Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sonia Boyce at Greenwich

This follows on from my previous post about the event at the National Maritime Museum last night. Click here to read it.
Sonia Boyce started out by saying that it has been said that political subject matter can never make good art.

One of the two objects she chose was a ladies’ whip. This was clearly designed to be decorative yet functional, and had a silver-plated, carved handle. Boyce then screened a short film she had made, part of which included her reading from the slave narrative of Mary Prince, an enslaved African Caribbean woman.

Prince described how familiar she became with the different types of pain inflicted by each of the different instruments used on her by her mistress, including fists used on her face and head.

Boyce had a white woman on screen describing each of the objects and her own responses to them. The second object Boyce chose was an iron ring designed to be worn around the neck, with a long iron arm and hand to be worn in front of the face. This was to serve as a constant reminder to the enslaved person of his or her status of subjugation to the white master.

The film concluded with a dance performed by young people in Carnival-type costumes. The dance celebrated and commemorated resistance by enslaved African people. We must always remember that the enslavement of our ancestors was met with constant, continuous acts of resistance by our ancestors and that our creativity was and is part of that resistance.

There followed a long discussion about the collusion of African people in their own enslavement, i.e. we were sold by other African people. Bonnie Greer pointed out that the situation is very complex and needs to be addressed. She asked whether this was the moment to address it.

I feel that this situation has been addressed for many years, in ways that are not that helpful. People say ‘I ain’t no African, I am Jamaican’. We hear our contemporaries from the Continent refer to us as ‘sons of slaves’. Greer mentioned that Ekow Eshun had stated that the Fanti people of Ghana, his ancestors, were unhappy when the Transatlantic trade ended.

One person in the audience pointed out that among the complexities we need to address – and possibly a higher priority than addressing the complexities of African people’s complicity in our own enslavement – was the complexity of the ways in which we resisted our enslavement.

Clearly, greed and exploitation occur in every society. The Buddha taught that greed, hatred and delusion are part of each and every one of us. However, we need to discuss these issues in our history and address them in ways that are going to heal us, heal our communities, heal our people and heal our species. This ongoing culture of blaming is destructive and must end. And our creativity is one way in which we can heal ourselves and each other.

See also: Poem - The Blood


Keywords: Black Arts, African creativity, African history, Transatlantic trade

Carnival – A Deeper Rhythm

The establishment, the Powers that Be, have long tried to control, curb, limit or eliminate Carnival. When the veil between past and present, the dead and the living, grows thin, the divide between Black and white, rich and poor, narrows. Carnival awakens energies which are beyond anyone’s control. The authorities are right to fear them. These forces linger from ancient times and come to life once a year.

The dancers dress up in fantasy costumes which allow them to take on altered personae. They evoke other worlds, other realms, and a deeper rhythm beats beneath their feet.

Calypsonians’ tongues lick the politicians with their observations and their wit. They mock and taunt those in authority, reminding all of who has fulfilled his responsibilities, and who has ripped off, exploited or deceived the people. Those in power may duck, dive and dance, but they cannot escape the sting in the tongue. Those in power are right to fear them.

In 1881, riots erupted in Trinidad when the colonial police attempted to clamp down on the festivities, particularly the Canboulay (canne broulee). The rioting continued for a further two years’ carnivals.

The Notting Hill Carnival began after the African Caribbean community was put under ongoing racist attack in 1958. The Carnival was seen as a way to unite local people across the cultural divide, and it has grown to become the largest street festival in Europe.

In 1976, it was the turn of the Notting Hill Carnival to be the scene of riots. It was reported that the police were attacked by African Caribbean youth after arresting a pickpocket.

For many years since then, the police have clamped down on Carnival and the authorities have repeatedly called for the celebrations to be moved from their traditional home. However, Notting Hill Carnival is a tradition which belongs to the local people and will remain local for the foreseeable future.

The organisers do everything to protect public safety. However, the forces and energies of Carnival are drawn from ancient times. Taken from their homes in distant lands, the ancestors were forced to labour, to toil and to die. Ripped from their families and loved ones beaten, raped, bled and worked to death.

At Carnival time, they were allowed briefly to remember who they were, that they were human beings, with all the creativity humans possess.

These energies lie dormant, but not dead. Once a year they are awakened. The costumes, the colours, the songs, the dances, wake the sleeping energies of the ancestors. If you dance with them, sing with them, play with them, they will bless you, protect you, or at least let you be.

Dance and sing with them, enjoy them, dress up, play mas, but do not try to control or contain them, for within them moves a powerful force. Like placing a lid on a volcano – try to contain it and it will explode, either around you or inside of you.

Click here to read an interview with Shabaka Thompson, Artistic Director of Yaa Asantewa Arts Centre.
Keywords: Carnival, Notting Hill, London, Caribbean culture
The event at the National Maritime Museum last night was excellent. Bonnie Greer chaired a panel of artists, each of whom had chosen two objects from the museum’s collection.

It is interesting to see artists engaging with these objects because they tend to see things in a way the rest of us don’t, and to bring out points we might otherwise miss.

One of the objects chosen by Keith Piper was a clock which, apparently, has been described as the most important clock in the world. It even has a name – H4. It was invented by John Harrison in 1761 and was used to solve the problem of longitude so that ships could work out where they were in the world, horizontally, as well as vertically. Vertical navigation, i.e. latitude, had been worked out by the Moors centuries before.

In 1714, the Crown offered a huge prize, the modern equivalent of which would have been around £20 million, to the person who could work out how to calculate longitude. Harrison was eventually awarded a smaller prize, in 1773.

Piper pointed out that the reason why the British were desperate to solve the problem of longitude was completely tied up with the so-called slave trade – the Transatlantic trade in African people. This is never mentioned with reference to H4, even though a book – Longitude by David Sobel – was written about it and a film has been made about it.

H4 made it much easier to transport enslaved African people because the ships’ navigation became much clear after H4’s invention. The clock was even tested on two ships – the first, the Deptford, sailed from London to Jamaica.

Piper presented a chart which showed the markup on the price of African people. At one time the markup had been 975 percent, and from 1688 to 1692, I was over 600 percent. Between 1703 and 1707 – the height of the Transatlantic trade – the markup dropped to 197 percent. After the invention of H4, the markup dropped still further.

I find it disturbing to think that my ancestors not only had prices on their heads, they had a markup. But of course they would have done, as they were considered to be goods for sale.

The evening was moving and challenging. More later.
Keywords: slave trade, Transatlantic trade, Black history, African heritage, arts, museum

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reparations + Slavery Remembrance Week

Black Britain today publishes an excellent interview with Esther Sanford who states that “What colonialism and enslavement did was to take away the African psyche and replace it with a European mindset.” Click here to read this article.

This clearly continues to have a powerful impact on us as African people, our self-image, self-esteem and creativity.

Artists have a great deal to contribute to this discussion and one of the events of Slavery Remembrance Week will be a Freedom debate to be held tomorrow night at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. Click here to read more.

I am collecting interviews with artists on the subject of enslavement and emancipation. Click here to read some of them.

Monday, August 14, 2006

An African-Centred Success Story

An elementary school in Kansas City, Mo is using an African-centred approach to learning to support its students to achieve success.

Says Kevin Bullard, coordinator of African-centered education at several schools in the district. "With the African-centered model, we ... look at [slavery] as part of the context of our history and our struggle, but only a small piece." Their timeline includes the intellectual legacy of ancient African civilizations.

Business guru René Carayol thinks we should be concentrating only 5% of our time on history, and 95% of our time on building our futures. He believes that concentrating on our history holds us back. You can read an interview with him in Black Success Stories Volume 1.

I agree with him to some extent: if we concentrate only on the history of enslavement, this may hold us back. It depends how it is taught, however. I was always taught the history of resistance alongside the history of enslavement, so I found my history very uplifting and inspiring, and I still do. My ancestors were survivors, heroes and sheroes, and I take inspiration from their example.

Of course, it is true that enslavement only forms a tiny part of our history as African people. But it is still having a devastating psychological, emotional and financial impact on us. In order to understand why we are in our current position in Western society, and why Africa is in its current state, we must understand the history of our enslavement.

Still, I agree that we also need to focus on building our future, starting from now.

Click here to order Black Success Stories Volume 1.

See also Kuumba-Survivors.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Buchi Emecheta Speaks of Women

London-based Nigerian novelist Buchi Emecheta OBE, author of over 20 novels including The Slave Girl and Second Class Citizen, talks to Zhana about her experience. Click here to read this interview.

See also:

Monday, August 07, 2006

Course for Parents and Carers

The next Parents/Carers Personal Development event will be held on Saturday 12 August 2006 at Southwark Town Hall, from 11am - 3.30pm.
The event will include information on forming a focus group to influence policy and decision makers in:
  • education,
  • housing,
  • race & crime,
  • health,
  • employment and
  • poverty.
The organisers say state that "To effect change that our children will notice requires Vision, Intelligence and Courage to do what we know must be done. Come join us, together we can change the world".

Friday, August 04, 2006

Henry Bonsu + African Identity

I have just been listening to Henry Bonsu on Colourful Radio. Of course, it is interesting listening to these things because one hears a whole range of different views, opinions and experiences.
One of Henry's guests is saying that we don't need to worry about our history or what happened 100 years ago. I completely disagree.
We need to have knowledge of our history and heritage as African people in order to be aware of our greatness and our potential. When we are clear about our identity, we know that that there are no limits to what we can achieve as people of African heritage. We live in a society in which we are constantly fed negative images of people of African heritage. Some of this conditioning is very subtle, but it is powerful all the same. It affects us and it affects our young people.
I have taught so many people in adult education who have told me that they 'can't' do such-and-such a thing because they have been fed these negative images all their lives, in the school system, through advertising, television programmes and so forth. This is why we need to celebrate our African role models and success stories.
We need to reinforce our own positive images. Our history tells us the truth about ourselves and the fact that we have contributed a huge amount to human civilisation in general, and to British society in particular, and we are continuing to do so.
Henry Bonsu is one of the interviewees in my new book, Black Success Stories.
Keywords: Henry Bonsu, Black Success Stories, African history, African heritage

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How Does Buddhism Relate to the Black Man and Woman?

Check out these links to and about Black people and Buddhism.

I am going to be leading a meditation course specifically for people of African heritage, starting in September. Please join us - you don't even need to be interested in Buddhism to get the benefit of Buddhist meditation. Click here for more info.

I am also leading a workshop on Improving Relationships/ Improving Communication with our partners, children, friends, work colleagues. Again, you don't need to be interested in Buddhism, although I have found Creative Communication/NVC to be enormously beneficial to my life and my practice. Click here for more info.
Keywords: Meditation, Buddhism, Black people, African Caribbean, Creative Communication, Nonviolent Communication, NVC