…where are the songs about the 2010 Tivoli Massacre? An entire week of bloodletting yet nothing’s come out of Jamaica’s prolific music establishment? Nothing from our Reggae stalwarts or up-and-comers? The silence seems so opposite of our musical and cultural traditions that I’m surprised I haven’t noticed this before. This may be ironic but it’s times like these that I miss Buju the most. Mourn the death of Garnett Silk. And bemoan the disappearance of Sizzla. Please, if I’m missing the song or songs please let me know. If i’m missing the dub poetry let me know.
That was @Cucumberjuice on her blog wondering why our singers have been so tongue tied about the massacre of 73 civilians in Tivoli Gardens in the wake of their hunt for Dudus in May 2010. Well, it’s true that one is hard pressed to think of a song dedicated to the victims of that state-sponsored mini-Armageddon but on March 15, 2012, one day before Christopher Lloyd Coke or Dudus as he’s known was due to be sentenced, Jamaican artist Ebony G. Patterson held a preview of her stunning work ‘Of 72’ dedicated to the 72 men who died in that violent episode. The single female who was killed was also represented by a portrait though her presence wasn’t referenced in the title.
In recent years Ebony’s work has focused on the Jamaican male…in particular, males who shock out in blinged out, elaborate clothing, bleach their faces and bend the rigidly defined boundaries separating the genders in astonishing ways for a country thought to be as homophobic as its public rhetoric would have you believe. In fact a number of us were hard pressed to identify the single female subject among the 73 bandana flags decorated with beads, doilies, sequins and feathers. The one I thought most likely to be her was this one below but then again friends pointed out at least 6 or 7 others who could easily have passed for female as well.
The preview was mounted at University Close, for one evening only, and was a special, one of a kind event. The 73 flags were suspended with clothespins from a simulated clothesline. You couldn’t help think…were the 73 hung out to dry by the Jamaican government? It was a powerful, elegiac display notable not only for the poignant subject matter but also for the creativity, its ‘tun hand mek fashion’ quality, something other Jamaican artists could learn from. Alas very few of them were present. Michael Flyn Elliott and Marlon James were the exceptions. There were a lot of other events that evening so only a lucky few made it. I asked Damien King, head of the Economics Department at the University of the West Indies, who strolled by to take a dekko, for his reactions. Here’s what he had to say:
The first reaction is that by sort of replicating the number of people that died it has an impact–you realize right away it’s PLENTY people. you know when you see the news and people get killed everyday its very easy to become desensitized to it but when you see 73 different images and you see 73 different ways of treating them you realize the number of them and that each one is individual. Each one is treated differently so it tells you that these are individuals, each of these 73 people is a person with his own view, his own outlook, his own ideas, his own personality, his own history and his own life. It’s not 73 lemmings. The other thing that also occurs to me because half of the faces are covered is the sense that when young people die you don’t know what you’ve lost, you don’t know the potential.”
Damien could have been reading Ebony’s mind. Early last year in an interview I did with her on my radio show, The Silo, Ebony talked about this project. It was then in its incipient stages and was called Of 73. The project, Ebony told me, references
the loss of the identity of these 73 people who have died. The larger and even more important question which has yet to be answered is who are these people? We are yet to have faces, we are yet to have names. We still don’t know who these people are. I also think its very interesting that of the 73 people who were killed only one was a woman. 72 were male. That to me is quite startling. …and i think that it’s all well and good that we’re investigating things but the question is WHAT are we really investigating, who are these people and nobody is asking or pressuring for these names to be divulged. And i think as long as the identities of these people remain masked its going to be quite easy for us to just carry on…you know continue–It’s the least I can do as a concerned citizen, to kind of etch this episode into history, so that these people are not forgotten. Because I think that its very unfortunate that a year later we still do not have the names of the 73 people who were killed.
Ebony G. Patterson’s ‘Of 72’ project was commissioned by Small Axe: A Caribbean Platform for Criticism and will be carried in a forthcoming issue of the journal.