Small Axe: A Journal of Caribbean Criticism focuses on publishing critical work that examines the ideas that guided the formation of Caribbean modernities. It mainly includes scholarly articles, opinion essays, and interviews, but also includes literary works of fiction and poetry, visual arts, and reviews. Through the Small Axe Project its contributors aim “to participate both in the renewal of practices of intellectual and cultural criticism in the Caribbean and in the expansion and revision of the scope and horizons of such criticism – acknowledging a tradition of criticism in and about the regional and diasporic Caribbean.”
As a prelude to developing a new research proposal for 2019, and beyond, CARISCC’s principal investigator (Dr Patricia Noxolo) convened and hosted a planning and consultation event at the University of Birmingham, 12-13th September 2018. The two-day programme included presentations of research papers and portfolios of creative practice that catalysed important and wide-ranging discussions about the complex relations between in/security and creative agency in people’s everyday lives.
An overview of the presentations given by three guest contributors from the Caribbean region are summarised below.
(1) ‘Who are you? : Finding identity in Post-independent Barbados’ – presented by museologist Kevin Farmer, Deputy Director, Barbados Museum & Historical Society.
In this presentation Kevin Farmer discussed the founding of Barbados Museum and Historical Society in 1933, the development of the institution’s extensive artefact collections and a review of its nationally and internationally significant archival holdings dating back to the 1600s. He also discussed the museum’s changing role as a post-independent space for presenting and discussing difficult histories, as well as how heritage professionals within Barbados and the other islands and nations of the wider Caribbean region are responding to the inter-linked geo-political, socio-economic and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Kevin commented on how issues concerning people’s changing personal and collective sense of identity have been key discourses before and since colonisation, and that many museums in the region (including those like BMHS established during the colonial era, as well as post-independent institutions, such as the People’s Museum of Craft and Technology, Spanish Town, Jamaica, established in the early 1960s) are now emerging as important heritage spaces where such narratives can be presented and explored in all their pluralities, and viewed through what was referred to as “the lens of structures created for colonial and post-colonial representation of self.”
The presentation concluded with details about international partnerships and projects already established with universities, other educational institutions and heritage organisations in the region, and beyond. BMHS archival holdings pertaining to histories of enslavement and emancipation in Barbados – as detailed online in the UNESCO Memory of the World listings concerning the ‘Documentary Heritage of Enslaved People of the Caribbean’ – were highlighted as particularly significant research resources for future collaborative work between BMHS and CARISCC network members.
(2) ‘Kibri A Kulturu: Arts and Culture for Development’ – presented by Surinamese contemporary visual artist Marcel Pinas (via Skype from the Netherlands)
Internationally renowned visual artist Marcel Pinas joined the consultation session via Skype from Amsterdam, and gave an illustrated talk about his portfolio of watercolour paintings, collages, sculptures and mixed-media installations. Examples of his artwork were presented alongside information about the Maroon history and heritage of the Ndjuka community in eastern Suriname from which he hails, as well as updates about a number of important educational projects, cultural festivals, sustainably funded arts and crafts initiatives and other community development programmes he has helped to establish in the Marowijne district over the past few decades.
The artist’s early career began at the Nola Hatterman Art Institute in Paramaribo, followed by studies at Anton de Kom University, Paramaribo, and a three-year scholarship at Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts in Jamaica (1997-1999). Marcel’s residency in Jamaica was described as pivotal to the development of what has now become his signature technique of creating paintings and sculptures inscribed with Afaka symbols – a West African inspired syllabary of 56 characters, named after its Surinamese inventor Afaka Atumisi that was researched and developed in c.1910 to formally document the Ndjuka language.
Since the mid-1990s Marcel has taught fine art at Nola Hatterman Art Academy, and has also presented a number of high-profile solo and group exhibitions at galleries and biennales in Guiana, Cuba, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Successful fundraising initiatives achieved through partnerships with charitable institutions and revenue from the sale of his own artwork enabled Marcel to set up the Kibii Wi Foundation and TAS – Tembe Art Studio in Moengo in 2010 to provide training and support for emerging local artists from this area. His entrepreneurship and strong commitment to arts education also encouraged him to develop a series of cultural festivals promoting the music, dance and visual arts of Moengo to national and international audiences.
A new photography exhibition – ‘Moving Jamaica: Scottish-Caribbean Connections and Local-Global Journeys’ – will be displayed at the Lamb Gallery in Dundee, from 19 October 2018 to mid-January 2019.
Curated by CARISCC network member Dr Susan Mains (School of Social Sciences, University of Dundee) the exhibition features a range of unique historical and contemporary photographs that provide insights into the past, present and future cultural landscapes of Jamaica and their Scottish connections.
Developed as a collaborative project between the University of Dundee and the University of St Andrews Library Special Collections the presentation includes 19th-century images by Dundee photographers Valentine & Sons displayed alongside recent work by internationally acclaimed contemporary photographers Varun Baker (Jamaica) and Stephen McLaren (Scotland).
While photographic images have historically played an important role in promoting tourist destinations, the exhibition highlights that they run in parallel to more complex, dynamic and revealing stories.
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. Continue reading “A Review of CARISCC 4th International Conference on Caribbean In/Securities and Creativity – University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, 13 June 2018”→
CARISCC has had a great month at the Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), Birmingham. Our touring research and art exhibition has been part of MAC’s ‘Beyond Windrush‘ programme, so we have been privileged to sit alongside a new mural by the legendary Vanley Burke, and a new photographic exhibition by Andrew Jackson – for an informed review, read Carol Dixon’s recent Museumgeographies post. The launch event was PACKED with people who are interested in Birmingham’s long Caribbean arts history, and we had lots of feedback and conversations about the exhibition. On the launch night I also had the great pleasure of attending Phoenix Dance Company’s new production ‘Windrush: Movement of the People‘ – it was a joyous night of sometimes painfully thoughtful, but also intensely colourful dance performances, which continues to tour in a range of venues across the country. Don’t miss it if you can help it. All the exhibitions are running until 1st July, so do come and have a look.
A few days ago CARISCC was hosted by NewStyle radio The producer Paulette Francis-Green, and host Anthony Bailey interviewed myself and Derek Bishton about CARISCC, about the exhibition, and about the Shashamane screening (see below). A radio interview was a first for me, but the team made us feel very welcome and we entered into a wide-ranging and fascinating discussion. It was a welcome introduction to this long running and highly necessary local community resource.
CARISCC also hosted a screening of Giulia Amati’s film ‘Shashamane‘, a beautiful, tender and moving film about the continuing blessings and challenges faced by a Rastafarian community settled on land given by Haile Selassie in the 1940s. MAC’s Hexagon Theatre was sold out, and the room was filled with people who had either been to Shashamane many times or who were keen to find out more. The after-film discussion was graced by a highly-esteemed panel, including Shango Baku, Mama D, Derek Bishton, Queeni Thomas, and Sister Stella, each of whom gave soulful, personal and well-informed insights into the Shashamane community itself, but also into the processes through which it has been documented, including its particular links to Birmingham’s black community, and into the larger network of Rastafarian community that has formed across the African continent. I am very grateful to all who made this such a successful event.
The CARISCC Research Network will be hosting a film screening of the documentary Shashamane, directed by Giulia Amati, at Midlands Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, B12 9QH, United Kingdom, on Thursday 10th May 2018, 6.30-9.30pm.
Filmed on location in Birmingham, London, Kingston and Shashamane, this documentary records the unique experience of Caribbean, American, French and British Rastafari who settled in Shashamane in Ethiopia. The film explores the histories and legacies of colonial enslavement, and also offers outstanding testimonies of the joys and the challenges of returning to Africa, expressed by those who have made this important journey.
The screening will commence at 7pm, introduced by Patricia Noxolo (University of Birmingham), the lead researcher for CARISCC.
The event will also include a panel discussion with the following distinguished guests:
Giulia Amati – Film-maker and director of Shashamane
The fifth staging of CARISCC’s touring presentation “Negotiating Caribbean In/Securities through Creativity: A Research Project and Art Exhibition” will be displayed at Midlands Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, B12 9QH, UK, from Friday 4 May to Sunday 1 July 2018.
This FREE exhibition is part of a broader Leverhulme Trust-funded initiative – titled, Caribbean In/Securities: Creativity and Negotiation in the Caribbean (CARISCC) –specifically curated to showcase details about the important research themes currently being examined by CARISCC’s international interdisciplinary network of scholars.
The network’s members are based at seven leading institutions for Caribbean Studies (the universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Dundee in the UK; The University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands; Brock University in Canada; and Rutgers University in the USA), and all work in close collaboration with academics from the University of the West Indies at its campuses in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago. Through CARISCC, the network’s members look at how Caribbean people deploy their creative energy to live with the everyday effects of poverty, inequality, social conflict and environmental challenges, while also generating globally influential creativity in political, literary, dance, aural, visual and audio-visual cultures.
The visual arts strand of the CARISCC exhibition includes recently commissioned work by sculptural artist Sonia E. Barrett, whose installation piece “The Difficult Conversation” (2017) was developed in consultation with local residents from African and Caribbean diaspora communities in Chapeltown, Leeds, using found furniture to creatively interpret the network’s themes of precarity, in/security, vulnerability and resilience.
Digital projections of paintings, photographs, documentary film clips and multi-media installations by 11 other high-profile contemporary visual artists of Caribbean descent will also be shown in this exhibition, presented alongside documentary photography taken by members of the CARISCC research network during recent field-trips to the Caribbean region.
The exhibition’s opening reception will take place on Friday 4 May 2018, 6-8pm. This launch event will include light refreshments and an introductory talk by Dr Pat Noxolo, the network’s lead researcher. The visual art and the fieldwork photography will then remain on display at Midlands Arts Centre (Tuesdays – Sundays, 11am-5pm) through to Sunday 1 July 2018.
The launch for CARISCC’s event at MAC Birmingham has been scheduled to coincide with the opening of “From a Small Island” – a recently commissioned series of new works by the award-winning photographer Andrew Jackson. Following a visit to Jamaica in 2017, this exhibition was curated to reflect on the identities of Jamaican Diaspora communities since the post-war migration to Britain, and the lives of subsequent generations born in the UK. Further details about the exhibition “From a Small Island” are available online at https://macbirmingham.co.uk/exhibition/from-a-small-island.
For further information, please also write to CARISCC’s Network Facilitator (Dr Carol Ann Dixon) c/o the University of Birmingham: C.A.Dixon@bham.ac.uk.
Exhibition information (in summary):
Negotiating Caribbean In/Securities through Creativity: A Research Project and Art Exhibition
Dates: Friday 4 May – Sunday 1 July 2018
Venue: Midlands Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, B12 9QH, UK
Opening times: Tuesdays to Sundays, 11am – 5pm
The central theme for the 3rd Biennial International Dance Conference is “Decolonizing Bodies: Engaging Performance.” This conference will take place on May 23-26, 2018, at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination of the University of the West Indies-Cave Hill, Barbados. The deadline for abstract submissions is February 15, 2018. Description/Guidelines: The University of the […]
During the CARISCC Research Network’s trip to Jamaica I was pleased to visit the National Gallery, located on Ocean Boulevard in downtown Kingston close to the city’s scenic Waterfront. Although the National Gallery was first established by a special committee of the Jamaican government in the early 1970s, with an embryonic collection of 230 works placed on public display at Devon House in 1974 […]