Last night we previewed Kevin Macdonald's Marley movie in Kingston's Emancipation Park. A sensitive strategy by Tuff Gong Pictures who, no doubt, wanted to win the support of a Jamaican home crowd before the film's general international release. And it worked. The multicoloured carpet that stretched the length of the park's fountain walkway to the largest centre screen, greeted Bob's family and Rastafari celebs in regal style. For those without special invitations, the park was scattered with multiple screens so that the thousands of viewers could relax throughout the grounds and watch Bob's life unfold. Although the BBC's Talking Movies had criticised Macdonald for his conventional documentary style, it was clear that this director allowed Bob, his fellow musicians and relatives to tell their story without stylistic diversions. The script was forthright while the combination of historical footage, music concerts and contemporary filming in Kingston's ghetto and the scenic rural mountains where Bob grew up, were compelling. For Marley enthusiasts, the film offered rarely seen images, including photos from the musician's teenage years and the final months of his life. For two and a half hours the crowd was mesmerized, most undeterred by the cloud burst that came just minutes from the end. It was a moving evening when Bob's natural mystic was blowing in the air.... Watch the trailer or see more preview pictures, courtesy of Panmedia
The catalog arrived only recently by mail, although the exhibition took place in Ethiopia during the summer. Yet it is extensive enough to give the viewer an understanding of Jamaican born artist/author Danijah Tafari's recent work and display. Every page brims with the energy of his new technique that forgoes formal photographic representation to capture the play of light and energy in increasingly technology overloaded cityscapes of Kingston, London, Paris and New York. In his personal statement, the artist calls his process 'drawing and painting with light', using traditional medium format cameras. He explains why his recent images such as Ethereal Body shown here, fall outside of mainstream taste and have more often been discarded by professional photo labs that consider them rejects. Yet, Danijah Tafari is drawn to what these single exposure photographs that have not been digitally enhanced communicate about the ethereal and electric auras that pervade the atmosphere around us. The idea of presenting that which is normally unseen, appeals to this artist who has long since been attracted to rastafari philosophy and a deep concern for humanity. The catalogue does not tell us how this exhibition came to take place in Addis Ababa but we sense that these brilliant images and the artist have found a spiritual home in that city of light.
This past weekend a conference held in tribute to Leonard P. Howell took place at the University of the West Indies, Mona, hosted by the Rastafari Studies Initiative. Over two days, scholars and members of Rastafari explored the life and times of the elder whom they consider a patriarch. Howell like the other famous Jamaican pan-africanist Marcus Garvey, was a traveller and although his journeys were not as well documented as Garvey's, we know that during the 1920s as a seaman, he too visited South America and Africa and he also ended up in Harlem where he honed his activism. Garvey was deported to Jamaica in 1927 and Howell followed in 1932 initially trying to establish himself as a speaker at Garvey's Eidelweiss Park but eventually giving up the city to develop his popularity in the countryside. He is famous for the establishment of a rasta settlement in St Catherine called Pinnacle where thousands gathered to live a communal lifestyle and worship HIM Haile Selassie emperor of Ethiopia, as their God incarnate. Pinnacle was dismantled by the colonial government of that day displacing its followers who fled to the already overcrowded slum areas of Kingston and added to the creative ferment that would produce musicians such as The Wailers. A controversial figure during his lifetime, now it seems that Howell is finally being given his due as one of the founding fathers of a movement that helped to raise the consciousness of black people throughout the African Diaspora. The subject of a book, many articles and even a documentary internationally, it is heartening to finally see Howell honoured as a prophet in his own country.
If as Rastas believe, we are all divine and ever living then we cannot be sad about the passing of Alton 'Barry' Chevannes one of the movement's finest scholarly supporters. Instead we must celebrate his life and consider his achievements in support of Rastafari. As a university academic and a cultural activist/pacifist Chevannes helped to remove the stigma from the movement that was once reviled and almost outlawed by the State. Today, the Rastafari movement is a global phenomenon, popularised through its music and spiritual life style. Chevannes sociologist, anthropologist and the author of important books such as Rastafari: Roots and Ideology and Rastafari and Other World Views played a significant part in extrapounding the beliefs of Rastas as well helping to decriminalise their sacred herb marijuana. As the Chairman of the Institute of Jamaica and dean of the UWI's Faculty of Social Sciences, Chevannes put his intellectual weight behind the movement helping others to see it as a modern cultural phenomenon with roots that our nation should be proud of. In this sense his legacy lives and Jah lives!
Repossession an exhibition of paintings by Clinton Hutton now showing at the the Philip Sherlock Creative Arts Centre, Mona campus demonstrates that issues related to race and blackness have still not been laid to rest in Jamaica. His are relatively small gems painted in hot colours filled with abstract forms and African symbolism that bring to mind the work of other Caribbean masters such as Leroy Clarke, Aubrey Williams, Frank Bowling and Philip Moore. Yet, for all their vibrancy, these images pay homage to Jamaican and African ancestors who are restless and unrelenting, conveying a narrative about the journey of black people in the past 500 years since slavery that is haunted with memories of the past and that yearns for a more deeply rooted existence within an African cosmology. As artist Leroy Clarke observed in his opening address, they represent a house in trouble and artists like Hutton have a moral responsibility to re-chart the ruins...and reclaim our true identities.The exhibition will resonate most with viewers of an earlier generation whose sensibilities are rooted in the philosophies of Black Power, Rastafari and race consciousness. It speaks positively about the legacy of the African Diaspora in our music, dance and spiritual forms but also more poignantly about lost connections and our aberrant contemporary existence. This is understandable because Clinton Hutton is a man of his times, a child of the sixties educated in the turbulant times of Walter Rodney, and the political and cultural upheavals that Rastafari provoked in the 70s and 80s. It is interesting then, that as a lecturer at the University of the West Indies Hutton's exhibition is welcomed by peers who now hold positions of influence within the Academy and the very institution that might have once questioned black consciousness. Perhaps this is the 'repossession' of which Hutton and Clarke speak, in the struggle to achieve self we must continue to make noise; a restive beating that demands to be seen and demands to heard. Photo credit © Knolly Moses 2010