July 10, 2008

Sacred Crossroads conference

at Mona Campus, Jamaica

On Saturday, July 5th, I screened On the Map at the Association for Cultural Studies, Sacred Crossroads conference at Mona Campus, Jamaica.
There were initial technical difficulties, which meant that the equipment stuck eight minutes into the screening, and that Professor Kamau Brathwaite, kindly obliged by functioning as the discussant a quarter of the way into the screening, while another computer was delivered and set up.

Kamau's words flowed in a seemingly effortless way while he described how the CSME has been projected against the notion of a fragmented Caribbean and that what On the Map is doing, is bringing unity, which is already there but is not observed in practice, and that the video is talking about how to bring unity into some kind of reality.

He said that although there is unity, people believe there is a fracture. He then went onto ask the audience to imagine the birth of the Caribbean...and that although not dealt with
in the video, he established a context for understanding the tension which the video references. He spoke of the Caribbean as "a mountain range which, as a result of the tectonic forces of the world, pressed on each other, causing the Caribbean mountain range to collapse and subside into the ocean, leaving only the tops of mountains which formed the archipelago. This catastrophic event made scars upon our memory and history - we therefore inherited the echo of that catastrophe and carry the notion of fragmentation, as well as the dream of a former unity".

He said that this was the important point which the video made - the dream of unification, the dream of having unity. He gave examples of this fragmentation, in the way that Cuba is fragmented from Jamaica, although only one hundred and twenty miles apart, in the way that Africans are fragmented from Indians although they inhabited the same plantation space, Spanish from French, Europe from the Congo; all of that in a space which at one time would have had an Amerindian unity.

Kamau said that as artists and scholars, we are embattled in a tidaletic effort to recover those loss origins....and that the tidaletic is important because it is the effect of the collapse which gives the tides and the ripples. The concept of the tidaletic replaces the notion of the dialectic, and that all of this is a way to speak about the Caribbean, and that we have to find the words from nature and experience.

In the discussion to follow the screening, one viewer felt that Barbadians saw themselves as a population under a lot of pressure and that the migration into Barbados has added to concerns about coastal lands being taken from locals by foreigners. Another commented on the need for an educated approach to this dilemma and it might be just a matter of statistics to show people that they are not in fact being overrun by foreigners. Someone from Taiwan spoke about the similarity in Taiwan with their immigrant labour.

The final question was about the process of negotiating with the interviewees. She commented that the framing of the un/documented migrants was beautifully done and that it enriched the film.

Although the screening was interrupted and we had Kamau discuss the video mid-way, another viewer told me the following morning that he enjoyed having Kamau's comments at that point, because it created another lens through which to view On the Map and it informed his reading of the project in a rich and layered way.

Later that afternoon, I visited the Rock Tower Project's inaugural exhibition curated by Melinda Brown in Downtown Kingston. A bright light in the practically abandoned urban centre of Kingston, the Rock Tower is a project with vision and one which offers hope, linking artists and artisans with the idea of sustainable livelihoods. If you're in Kingston, go see this very exciting collaborative project.

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