The CARISCC Research Network’s 4th International Postgraduate Conference on Caribbean In/Securities and Creativity took place in the Netherlands at the University of Amsterdam on Wednesday 13th June 2018.
Convened by CARISCC’s Principal Investigator, Patricia Noxolo (Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Birmingham), and hosted by Rivke Jaffe (Professor of Cities, Politics and Culture, University of Amsterdam) the event featured keynote presentations by two distinguished guest speakers – Professor Faith Smith (Brandeis University, Boston, MA) and Dr Lucy Evans (University of Leicester, UK) – followed by two thematic panel sessions addressing ‘Moving in/securities’ and ‘Gendered in/securities.’
Professor Faith Smith’s opening presentation “Policing the Crisis? Stories of Intimacy and Power in Early Twentieth Century Jamaica” centred around two texts, each one written by men who were residents on the island in the years following the earthquake of 1907. These texts were: the colonialist autobiography of white Jamaican policeman Herbert Thomas; and the poem “A Midnight Woman to the Bobby” (1912), written by internationally renowned black Jamaican poet and novelist Claude McKay (1889-1948). Both texts were used to convey aspects of Jamaica’s complex colonial history and articulate how the political and cultural dynamics of Kingston – including levels of access to social justice under the law – were heavily influenced by intersected issues of race, gender, class, colourism, perceived levels of respectability and social standing at the turn of the 20th century.
The literary analysis and archival research undertaken by Faith Smith to contextualise the social interactions of key characters discussed in these texts (both real and imagined) became the foundation for introducing what she termed “the catastrophe of social mobility.” In particular, her foregrounding of what could be uncovered and interpreted about black women’s levels of personal agency and their capacities for social mobility during this period – including her deconstruction of women’s interactions (and intimate relations) with members of the constabulary – was an important element of this interesting and nuanced presentation. Professor Smith’s keynote lecture generated a number of questions and comments during the Q&A session concerning black female corporeality, and also women’s use of rhetorical devices such as “tracing” (i.e. the “verbal dressing down” of someone in public) when negotiating and contesting the unequal positions of power between individuals as well as the broader structural inequalities operating at the level of the nation-state.
Dr Lucy Evans presented a keynote on “The Political Thriller, State Crime and Harischandra Khemraj’s Cosmic Dance.” The paper focused on what this fictional narrative (written in 1994, and set in the imagined state of Aritya) revealed about the social, economic and political history of Guyana during the regime of Forbes Burnham. Lucy’s presentation raised a number of layered issues about power relations – presented through the characters and operational activities surrounding a fictional food processing company (Binday Coconut Enterprises). These hierarchically gendered and raced relations served as a metaphor through which Khemraj articulated his views about the real-life corporate “organisational deviance” and environmental state crime in Guyana throughout the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
The six papers presented by PhD candidates and early-career post-doctoral researchers were grouped into two thematic panel sessions.
Panel 1 on ‘Moving In/Securities’ opened with an insightful paper about the history and cultural politics of Jamaican Dancehall presented by Paris-based scholar and dancer Cyrielle Tamby – titled “Dancehall as a matrix of resistance to living realities of street dancers in Jamaica.” Through this presentation Cyrielle discussed the emergence of dancehall as a cultural phenomenon during the 1980s, the social and political symbolism of dancehall choreography, and examples of the gendered interactions between male and female dancers within different performance spaces. We were also delighted that Cyrielle’s critique featured video footage of contemporary dancehall performances as well as her own demonstration and interpretation of specific dance steps and expressive hand and body gestures.
The second research paper in this panel was titled “Careful creations: negotiating filming and collaboration in Haiti,” presented by Dr Kasia Mika (Postdoctoral Researcher in Comparative Caribbean Studies at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, Leiden, The Netherlands). The content was based on Kasia’s involvement in the conceptualisation, planning and filming of a documentary about Haiti, developed as a collaborative co-production involving scholars and film-makers affiliated to KITLV, the University of Leeds and Postcode Films (UK). Importantly, Kasia explained that the project developed from initial ideas proposed via an AHRC project led by the late Anthony Carrigan (former Lecturer in Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures, at the University of Leeds). Through this paper Kasia discussed the documentary genre as a “non-linear, thematic collage” of Haitian cultural life. Significantly, the short trailer that was shown during the conference illustrated how this film-making collective had sought to break new ground by eschewing the conventional use of sweeping, ‘panoptic,’ distanced and disembodied film footage of Haiti, shot from a helicopter, to instead concentrate on documenting more localised and personalised narratives about residents’ lived experiences. In this way, the documentary challenged the reductive binary framing of Haiti as ‘economically poor vs. culturally rich.’ Central to the discussions that emerged from this presentation was Kasia’s posing of the question, “What have you unlearned about Haiti as opposed to what have you learned?” – which also enabled delegates to discuss at length the critical practice of a “scholarship of care.”
The final paper in this panel was presented by PhD candidate Alana Osbourne (University of Amsterdam) – titled “On a Walking Tour of Trench Town: Sensing Violence in Downtown Kingston, Jamaica” – and featured analysis of the informal tours given to tourists by local residents affiliated to the Culture Yard in Trench Town. Central to this presentation was a focus on tour guides as “curators of corporeal experiences” that moved “beyond the ocular” towards a more multi-sensory consideration of a place and the communities that live there during the facilitation of different touristic encounters. Importantly, Alana’s research touched on the issue of “sensing violence” as she carefully examined the differences, tensions and negotiations that exist when touristic expectations of “(in)visible and (in)audible violence” contrast with the way violence is addressed and felt by local guides and residents of Trench Town.
During the afternoon session, the thematic panel on ‘Gendered In/Securities’ opened with a superb presentation by Dr Ara Chi Jung critiquing the work of Haitian poet Georges Castera (b. 1936, Port-au-Prince). In her paper – “Saving Face: In Search of the Masculine Subject in Georges Castera’s Le Retour à l’arbre” – Ara Chi discussed how Castera’s use of avant-garde poetic forms to “reclaim the black masculine subject” was heavily influenced by Surrealism and also the philosophies of Négritude. What was particularly interesting about this presentation was the way Dr Jung discussed Castera’s work in relation to the visual art portfolio of his friend and artistic collaborator Bernard Wah (1939-1981), who created all the illustrations for Le Retour à l’arbre (first published by Califou in 1974).
We are very grateful to Ara Chi Jung for sharing the following links to translated versions of a selection of Castera’s poetry (originally published in French and Haitian Creole):
- Georges Castera’s reflections on the 2010 Haitian earthquake, published via Creative Time in 2013 – http://creativetime.org/blog/2013/01/14/poems-by-georges-castera/
- Five poems by Georges Castera, translated from Haitian Creole, published via BOMB Magazine
- Ni Jodi, ni Ayè (Both Today, and Yesterday), by Georges Castera, published online via Hougansydney.com
- Lè ou ri [Quand tu ris] (When You Laugh), by Georges Castera (1985), published online via Lyrik Line
The literary arts focus continued with an informative critique of two recently published and celebrated texts by Caribbean authors, presented by PhD candidate Zakiya McKenzie (University of Exeter) – titled “A Critical Exploration of the Women of Marlon James’ A History of Seven Killings and Jennifer Rahim’s Curfew Chronicles.” Through this presentation, Zakiya outlined how Jennifer Rahim’s Curfew Chronicles (2017) and Marlon James’ A History of Seven Killings (2014) both used narrative fiction to explore the impacts and aftermath of real-life events written from “the precarious place of political upheaval in Caribbean islands” – specifically: the 2011 State of Emergency in Trinidad and Tobago; and the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1978, Jamaica. Central to her critique was a discussion about the extent to which an author’s activism informs their artistic practice – with Zakiya posing an important question “Does making art make you an activist?” to stimulate an interesting Q&A discussion about the role of literary artists as documentarians of the challenging and precarious nature of many women’s everyday lives in Caribbean societies.
The final paper in this panel on ‘Gendered In/Securities’ was presented by PhD candidate Masaya Llavaneras Blanco, (Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario, Canada) – titled “Fanm pa chita: Stories of Mobility and the Intimate among Haitian Domestic Workers in the Dominican Republic.” The phrase “Fanm pa chita” was loosely translated as “A woman can’t just be sitting,” and was used as the departure point for Masaya’s examination of the complex and precarious nature of Haitian migrant women’s lived experiences of migration and mobility as they traversed the border into and out of the Dominican Republic. This was a very poignant presentation – told through a selection of individual case studies – during which Masaya quoted from interviews with women whose lives were sustained through domestic work, petit trade and also intimate labour.
Members of the CARISCC Research Network are very grateful to all the conference participants and delegates who took part in these important and wide-ranging discussions about issues of in/security and creativity within the context of the Caribbean and its global diasporas.
We hope that these conversations and research dialogues will continue in the virtual realm via CARISCC’s blog and social media platforms.
Further details about the abstracts and pre-conference discussions linked to the six aforementioned panel papers can be viewed online via the CARISCC blog at: https://cariscc.wordpress.com/4th-pgr-conference-abstracts-amsterdam/
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