UK Guardian blog "The distraction of Walcott vs Naipaul". Suffice it to say for now that I think the Calabash team should invite Salman Rushdie to Treasure Beach next May. More on San Andres and the Raizales in a few days.