Join Robert and Linda, the editors of ArtsEtc, as they offer personal takes and twists on culture in Barbados and beyond... Stage Right, Stage Left continues a journey started seven years ago in ArtsEtc: The Premier Cultural Guide to Barbados, their groundbreaking print newsletter. Follow the rest of the adventure online at www.artsetcbarbados.com.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Haiku for a New Year...

Carolle Bourne is an
award-winning poet and
author of Saraband:
The Incomplete Works
of Caroline Ravenspeare

• To read more haiku, or to submit your own, visit the ArtsEtc Haiku Gallery.

A reshaping of shadows

SAMBO. Nigger. Nig-nog. Golliwog. These epithets, and others, cast long shadows over my childhood and I have kept safe and unsafe distances from them ever since.

But in her latest collection of poetry, Ship Shape (Peepal Tree, 2008), Dorothea Smartt forces a bridging of distances by boldly reimagining the story behind one of those names. And if ArtsEtc offered prizes for forceful bridging and bold reimagination (hey, and maybe we should!) then one would go to this Brit-born Bajan international, as Kamau has dubbed her.

Dorothea Smartt
at the launch
of Ship Shape.

Samboo (the spelling Smartt opts for) is reintroduced to us as ‘Bilal’, an eight year-old slave boy. In one telling poem, we meet him in Barbados, frightened and alone, contemplating his fate and a lunar eclipse on the eve of his ship’s departure. If the hurt of names hurled across school playgrounds estranged me from the truths behind them, and from other dark aspects of slave and racial heritage, then Smartt’s poem had me racing back, arms wide in a protective, even maternal, embrace towards Bilal.

The poems evolved from Smartt’s own research: a commissioned delving into the real history of an African named Samboo, who died shortly after his arrival in 18th century Lancaster, England, and is buried there. The book is split into two: Bilal’s story counter-weighed by, but also loosely connected to a second part dealing with contemporary themes of Caribbean families and migration.

The Barbados launch of Ship Shape was held at the Waterfront Café (left) in January, with Smartt sharing her stage with local writers Philip Nanton, Linda M. Deane and recent Colly winner, Karen Lord. — LMD

L’Ouverture, in Dreams

I glimpse but don’t fully grasp

the reason for the haunting

or why David’s chanting shangos

in and out my head. Unsung

Jacobins extend their reach

into my exile, across dark

unending chapters they grip

tight. I turn the news, again,

flick through, pick

through rubble spanning ages

and stumble upon beauty,

like a fortress, facing me;

The features akin to mine,

that might have been (and

might have been)

for kinks in Geography

and History twisting

triangles and dreams.

© Linda M. Deane. (Read as a prayer for Haiti at the launch of Dorothea Smartt’s Ship Shape at the Waterfront Café, January 16, 2010.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

And the winners are...

ArtsEtc extends hot congrats to the winners of the 2009 Frank Collymore Literary Endowment. The awards ceremony was held at the Grand Salle, Central Bank in Bridgetown on Saturday, January 9, 2010.

L-r: Ag. Chair of the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Committee, Boo Rudder, Governor of the Central Bank Mr. DeLisle Worrell, recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award, Lance Bannister, first prizewinner Karen Lord, third prizewinner Heather Barker, and Mrs. DeLisle Worrell. (Absent is second prizewinner, Glenville Lovell who lives overseas.)

Dr. Karen Lord, has set a precedent by becoming the first writer ever to win the top prize two years in a row. Last year, as a newcomer, she won for the speculative fiction novel Redemption in Indigo (due to be published this year). Now she has followed up that triumph with something of similar sci-fi nature, with a romantic twist: The Best of All Possible Worlds. Second place went to novellist and playwright Glenville Lovell for the play Sodom. Third was Heather Barker for the short story collection The Millipede Eats the Mongoose. Dr. Lance Bannister won the Prime Minister’s prize for a short story collection submitted as Barbados Evergreen.

If the winners weren't already fired up by the prospect of their success on the night then they certainly would have been by Dr. George Lamming’s feature address. It was lengthy, but that kind of made up for the fact that we don't see him often enough. We reckon he ought to be out and about a lot more, and addressing younger and non-literary audiences, too.

Anyway, he engaged the Colly crowd and was, by turns, lighthearted, fierce, challenging, humorous; full of dramatic gestures and emphasis as he explained, for example, why reading is a political act. Literature is never just literature, he intoned: it is politics, economics, philosophy, sociology. The 8 hours a day he spends reading are spent not just reading, but understanding and analysing—a lesson taught to him by Frank Collymore himself. Lamming also illustrated how Caribbean writers such as Kamau Brathwaite, Derek Walcott and others have confronted the language of the coloniser face on, turned it on its head to create a new, conquering statements of their own. (No illustrations offered from younger pens, however.)

But he did urge younger writers to engage the “elusive Barbadian audience” where and whenever they can.

The Collys are now in their 12th year. Perhaps it’s time the Endowment Committee considered marking this milestone by publishing an anthology of winning work thus far – and maybe capturing a bit of that elusive audience into the bargain.— LMD

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How to get chucked out of an art gallery – musings on a packed cultural weekend

EVERY once in a while, you get a crazy weekend. There's ink scrawled all over Saturday and Sunday on your desk calendar, a spaghetti junction of arrows, venues and times. You think, ‘Hell, if it looks that messy on paper, what's it's gonna be like for real?’ This January, without even going anywhere near the Barbados Jazz Festival or the Barbados Music Awards, I found out.

Enter. Stage right. Saturday, January 9. The Grande Salle, Tom Adams Financial Centre, Bridgetown.

This was the 12th Annual Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Awards, or what is affectionately known as “The Collys”. I regard it as our literary equivalent of the Oscars or Grammys. There's not a lot of mass celebration of the writing and writers in Barbados, so I reckon it’s the one true time each year we get to put on a bit of ritz. Me, I get myself gladded up and I go to support our own. The guest speakers of recent years have been rousing and I find the awards a perfect way to start the new year with renewed focus; it’s a chance to rekindle the flame and faith that keeps us on that tightrope without a net a.k.a being a writer.

I guess there was lots of rekindling going on this year because the Grande Salle was packed. There's always a sizeable crowd, but never enough bodies, it seems, to stop the AC from producing goose-flesh as you sit through the feature address. This year, though, there were bodies galore. People turned out en masse. Standing room only, the ushers were telling latecomers and so it was: friends I bumped into afterward said they were sitting out in the lobby! And I could have left my pashmina at home.

Maybe it was the drawing card of George Lamming as guest speaker that brought folk out. Sure he spoke long, but it was gripping, and I reckon if this year’s winners weren't already fired up at the prospect of their own success on the night they certainly would have been by George's verbal flame-throwing. Anyway, warm congrats to Karen, Glenville, Heather and Lance from ArtsEtc.

We just love this photo
of a delighted Heather,
by the way!

Afterwards, the Collys spilled out, as it always does, into the lobby, into the coolness of the courtyard or out through the glass doors and onto the steps leading up to the nearby Frank Collymore Hall. It's then that, over a glass of wine and a hors d’oeuvre, you get to swap notes with your fellow suspects — the usual ones, new ones, or a potential one, as the case may be. It's lively, relaxed, friendly. Across the space you might spot someone gesticulating at you. You look behind you, just in case it's someone else they're hailing. But no! It's you, so you raise your glass in a toast to them above the heads of the other minglers, and work your way towards each other. More note swapping.


Now, Sunday, January 10 of this chocka weekend saw several of the same suspects up in Speightstown for the visual arts equivalent of a pub crawl, the highlight of which was Ras Ishi Butcher's Secret Diaries at the newly refurbished Old Pharmacy. Roger Chubb of Lancaster House was the maverick behind this crawl, or Arts Promenade. It started officially at Lancaster House in St. James where two of Ishi's outsized canvases that couldn't fit into the Old Pharmacy were on show along with other work by Lyman Whittaker, Patty Boyd and Bob Kiss.

Arrive in Speightstown, and what I cannot help but call ye olde worlde charm of this northern fishing town just seeps warmly into the spirit in a way that St. Lawrence and Oistins to the south and Bridgetown just... don’t! Visitors to the exhibition are spilling out of the Old Pharmacy and into the street with their drinks. Inside, there's room to swing a kitten maybe. Audio-visually, it's bright and loud, and it takes a moment or two to realise that it is Ishi's remarkable canvases that closely line the walls and not some interior designer's mural fantasy.

Diario secreto seis,
Ras Ishi Butcher,
mixed media, 2008
57 ins x 60 ins

That is how Ishi's Diaries struck me, in that intimate Pharmacy setting—like a maze of inter-related murals - to be viewed (or read, or decoded even?) in entirety rather than to be sold and enjoyed individually. Not that we don't wish him heaping success with the red tags, of course! Each diary “entry” is a large canvas square upon which the artist has expressed himself hieroglyphically and big, or through a series of smaller, more intricate squares. A very handsome catalogue-style publication accompanies the show.

Close the Diary for a while and step outside. Across the street there is live jazz at the Star Bar. Listen for a bit before continuing the crawl a short way up Queen’s Street to the Northern Business Centre which houses a number of gallery spaces including the Gallery of Caribbean Art.

There, American artist and graphic illustrator Fran Scott Attaway brings an ethereal and attuned outsider’s spin to the Barbadian landscape: Oistins at night, fishing boats, fish pots, egrets, hummingbirds, the moon on the ocean, decaying plantation houses where mongooses dance in the basement. (Click here for links to her artist page at the Gallery of Caribbean Art.) Fran's pieces look like rich illustrations for a magic storybook but they work well on a wall, too. Meanwhile, there's other activity in the business centre: more paintings in the space immediately next door, and downstairs, in The Constant Gallery, promenaders leave their shoes at the door and check out a dizzying floor-to-ceiling display of Persian rugs.

Back to the Old Pharmacy with its wooden flooring and shabby chic, where people are still arriving at something to 10 p.m. There's fresh mingling, waving of wine glasses and swapping of notes: an idea for a cross-cultural something on the beach; a jazz thing here; a book launch and some open mic there.

Earlier I’d spotted the acting curator of Queen's Park Gallery and given her an apologetic smile. That's where my evening had begun, not at Lancaster House, but in Bridgetown, at QPG where Art Beyond the Sea, an exhibition of Barbadian work that has been featured at major shows overseas, is on until February 20. It threw up some gems and so, even though I'd arrived ridiculously close to chucking out time, I found myself very leisurely browsing the walls.

Clockwise from top,
some of the Bajan art
that’s been ‘beyond the sea’: Ann Dodson’s
The Sacrifice;
Natalie Atkins-Hinds’ The Separation;
Sowing Seeds Reaping Leaves
by Wayne Hinds;
ceramic tile by Juliana Inniss;
and Onkphra’s mahogany sculpture
De Musician.

I've never had a curator come up to me before, handbag over shoulder, keys in hand trying to usher me out. “We have to close up now if we're going to make it to Speightstown for Ishi's show,” she said, eyes firmly on the door and with an invitation to return next week if necessary. I scuttled around the room, taking a few last notes, and skipped out before she called the bouncers. Good to know we both made it to Speightstown, Alberta! And thanks for crossing off something I never knew was on my bucket list: I now know How to get Chucked out of an Art Gallery. Like I said, every now and again, you get one of those weekends.

[For detailed listings on shows mentioned and other events, click here.]

Exit. Stage Left. — LMD