UNCOVER, RECOVER, DISCOVER

Exhibition at Barbados Museum and Historical Society, The Garrison, St. Michael, Barbados

Opens 28 July 2009.


Uncover, Recover, Discover


We must confront what we remember and why we forget.
The time has come to celebrate the heritage we possess,
mourn what has been lost,
uncover the obscured,
recover the endangered
and discover the hidden.

UNESCO took the initiative in 1992 to create the Memory of the World Programme to guard against collective amnesia. Its premise is that the world's documentary heritage belongs to us all, and therefore should be preserved, protected and permanently accessible to everyone.

Heritage is not a luxury. It is integral to the protection of all human rights as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). It is the foundation from which the values and practices of local communities are understood, respected, encouraged and accommodated. Without this respect our future heritage resources will not be sustained. Local communities need to have a sense of ownership of their heritage. This reaffirms their worth as a community, their ways of going about things, their culture.

This exhibition, to coincide with Barbados hosting the annual meeting of the International Advisory Committee of the UNESCO Memory of the World programme, will feature original materials from Caribbean memories that have already been inscribed on the International Memory of the World Register :
- The Eric Williams Collection, Trinidad
- The C.L.R. James Collection, Trinidad
- The Derek Walcott Collection, Trinidad and
- The Documentary Heritage of Enslaved Peoples of the Caribbean, Barbados.

It is also a chance to see memorabilia of iconic figures from many fields including calypsonians Red Plastic Bag and Adrian Clarke; pioneering artist Francs Griffith; father of the nation Sir Grantley Adams and cricket legend and National Hero the Right Excellent Sir Garry Sobers.

In addition to curating the exhibition, The Barbados National Committee for the Memory of the World also asked artist Ingrid Persaud to make work on the theme of memory. The resulting film, Talkin’ Wid De Old Folks, features local children talking about their elderly relatives and provocative installation, Stroll Down Memory Lane, which raises questions about the many facets of memory, are also on view at the Barbados Museum.

EMERGENCY ART

I can’t think clearly. It may be symptomatic of my space becoming a dumping ground while The Husband sets up his workspace in a fabulous man-cave overlooking the garden. Of course I’m not jealous. I would never begrudge His Grey Eminence such small necessities when he is in residence. Apparently he thinks best while pacing up and down. And if he paces the length and breath of this modest office each day there will be no need for a Surfside Gym membership so giving Top Dog the space is a no-brainer.

Or perhaps the blame for my lack of creativity could be put squarely at the feet of his kids. At first I thought it was tinnitus but the doctor said that particular aliment is normally associated with a constant buzzing sound whereas the ringing in my ears includes language. It usually starts with “MOmmm!” and then “I’m bored.” Or “MOmmm! I’m starving”. I have tried to explain that being bored between meals during July and August is part of a balanced childhood. They remain unconvinced.

So if the failure to make the artwork I have been commissioned to do is not a result of environmental factors maybe the cause lies deep within my psyche. It would be a real blow to discover there is no one else to blame. Well I’m not there yet. There are still more contributory factors to consider. Geraldine, who after a distinguished career in HR has gone back to university to study psychology, was telling me about the importance of the hypothalamus. Her lecturer’s notes included an aide memoire reminding students that this almond-shaped, all-important bit of the brain “controls the four f’s of survival: feeding, fleeing, fighting and mating”. Clearly my fs are out of sync.

Of course the people who have commissioned the work don’t give a flying fish about my angst as long as it is all done and dusted when the hoi polloi turn up on 28 July. But I have a proper dilemma. I was asked to make work about memory in the context of a larger exhibition about the international preservation of documentary memory. The proposal they accepted had me waxing lyrical about participatory work in the community that celebrated the memories of ordinary people. They loved it. But when I started to implement said plan to make the participatory art I encountered a tiny glitch. The community did not want to participate. Out of a couple hundred residents from two neighbourhoods only two people talked to me; one heckled (‘Guyanese, yuh lookin’ sweet); one threatened me (‘You better watch yuhself’); several let their dogs do the talking; and one chased me off her property.

So I tried a different tack. I asked young people from two schools to talk to their elderly relatives or neighbours about old times and report back. I would film the result and be hailed the next Spielberg. This time I greased the path with all-you-can-eat pizza and guzzle-till-you-feel-queasy fizzy drinks.
Lights, camera…
Silence.
It would be easier to get Madoff out of jail than to get these relatives to actually talk to the children and then for the children to talk to me. The children were mainly clueless about the past. Ironically most admitted to spending significant amounts of time with their grandparents or even living with them.

All of this leaves me with two choices. I could give the money back, saying how sorry I am while citing my own dysfunctional childhood as the root cause of today’s non-performance. Or, I could give them the sad reality I have found. Like my patrons, I too had sepia-toned ideas about memory and time and narratives passing down the generations. I forgot that not enough time post-independence has passed for us as a people to be at ease with our past. Economic circumstances may have gotten better but for many the changes have been incremental. Social mobility continues at the pace of a Giant African Snail. Walls dividing neighbourhoods may have come down but custom still dictates where you are welcome.

Memories are things we have a place in our history for. Trauma is the stuff that has not yet found its place. What I found was the trauma of the unfinished and the unspeakable that refuses to take its place in history. Our experiences cannot yet be done and dusted and offered up for history. And how do I stay true to that trauma without neutralizing it through art? Answers appreciated before 28 July.

THE ARTIST, THE HUSBAND, HIS FREEZER AND HER OVEN

The benefits of travel are enormous and especially important if your experience is confined to a rock that is twenty one by fourteen miles. If only our people travelled more then they might be less afraid of the pesky immigrants crashing through their borders. This became clear when the nice man who came to fix our stove took one look at our statute of Buddha pouring water into a small pond and exclaimed,
‘Wat dat?
Pause.
‘It’s a representation of Buddha’ I said.
‘You Muslim?’ he retorted.
‘No.’
Pause.
I really needed to get this conversation back to the flaming stove.
‘I am not religious but people who worship Buddha are called Buddhists.’
He screwed up his face, assumed The Prancing Grasshopper pose and growled,
‘I know dat! Dat Bruce Lee, Kung Fu ting!’
‘Great. Now, do you have the part the stove needs?’

And I need the stove to be in perfect working condition because it is the summer vacation and First and Second Born appear to be going through a growth spurt. How else can one explain the mountains of food they consume? Every minute of the 69 days, 8hours that school is officially closed has to be carefully orchestrated with some activity a long way from the kitchen like golf or squash, just to distract them from eating. The North American tradition of packing their suitcases and waving them off to a camp where they will learn such life skills as handling a kayak, or killing a mosquito Obama-style, is beginning to look very attractive. In the meantime I am stuck cooking three full meals a day and providing snacks in between.

So when my birthday rolled round this week I demanded a cooking-free day. My delightful parents came over bearing Chinese take-away and a present. They gave me an oven.
‘What do you mean this oven is my present? I didn’t put this on my Amazon wish list!’
‘Your mother knows you really needed an oven sweetheart.’ replied Papa calmly.
I fought back the tears.
‘So what’s it going to be next year? ‘A super-duper vacuum cleaner?’
Mom grinned.
‘Do you want the new Dyson vacuum dear?’
Is it any wonder the first two years of therapy are spent talking about your mother?

When I finally mopped up the puddle of tears I had wept at getting older and getting an oven I looked around at the rest of the appliances and realized Da Costa Manning had still not repaired the new freezer I had bought from them. The thing had worked for three months then refused to get cold. That was March. I was tired of being fobbed off week after week so decided it was time to deploy the only weapon that works in getting things done in Bim: an assertive man. Ladies, before you stamp on my bunions consider the number of times you have asserted your rights only to realize that your voice is only heard if it is attached to a body with a penis (size irrelevant).

The Husband was marched down to the department store. First Born pulled him aside to offer some advice.
‘If they don’t fix our freezer tell the manager you will call his mother.’
Armed with this ace, and the awareness that sexism may be in decline, he approached the store manager. She did the same polite “we are waiting for the parts” routine. Then the magic began.
‘Would you agree that waiting for the parts for three months is unacceptable?’ he asked in his mild but firm voice.
‘Sir, we are doing all we can.’ (I was never Ma’am!)
‘That is not what I asked. Do you agree that waiting for the parts for three months is unacceptable?’ he insisted.
‘Sir, I am going to call the port tomorrow morning and call you tomorrow morning with what I find out.’ she replied.
‘I’m sorry that is not what I asked. Do you agree that waiting for the parts for three months is unacceptable?’
‘Yes it is unacceptable.’ she sighed.
‘So when you call me tomorrow morning, if you do not have the part will you instead offer me a solution to this unacceptable position?’
We were offered an action plan to be implemented within twenty-four hours.

But there was no need. They turned up early the next morning with the impossible-to-locate parts and fixed our freezer.

I’m off to bake the family a cherry pie.

WE PROMISE YOU PARADISE

Times are hard and money is too tight to mention. If you can still afford a vacation we really want you to come to our small rock. Never mind the scandalous treatment of undocumented workers or the huge hike in water rates because the water company failed to put aside funds for depreciation. None of this will perturb your paradise. You must come here for the exquisite beaches, superb restaurants and friendly people.

Well the beaches are fantastic but maybe best to avoid Mullins Beach because the extensive building works in that area have directly caused severe beach erosion. Restaurants are world class but once you are prepared to pay London prices your digestion will be easier. And the friendly people you might meet on the beach are very friendly if you want to buy shells or get your hair braided. The rest of the population will treat you as if you have had a longstanding quarrel or more likely ignore you.

But these are minor matters. I really, really want you to choose Barbados rather than Bali for the summer or winter hols. Maybe you have been put off because there are questions you have but were too afraid to ask. I have gathered a number of such questions that the Tourist Board have neglected to address and provided answers to the best of my ability. These are authentic, hearsay inquiries. If you have others please drop me line.

1. What part of Jamaica is Barbados?
Barbados is NOT part of Jamaica. Yet. However, on current trends Jamaica will become part of Barbados. If you are in Jamaica and trying to find Barbados take an airline called LIAT and keep heading south. You might get here one day. Your luggage never will.


2. Do the natives speak English?
If this question is from an American then the answer is yes they do speak English so bring a dictionary and phrase book to help you along.


3. Is the hurricane season rainy?
Oh just a little. Best to have a brolly.


4. Are there nudist beaches?
Yes! Yes! Yes! Accra Beach on the south coast. Anytime. It is not compulsory so you might find everyone else in beachwear but do not feel constrained. Text me when you plan to be there.


5. Can I go topless around town?
Yes! Yes! Yes! Let nature’s soothing breezes caress your chest. Again, text me when you plan to be there.


6. What side of the road do they drive on in Barbados?
Difficult this one but suffice it to say it is never the one you expect.


7. How good is the ganga?
This organic herb is occasionally grown in St. Philip. However, Barbados is part of the Caribbean Economic Community and cheap imports from neighbouring St. Vincent are in plentiful supply. Note that free movement of goods is still way ahead of free movement of Vincentians, Guyanese and Jamaicans. (Dear First and Second Born: I didn’t inhale.)


8. I hear there are a lot of Russian escorts - is this true and are they less expensive than in London?
Yes. No.


9. Is there a website where female tourists can choose a beach stud for a two-week vacation?
www.iwantofoopinbarbados.com


10. How do I say “Good Morning” in Spanish?
Good Fooping.


11. What if I die on the way to Barbados? Will they fly my body straight back or must it go through immigration first?
Meat and meat-related products may not enter the country without an appropriate permit obtained from the Licensing Authority in The Pine so please obtain one before you die.


12. I met a boy on Accra beach last summer. We fell in love and had the most amazing two weeks together but he has not responded to my letters or emails. His name is Marlon. Can you help me find again?
Normally I would have to ask you to write to Dear Christine in The Nation but Lady Luck is with you my friend. Marlon is still renting beach chairs at the Crane Beach and looking well fit. You still have to pay his hourly rate but for true love it is a small price.


13. Can you buy a decent burger and fries?
Sandy Lane Club House does an excellent burger. It will cost the same as a small Chattel House, but if a fish cutter is not your thing then go for it. The economy needs more people like you.


14. Where does Rihanna live?
100 yards from Chris Brown.