Linking to the second issue of PREE, an online portal of contemporary Caribbean writing started by a few colleagues and me. check it out! If I’ve stopped writing my Gleaner column, this is the reason. Not a multi-tasker so if i take on something new, something has to be dropped.
The second issue of PREE focuses on the theme ‘Pressure’. Pressure buss pipe, yes. But, pressure also creates diamonds. What does pressure do for us tethered to the Caribbean? Is there a pressure to be ‘Caribbean’, to perform Caribbeanness, to act St. Lucian, Grenadian, Trini or Jamaican for instance; a demand that we rigidly embody our culture(s)?
There is the financial pressure to turn coins into dollars and deflated dollars into meals and school fees. There is the cultural pressure to persist and the global pressure to give in. Economic pressure to expand tourism and environmental pressure to protect. The desire for freedom and pressure to remain ‘authentic’. There is social pressure, atmospheric pressure, population pressure, the pressure to achieve the impossible. Also, and sometimes fatally, for too many of us in the region and the diaspora, pressure builds in our blood. Pressure takes root in our hearts and manifests clinically as hypertension and the dangerous possibilities of stroke, heart attack, pulmonary embolism. Pressure underlies any number of presentations of mental illness. Pressure is not just a soul-killing thing, but a thing from which we can actually die. Whichever way you cut it, pressure exists as a powerful invisible force. These are just some of the possible launching points that we asked contributors to wrestle with in this sophomore issue. Via prose, poetry, essays, memoirs, videos, and artwork that explored the possibilities that exist for pressure, PREE contributors did not disappoint.
A response to a series of critiques of the National Gallery of Jamaica
In a post titled “Too Close for Comfort” dated September 22, 2018, former executive director of the National Gallery of Jamaica, Veerle Poupeye, has publicly censured the institution she used to head, the fifth or sixth critique since the start of the year when she demitted office. The gist of these critiques is that the Gallery can get little or nothing right since her departure, and now, minus her vigilance and guidance, is in danger of violating museum ethics as the Board, by implication, is unaware of the high standards that must be maintained.
Please note that this response to Poupeye’s latest ‘warning’ is made in my private capacity as a writer and critic and not as a representative of the NGJ Board, on which I’ve served since mid-2016. Since September 22, 2018, Poupeye has reposted the article mentioned above at least 4 times, apparently dissatisfied with the scant attention it was receiving from those she sought to voice her concerns to.
In the preceding months Poupeye has focused an acerbic gaze at every single exhibition mounted by the NGJ since her departure and—not surprisingly—found them wanting. She freely offers her opinions and judgments on her personal blog and on her Facebook page where among other things she scolds the new PR team for allegedly failing to put out a press release before rather than after the exhibition, chides her former curatorial team for various alleged imperfections, and raises ‘concerns’ about the rights and wrongs of a board member who is also an art impresario somehow ‘benefiting’ from two of the artists she represents being in a micro-show at National Gallery West even though it is the Senior Curator who would have made the selection and not the board member in question. It remains unclear how artists or their agents might benefit from exposure at National Gallery West, a tiny space not on the radar of most people in Jamaica, let alone the wider art world. In fact the premise of the exhibition was the opposite, to mount the work of interesting artists with connections to Western Jamaica for the benefit of audiences in that region–not to burnish the artists’ already healthy reputations.
In the screed under discussion Poupeye’s tone is lofty as she dwells on the shortcomings of the institution she has spent more than 30 years at, in one capacity or another. The subject of the former ED’s admonitions and cautionary statements is Susanne Fredricks, whose family owns HiQo Gallery, and who has recently set up an online platform called Suzie Wong Presents (SWP), designed to showcase and promote the work of Jamaican artists at international art fairs and other similar fora. Like myself Fredricks has been on the Board of the National Gallery since 2016, and has privately represented the same artists during Poupeye’s tenure as ED, although no alarm was raised at the time about this, even though the same artists were featured in National Gallery shows during that period.
The ambit and scope of what Fredricks is attempting to do with SWP is commendable, a much needed innovation that ought to be applauded rather than sneered at and disparaged as the former ED has done. Despite Poupeye’s facade of civility and feigned moral superiority her repeated attempts to try her case on social media a few days before the launching of SWP in London at 1-54, the relatively new African Art Fair held in conjunction with Frieze Art Fair, raise concerns about her motives. While Poupeye is careful to appear objective and impartial in her statements she cunningly allows her gullible followers to do the heavy lifting, generating snarky, derisive comments that verge on the libelous, and do little to show Jamaican art in a good light, as seen in the Facebook exchange below:
Veerle Poupeye Natalie D. A. Bennett Let me first say that I am delighted that these artists are getting this exposure opportunity. The required reading appears to make reference to Stuart Hall, who is referenced in the press material. Here is the other information I have: 198 is a charitable, non-profit gallery and organization in Brixton and the special projects at 1-54, to which they were invited to contribute, are not-for-profit, although the rest of the fair of course is. Suzie Wong Presents is, to my understanding, an online commercial gallery. Several works by both artists are being offered for sale through that gallery’s Artsy page. Four works by these artists that are presented as for sale on that page are presently on view in the I Shall Return Again exhibition at National Gallery West exhibition in Montego Bay. Susanne Fredricks, who operates Suzie Wong Presents, and who curated Required Reading as a collaboration with 198, is also a member of the National Gallery of Jamaica Board and the Chair of its exhibition committee.I am not familiar with the content of the display at 1-54.
Natalie D. A. Bennett what is that mi jus read…? the sed person who runs the commercial gallery that is charged with selling the works also sits on the public board of NGJ and used their position of access to put those works in a public exhibition suh more people can see it and thus buy it so dem can personally reap the benefits? so the public exhibition, while it’s bringing important and necessary visibility to the artists themselves, is actually enriching the person who put it on display in the public gallery? Suh ef it sell ah di individual an dem commercial gallery and not the public institution a get di money and then dish out fi dem portion to the artists? Suh fi dem commercial gallery nevva good enough an naa draw enough attention?
None of the above is true but Bennett has correctly decoded what was implicit in Poupeye’s statements. Alarmed by these insinuations Lucy Davies, director of 198, the non-profit, London-based gallery mentioned by VP responded to the same post pointing out there was little basis for the claims being made of conflict of interest. She also corrected Poupeye’s misconceptions about what constitutes a non-profit in the British context:
Lucy Davies It is most unfortunate that you have chosen to try and undermine our involvement in 1-54 with your posts suggesting that our partner Suzie Wong Presents is gaining financially from their participation . We in London have worked hard to achieve this opportunity for Jamaican artists and invited SWP to participate. You might be surprised to learn than no actual artworks are on display. Both partners invested considerable funds in creating a bespoke multi media installation (which has been really well received btw) without external sponsorship.
Even if works had been sold it is unlikely that any commission due to partners would have covered the costs incurred in providing this opportunity to two great artists. Also non profit does not mean you cannot sell works. We do this at 198 quite often. It simply means that any funds raised are reinvested in further work to support artistic endeavours.
You are welcome to post this comment on the Caribbean Artist network page as 198 would like there to be complete clarity on this. Also I’d like to suggest that any grievances you might have with SWP be approached via appropriate channels as calling people out on social media is not exactly a professional look.
In the back and forth that ensued on Facebook (see screenshots below) the former ED does what she does all too often; she climbs on her moral high horse and rides it for all its worth, accusing Davies of personal hostility and animosity although no one reading Davies’ calm and measured comments would come to the same conclusion. In fact a glance at her comments in the screenshots pasted below show that Davies is the one accusing VP of personal motives in the timing and nature of her attack on SWP but in a classic instance of gaslighting VP throws the accusations back at her with absolutely no evidence offered!
“The comments by you I have read since then ARE personally hostile and it is clear that you bear animosity towards me for reasons only you can clarify. I believe that it is your professional conduct that is inappropriate here and I will write the governing body of the organization you represent with a complaint about same. Enough is enough!”
It has become commonplace for any criticism of the ex-ED to be routinely dismissed as “highly inappropriate” or “distasteful” and the critique characterized as a personal attack. Quite often in her lengthy jeremiads Poupeye moralizes on Jamaican society beyond the art world. Her statements are oracular, and “delivered like Holy Writ, without sourcing or self-reflection or doubt”, a quote from Mark Judge’s article, “Are You Guilty of ‘Virtue-Signaling?’” in which he discusses the phenomenon of less than virtuous individuals going out of their way to signal their superiority and integrity by frequent expressions of moral outrage. According to Judge “Virtue signaling is the popular modern habit of indicating that one has virtue merely by expressing disgust or favor for certain political ideas, cultural happenings, or even the weather.”
It’s something one cannot help but notice in Veerle Poupeye’s Facebook utterances: her vigorous, indeed, aggressive virtue signaling. The following are examples of what I’m talking about.
If you sell works of art, in a space or online, you operate a commercial gallery, and you are a dealer; no matter how many times you call your operation a “platform.” or yourself a “curator”. Nothing wrong with selling art, dealers and commercial galleries are very important and the good ones fulfill many other roles, but at least be clear, and honest, about the fundamental nature and purpose of your operation and do not try to masquerade as a non-profit operation.
This statement indirectly references SWP, the fledgling art platform that for reasons best known to herself, VP seems determined to scuttle. Yet SWP has never masqueraded as a non-profit operation as suggested in the above Facebook post, and further it is an incorrect assumption on Poupeye’s part that non-profits can’t sell work, so what is all the alarmist talk and concern about? Let’s throw mud, some of it is bound to stick, seems to be the rationale behind it. In the following Facebook update, Poupeye tries a different tack, laying on her moralism with a trowel and introducing the victim card:
Why do some people attack the messenger in very personal and disparaging way when an issue they do not want to hear or acknowledge goes into the open, especially when they are directly or indirectly compromised in the matter. Should we just ignore things that are plainly wrong out of fear for those reprisals? What message are we giving to people who speak up for what they believe in, that they will not be supported and should keep quiet? That it is “all good” even when what is happening is clearly wrong, merely because it benefits them? And why is this happening in an era which is full of rhetoric about “speak truth to power” and “me too”. Very, very disappointing, especially when it comes from someone who should know better, but chooses to act otherwise out of self-interest. Whatever happened to integrity and principle? Is it just optional when it is convenient?
Earn your position through hard work, carried out with integrity, and through ability and achievement, and you’ll have my respect, no matter who you are or how I otherwise feel about you and what you represent. Earn it through opportunistic, talentless hustling (or with the hustle being your only real talent), and through dishonesty, disregard for others, and taking credit for other people’s work and vision, and I can only offer total contempt, no matter how far you get.
What is all this frantic virtue signaling about? James Bartholomew, the man who invented the term, gives us a clue:
“It’s noticeable how often virtue signalling consists of saying you hate things. It is camouflage. The emphasis on hate distracts from the fact you are really saying how good you are. If you were frank and said, ‘I care about the environment more than most people do’ or ‘I care about the poor more than others’, your vanity and self-aggrandizement would be obvious. . . . Anger and outrage disguise your boastfulness.”
In general Veerle Poupeye poses as a moral exemplar and has set herself up as the ‘conscience’ and gatekeeper of Jamaican art. But how reliable is she as an objective commentator on Jamaican art or anything else?
In the post under discussion Poupeye mischievously uses a bee metaphor to introduce her latest bee(f). The reference is to an essay by Kei Miller in the inaugural issue of PREE, a new online platform of writing on, from and of the Caribbean, that I am associated with. Titled The White Women and the Language of Bees, the essay prompted Poupeye to pen an open letter to Miller on her blog. Her blog has a ‘commentary facility’ she says to Lucy Davies. However Kei’s response to her open letter remains unpublished, for undisclosed reasons. Did it contradict Poupeye’s assertions perhaps? Was it an inconvenient counter to her narrative? Whatever the reason, to voice a strong critique of a writer, then decline to publish his response, is an act of bad faith and does not demonstrate a commitment to the fostering of critical discussion in the region, a claim often made by Poupeye.
Miller’s essay provoked quite a reaction in certain quarters, which caused us to temporarily take it down until the firestorm, in which Poupeye was a vociferous participant, subsided. When the essay was subsequently restored to the PREE website Poupeye immediately added a note to her post stating authoritatively that Kei’s essay had been “replaced by a substantially revised version.” This is patently untrue and I challenge Poupeye to provide evidence of these substantial revisions (WordPress keeps scrupulous track of edits so this is easy to do). I am the one who uploaded the new version and I struggled to identify the minor changes Kei had made to his essay long before PREE came out. We had published an earlier version and he asked us to put up the most recent version which he had neglected to give us at the time of publication. There were no changes made to the parts that caused the fuss, and the objecting parties continued to campaign against it, so it’s unclear why Poupeye felt the gratuitous lie was necessary. But lie she did, making one wonder how many of her sweeping truth claims are fabricated and how many or how few are accurate and true.
Finally, in her post “Too Close for Comfort” Poupeye quotes from a 2009 essay of mine in which I drew attention to the conflict of interest in one person, then curator David Boxer, simultaneously being Chief Curator, a practicing artist whose work was shown in almost every show the NGJ curated, as well as one of the biggest private collectors in the country. Poupeye rightly observed that “Any attempt to critique these issues was construed as a dismissal of the otherwise indeed valuable and pioneering work done by the NGJ and Boxer” but neglects to mention that she was very much part and parcel of this construal. I had been trying to draw attention to this problem long before 2009, but never received support from Veerle Poupeye who was then very much Dr. Boxer’s right hand woman, having been his protégé since the 80s. Mine was a voice in the wilderness, except for Roberta Stoddart, who in the 90s demanded a meeting with the then Board to insist that something be done about this conflict of interest.
Was Poupeye unaware then of the ICOM Code of Ethics she so frequently waves in our faces nowadays? Had she not found her moral compass yet? There is no published work I’m aware of in which Poupeye raised the alarm about the state of affairs at the National Gallery in the days when she was part of the inner circle. Her 2011 thesis Between Nation and Market certainly doesn’t mention the conflict of interest although David Boxer figures prominently in it. Incidentally my critiques of the incestuous Jamaican art world Poupeye is very much a product of, were disruptive in the true sense of the word. I take it she’s in agreement with my views now though there was never any indication of it back in the day when she could have done something about it.
One notes with amusement the former ED positioning herself as the lone disruptive voice today and generally posturing as a daring art crusader who will ‘tell it like it is’ whether Jamaicans like it or not. “I will continue throwing stones in the pond and to act as a “disruptor,” to use fashionable management speak, for as long as I can and as long as I am convinced that it is important to do so. I believe that it is needed for the health of the Caribbean art ecology.” Good! Better late than never, welcome to the stone-throwing club! But beware: if you live in a glass house don’t throw stones.
My writings about the insular curatoriat of the NGJ, of the fraught and problematic concept of the ‘intuitives’, of the importance of contemporary art, preceded Poupeye’s belated critiques by more than a decade, something rarely acknowledged today. What is curious is that Poupeye is suggesting that the non-issue of Susanne Fredricks’ online platform Suzie Wong Presents is equivalent to the conflict of interest involving Boxer’s triple role in his time. This is a false equivalence Madame Poupeye and you would be hard put to prove otherwise. If you actually believe this then it’s a clear sign that you’re dangerously out of touch with reality.
Let me close by relating an anecdote. A few years ago my friend Elsie was returning to Jamaica for the first time after retiring as Executive Director of an institution she had helmed here for about 15 years. Are you looking forward to visiting your old haunt and catching up with your former employees I asked? Elsie looked at me in horror, “Oh no! I would never do that,” she said, shaking her head vigorously. “It’s considered infra dig to appear at a company you used to head, I might be accused of interfering. As former head, best international practice dictates that I maintain a distance, allowing the new head to find his feet and develop relationships with the staff, without my casting a shadow over them. So no, I don’t intend to go anywhere near my former office.”
Poupeye, who is fond of reminding us of international best practice in relation to art and aesthetics should take a leaf out of Elsie’s book and stop haunting the National Gallery. It’s not international best practice for former executive directors to appear at every event and exhibition mounted by their former institution, haranguing staff and dominating q and a sessions. Stop policing your former employees, Board and institution unless you’re vying for a Provincial Best Practice medal. Your former position as head of the NGJ renders you unsuitable to provide meaningful critique on a subject that is much too close for comfort to your own personal history. Now there’s a true conflict of interest we can and ought to discuss.
It would be advisable also for Poupeye to pay attention to the reception of her posts. When you post an article on social media four times and still get the cold shoulder while a post about the possibility of starting an online art journal receives an enthusiastic response, your social media ‘friends’ are trying to tell you something. Drop the accusatory, finger-pointing mode and embrace the ‘building new platforms’ mode, something as I said you are uniquely well-placed to do. Of course to accomplish this you might want to park the high horse, rest the Voice from Above and ditch the Veerle Knows Best approach to art and life. It doesn’t sit well in this era of decolonial aesthetics. If possible bring back the Veerle Poupeye who wrote Between Nation and Market: Art and Society in 20th Century Jamaica, a magisterial study that I highly recommend to anyone interested in Caribbean art or just art, period.
Photo: Roxanne Silent
Photo: Roxanne Silent
Huge crowd at opening of Beyond Fashion. Photo: Roxanne Silent
If there was ever any doubt that the NGJ is undergoing a resurgence since Poupeye’s departure it was manifest at the opening of ‘Beyond Fashion’, the exhibition that has put her former protégé O’Neil Lawrence on the map. A record-breaking crowd of young folk descended on the Gallery on September 30, 2018, showing that there is indeed life and art after Veerle Poupeye. It’s a tough truth to swallow but take consolation in the fact that your protégé has done you proud. You deserve some of the acclaim for his success just as you deserve some of the blame for the many faults you continue to find with the Gallery, for you were in charge of this institution for at least 10 years, and associated with it for 30.
PS: As I get ready to post this Veerle Poupeye has just posted a review of Beyond Fashion in which she’s refreshingly self-reflexive about being too close for comfort to the subject at hand. She goes on nevertheless to level critiques against the curation of the show, the text panels, their placement, their content, “the thematic considerations that shape Beyond Fashion, and the underlying scholarship and critical engagement,” proving her point that she’s too close to the subject matter she’s discussing. We predict that Veerle Poupeye will continue to review every show presented at the NGJ and find them all wanting, in one respect or another.
Just to add that the unprecedented crowd at the opening of Beyond Fashion cannot simply be attributed to the Kingston Art and Architecture Walk (which had about 100 people) or the performance group Quilt both of which have happened there before without attracting such a large crowd. A lot of credit must go to the curator, O’Neil Lawrence and his team, the curator who according to Veerle Poupeye, can’t get anything right anymore. Yet this is the same curator Poupeye relentlessly tried to have appointed as Chief Curator some months ago, angrily vilifying those who suggested he might not be ready. Did you get it wrong then Veerle, or is your current judgment off? You were wrong then, or wrong now, proving that your judgement is not infallible. Time to stand down?
My last column in the Gleaner was published in April this year. For the time being I’ve decided to take a break from writing a column to focus on other projects which need my attention and time. Will resume writing on Active Voice as and when time permits. Thanks for tuning in!
At a discussion after a sneak preview of the film Four Days in May, a documentary about what survivors experienced during the blitzkrieg we refer to as the Tivoli incursion a young man said: “We can all remember where we were when history came and met us.”
“It come like a war zone. Caw dem a drop three bomb eno. Nuff a mi fren dem dead. After di incursion mi can tell yu seh mi guh funerALS,” said another resident who can’t forget what happened to his community in 2010, when the armed forces conducted their search for Dudus, the strongman of Tivoli Gardens on whom the United States had placed a bounty.
History will record that the most senior custodians of the state lied about what took place during those 4 days. They said there were no bombs; there was no surveillance drone when men and women had seen it with their own eyes; they did not ‘recall’ any such thing; moreover no angels had died in Tivoli. The 73 or so civilians who were killed should be seen as collateral damage they implied. What is worse is that large swathes of Jamaican society agreed with this view of things.
Nearly 8 years later the country has had to bring back limited states of emergency in different parts of the country after declaring them zones of special operations—ZOSO. While the clampdown in Montego Bay seems to have contained the spiraling violence there, it feels as if the criminals have simply scattered to different parts of the country. How else to understand the murderous turn of events in August Town as soon as 2017 ended and 2018 began?
In a remarkable article called “Teaching In The Line Of Fire” published in the Gleaner on March 5, UWI senior lecturer Saran Stewart tried her best to raise the alarm about what is going on in the country. For those of us who live and work in this corner of Kingston the last few weeks have been punctuated by gunfire, sometimes so loud it seems to be on the UWI campus itself. Wrote Saran:
It is now month three of the new year and the shots have left the dead of night and ring loudly in the peak morning time when children are still walking to school. Our educators teach in the line of fire and not only in the community of August Town, but also Denham Town, Flankers, Norwood, Cambridge and Rose Heights, just to name a few. In these communities gunmen trade bullets for the simplest necessity, such as a tin of mackerel, and barter lives for a ‘bills’ ($100). I have taught numerous students from volatile communities, whether they were born and raised there or currently boarding. Trying to centre their minds about the philosophies of education becomes futile when my students learn first-hand the ideologies of gun violence. As an educator, I have had to drift from the standard course outline and include students’ lived experiences as a mechanism to navigate their realities and consciously re-centre the course around their true learning environments. There are students who write their papers in the shell of their bathrooms by candlelight as it is the safest concrete box in the house. When the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) suspends bus services, how do children leave those said communities to go to school? As educators, we try to find ways for students to unlearn what they perceive as standard, normal activity such as seeing mourning, orphaned children, weekly funeral gatherings, yellow ‘caution’ tape, bullet holes, blood stains, smelling gun powder, and reading WhatsApp messages stating, “Daddy dead”.
Yet this excellent article remained relatively unnoticed while the media exploded in an orgy of moral outrage about silly statements by members of one political party calling a member of the other party “black royalty”. Day after day for the entire week radio talk shows gave oxygen to this banal nonsense as if we live in Switzerland or Singapore and have nothing else to worry about.
When one of Saran Stewart’s students texted her from August Town to say that her assignment would be late as a family member had been shot dead Stewart asked her to forget the assignment and document her raw emotions instead. This is part of what she wrote:
“Over 20 years of blood shed! Has violence become my norm? Without thinking about my answer to this question, I would immediately say ‘yes’, crime and violence has become my norm. Born and raised in the community of August Town, nestled in a valley in the parish of St Andrew, surrounded by hills, the Hope River and in close proximity to two universities, this is my community.”
There’s more but is anyone listening? Is this really how we want our youngsters to meet history? Brutalized, shattered and traumatized, with no one even willing to pay attention when they write or talk about it?
The submission window for the second issue of PREE is now open. Submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org during the period July 1 to August 15. Our note on the theme is below:
The second issue of PREE focuses on the theme ‘Pressure’. Pressure buss pipe, yes. But, pressure also creates diamonds. What does pressure do for us tethered to the Caribbean? Is there a pressure to be ‘Caribbean’, to perform Caribbeanness, to act St. Lucian, Grenadian, Trini or Jamaican for instance; a demand that we rigidly embody our culture(s)?
There is the financial pressure to turn coins into dollars and deflated dollars into meals and school fees. There is the cultural pressure to persist and the global pressure to give in. Economic pressure to expand tourism and environmental pressure to protect. The desire for freedom and pressure to remain ‘authentic’. There is social pressure, atmospheric pressure, population pressure, the pressure to achieve the impossible. Also, and sometimes fatally, for too many of us in the region and the diaspora, pressure builds in our blood. Pressure takes root in our hearts and manifests clinically as hypertension and the dangerous possibilities of stroke, heart attack, pulmonary embolism. Pressure underlies any number of presentations of mental illness. Pressure is not just a soul-killing thing, but a thing from which we can actually die. Whichever way you cut it, pressure exists as a powerful invisible force. These are just some of the possible launching points that we are hoping to wrestle with in this sophomore issue. PREE invites submissions of prose, poetry, essays, memoirs, videos, and artwork exploring the possibilities that exist for pressure.
If you have any comments and want to get in touch, let us know via email@example.com
SUBMITTING TO PREE
Pree will only accept works during our Submission window, and this will be in response to a call for submissions. As a general guide, take a look at the following criteria and keep an eye out for the next Call For Submission.
If you are a publisher or agent who wants information about submitting writers you publish or represent please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Leasho Johnson for allowing us to use this image which seems to perfectly express the theme.
If you have any comments and want to get in touch, let us know via email@example.com
For more information please look here. Also read the first issue of PREE here.
If you were to go by the social status of criminals languishing in Jamaica’s jails you’d have to conclude that crime here is an occupation exclusively reserved for the have-nots. At least 95% of those convicted by Jamaican courts fall neatly into the lowest social classes in this society.
For the first time however, things appear to be changing. In the last few days news broke that prominent uptown real estate lawyer Jennifer Messado and an accomplice, had been arrested and charged with fraud among other things. In Messado’s case the charges ranged from property deals to forgery and money laundering.
In a separate case another prominent uptown lawyer Patrick Bailey was again questioned about the September 30, 2016 death of Jermaine Junior, a 51-year-old construction worker whose body was found with several stab wounds in Bailey’s living room. Rumour has it that Junior was a returning resident who had paid the attorney to buy property for him with nothing to show for it in the end. In June 2017 in another case Bailey was accused of defrauding St. Catherine businessman and land developer Stafford Dixon in a land deal.
It seems land theft and property fraud is rife amongst the legal fraternity in Jamaica although you wouldn’t know it judging by the cases brought to court and convictions. What is finally causing the police to take action in these new cases? While we ponder that question let’s look at some interesting tidbits from Jennifer Messado’s background.
Born Jennifer FitzRitsen, Messado went to a prominent high school in Kingston but was suspended in third form and sent to finish her studies in England, according to a classmate who claimed to have taught Messado her first bad word. The classmate couldn’t remember the reason for the suspension but recalled that Messado’s brother, also a lawyer, was murdered in a high profile case in the 70s.
That case was written up in the Jamaica Observer in 2013 (“Paul FitzRitson knew that he was marked for death” by Sybil E Hibbert) and the details are fascinating. On March 16, 1974 Paul FitzRitson, then executive chairman of National Sports Ltd (now INSPORT the Jamaica institute of Sports ) and a popular Kingston lawyer, was killed by two armed robbers in the Norwood area of Montego Bay, St James.
FitzRitson’s murder followed other prominent killings in an unprecedented crime wave in 1974 that resulted in then Prime Minister Michael Manley instituting the infamous Gun Court. According to the Observer:
“The nation during this period was in turmoil. Especially after it was reported that the hard-working and dedicated FitzRitson — who resided at the time in Copacabana near Bull Bay, St Andrew, a quiet, middle-class community overlooking the blue waters of the Caribbean Sea — had reportedly left Kingston for Montego Bay the previous Friday in order to finalise plans for the telecast of the March 26 heavyweight fight between George Foreman and Ken Norton. This was scheduled to take place at the Palladium Theatre in the western city.
“And that very afternoon, prior to the fatal shooting, FitzRitson was reported to have dined at Ironshore with his good friend, the then Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism P J Patterson (later prime minister of Jamaica); the late executive chairman of the JIDC, Wesley Wainwright and Hopeton Caven, his colleague of the TUC, of which he (FitzRitson) was the legal advisor.”
But why was FitzRitsen killed? The case remains unsolved. According to the Observer:
“Speculation turned to the fact that quite two years prior, Paul FitzRitson had been the person — along with well-known producer Buddy Pouyatt and Beverley Anderson — who had proposed to then Opposition Leader Michael Manley that a Bandwagon show of Jamaican entertainers including the late Bob Marley and Peter Tosh; Alton Ellis, Judy Mowatt, Clancy Eccles, Delroy Morgan, Hopeton Lewis and Max Romeo, be used by campaign manager, Patterson, in mounting the programme for the 1972 general election on behalf of the PNP.
“By the following year, FitzRitson had been active in bringing to Jamaica, the still talked-about championship bout between boxing legend George Foreman and Joe Fraser o/c “Smoking Joe.” He was indeed a community organiser, with a particular interest in music and sports promotion, heavy accent on boxing.”
To return to the present it would be interesting to find out what has led to Messado’s arrest. Nationwide News’s Abka Fitz-Henley who was present in court when charges were pressed tweeted that ‘when #JenniferMessado was handcuffed & was being led out of the dock, an Attorney, Tamika Harris, said to her – “Messado a want mi money – weh mi money deh!?”. Messado had a wry smile but didn’t comment. She was then led away by Police to await bail processing.’
Apparently Harris was told to join the line, as the number of people with similar claims is growing by the minute. The charges against Messado appear to have been carefully constructed, down to a video released on social media less than a month ago showing the lawyer turned bailiff gleefully turfing tenants off their property.
The video below, capturing a situation rarely associated with uptown or with light-skinned people in Jamaica, already had tongues wagging. But Messado’s arrest a mere few weeks later has created a sensation that has Jamaicans agog. What can we expect next?
As the note on our theme says, the Caribbean has always existed at a crossroads of one kind or another, and nearly a quarter of the way into the 21st century, the Caribbean remains at a crossroads. The artist Christopher Cozier once said, after a residency in Johannesburg, that he often felt like someone standing at an intersection with a sign, rewriting and reorganizing its message, wondering if it was being understood or engaged.
There’s a similar feeling as we put out the first issue of PREE, an online portal to relay high-grade writing from, on or about the Caribbean. Will PREE be read as widely as we hope? Who will PREE’s audience be and how will they engage us? Will this kind of writing appeal to the younger generations growing up in an era when books have virtually become an endangered species? Will youngsters still yearn…
In an interesting postscript to my last column “Modern Day Plantations”, I was sent a response from tourism mogul John Issa saying that my account of Evon Blake’s plunge into the Myrtle Bank Hotel’s pool was “not quite accurate”.
Apparently the story as told to John Issa by Evon Blake himself, went as follows.
“After my grandfather, father and uncle purchased the Myrtle Bank hotel in 1943, Evan (sic) Blake wanted to test if it still discouraged black guests, which it had done when it was owned by the United Fruit Co, now that it was owned by Jamaicans. He went to the front desk to buy a pool ticket and it was sold to him, he then proceeded to the swimming pool and was given a changing room and towel. He then proceeded to dive into the pool. He told me at all times he was welcomed.
“He however added, with a smile on his face, that when he dived into the pool it was like watching a movie in reverse as all the foreign guests who were in the pool came out.”
Issa went on to say that he was proud that his family had “removed racism” from the Myrtle Bank. He had also personally appointed the first black General Manager of a major Jamaican resort hotel when he appointed Willard Samms as General Manager of the Tower Isle Hotel in the early 1960s.
These details are interesting and also a perfect illustration of how deceiving appearances can be when they are decontextualized. On the face of it we might be inclined to buy this narrative of benign racial inclusiveness yet the incident involving Blake occurred in 1948, when Jamaica was still a colonial society and racism was even more pronounced than it is today. Thus you could very well have no explicit colour or race bar and still control the entry of Black people to your property. Heck, their entry is still being discouraged today, which was the point of my column.
Issa himself says that Blake told him as soon as he plunged into the pool all the foreign guests jumped out, a clear indication that it was NOT the norm, stated policy or not, for Blacks to swim in the Myrtle Bank’s famous pool. Likewise we might note that the appointment of a black general manager in the 60s while admirable, likely made no difference to the treatment of black guests, as indeed continues to be the case, more than 60 years later when it is the norm for hotels to have black managers.
Despite being managed and staffed by Blacks in 2018 too many Jamaicans who attempt to sample their country’s world-renowned hospitality find that it doesn’t necessarily extend to them. That was the gravamen of my column last week. So the fact that Evon Blake bought a ticket to the Myrtle Bank pool without hindrance is neither here nor there. The list of black guests I quoted complaining about their treatment had also paid for their stays at the hotels in question, yet it didn’t insulate them from the racial profiling they suffered. I’m sure those hotels have no explicit policy barring the entry of dark-skinned folk either. They don’t have to. Centuries of racial ‘grooming’ so to speak, cannot be undone overnight; the racism is internalized and practised by Blacks against Blacks.
Add to this the potent poison of class prejudice, something we all systematically practice in this day and age and you realize how complex the situation is. If you’re black and poor there are hardly any pools or beaches available for you in Jamaica.
As art historian Krista Thompson notes in “An Eye for the Tropics” Evon Blake was very concerned also about how Jamaicans were portrayed in tourism campaigns. He deplored the fact that in these representations black Jamaicans always appeared in menial positions, or as boys climbing coconut palms or diving into the sea to retrieve coins. Middle class Blacks were rarely featured. Blake pointed out that in contrast, neighbouring Haiti emphasized the fact that tourists would be visiting a ‘Black Republic’ where you would be expected to fraternize with ‘Negroes’.
According to Blake the unwritten message in Haitian tourist publicity went something like this: “If you object to associating with Negroes go somewhere else.” Americans who went to Haiti forgot the colour prejudice practised back home:
“They chin and chum with Negroes, and they appear to love it. They sit next to Negroes in swank hotels and clubs, bathe in swimming pools with Negroes, dance with Negro men and women, and consider themselves privileged when offered the opportunity to pay their respects to officials of the ‘Black Republic.’”
And while this was going on in Haiti, in Jamaica tourism interests were assiduously keeping tourists from meeting locals, on the grounds that they wouldn’t like to hobnob with black folk, a belief apparently alive and well today. Clearly a sea change is needed in how tourism is practised in this Black country.
The story is told in hushed tones of well-known journalist Evon Blake who jumped into the pool at Myrtle Bank Hotel, a whites-only facility in downtown Kingston.
“One summer day in 1948, as tourists and elites casually colonized the poolside deckchairs of Jamaica’s premier hotel, the Myrtle Bank, a black Jamaican journalist, Evon Blake, suddenly burst onto the brochure-promised scene. He hastily disrobed and plunged into the waters of the hotel’s unofficially racially segregated pool. The staff quickly congregated at its edges, hurling threats at the intruder. Taking advantage of the protection of the water, which prohibited security from entering the pool, Blake defiantly challenged,”Call the police. Call the army. Call the owner. Call God. And let’s have one helluva big story.”
The quote above is from a chapter titled “Diving into the Racial Waters of Beach Space in Jamaica” in Bahamian art historian Krista Thompson’s groundbreaking book
You might think that the Myrtle Bank’s covert racism in Jamaica was symptomatic of colonial times, it was 1948 after all. But I have news for you. Racial profiling is alive and well in Jamaica today, and raised its ugly head in Port Antonio recently. A video making the rounds on social media features a woman who has been visiting Jamaica for many years talking about a distressing experience. The caption below the video sums up what happened.
“CAUCASIAN tourist vacationing/visiting ERROL FLYNN MARINA IN PORT ANTONIO JAMAICA, claims her BLACK JAMAICAN FRIEND WAS discriminated against !!! Her local black Jamaican friend was warned not to swim with the TOURISTS!!! Classism.”
In my opinion the incident is a toxic mix of classism and racism. The video attracted a slew of responses many of them retailing similar stories of racism suffered by black, Jamaican visitors and tourists returning to their beloved country for vacations. I quote some of them below:
Venus Jack I can relate. While checking into the resort in Montego Bay the young lady serving drinks to the arriving guests excluded us and didn’t offer us anything to drink. She just ignored us like we did not belong there. What a welcome home! Previously at another resort we had guests and the security guards were rude to them because they were locals. Wouldn’t let them visit us in peace… they were under constant scrutiny and treated them like thieves even though they had to stay in the lobby area only. It was very upsetting.
Donna Rose Omg Venus Jack I experienced the very same thing at RIU in Ocho Rios. That hotel chain would never ever get another penny from me. When I arrived at the hotel to check in, they asked us, whey uno a go? They would not allow my local friends to park on the property. Jamaicans I tell you.
Steve Shers I’m used to being treated as a second class tourist/visitor when I visit the Caribbean although I’m from there.
Beverley Ranglin This happened to me and my family at the holiday inn in montego bay 2 years ago.
Tanya Weise That’s happened to us at Ibero Stars too.
They just pass and offered all white guest the cocktails and we were among everyone else waiting to be checked in.
Amanda Scott Venus Jack that very same thing happened to me at Grand Bahia in Ochi with the guests. I was so ready to leave by the 3rd day. Never again.
Almarie Davis She is so right. I wanted to rent a beach chair at a particular beach in Portland and was told I can’t. They are saving them for the cruise shippers.
Christine Creary-taylor My family and I went to an all inclusive resort in Montego Bay and they were serving drinks to all the new arrivals that just walked pass us. Colour not light enough I guess.
Clearly blatant racial discrimination is still being practiced in Jamaica’s world-renowned tourism enclaves. Yet in November last year when Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), Taleb Rifai, “strongly urged Caribbean tourism stakeholders to stop promoting modern-day plantations called exclusive resorts” at a Montego Bay conference on jobs and inclusive growth he was raked over the coals by tourism interests.
Rifai went on to warn against the practice of building five-star resorts in three-star communities, where the citizens were not part of the transformation. The backlash he suffered from Jamaica’s tourist industry forced him to tone down his statements the next day.
The case of the Errol Flynn Marina places the subject raised by Mr. Rifai on the table once again. Let’s not sweep this ugly intersection of racism and classism under the carpet yet again. Racism in a black country should simply not be tolerated in this day and age. Neither should classism. Do we have to send for Evon Blake’s duppy to finish the job?
Late last year I had occasion to read Tony Harriott’s Police and Crime Control in Jamaica: Problems of Reforming Ex-Colonial Constabularies, a fascinating study of police culture and the Jamaica Constabulary Force, of extreme relevance right now. Published in the year 2000 and written a couple of years before that I wondered if I could safely quote it in a document on crime I was then writing . Surely by now some of the excellent suggestions made in the book must have been implemented?
Accordingly I emailed Tony to find out and had to laugh at his wry reply. “Regarding the books, it is very frustrating for me to revisit them and to learn that they are still relevant. I wrote the police reform book in the hope that it would assist the reform process at the time and thus be outdated very quickly. Actually I wrote it in 1996-98.”
Well, twenty years later it seems the political will has finally been found to force the Force to reform. After a series of revolving door Police Commissioners, with no one in sight to fill the current vacancy and crime spiraling out of control, the political directorate seems to be ready to take on the task of cleaning the Aegean stables.
According to Harriott the JCF is more than 150 years old, a colonial institution the primary function of which was to maintain order and control using paramilitary tactics. Despite its stated motto, “To serve and protect” it does not function as an organization geared toward servicing or serving the public. The force is highly centralized, overwhelmingly male-dominated, profoundly authoritarian and values seniority over performance and experience over education and training. Dismissal from the force is rare and requires commitment of the most egregious criminal breaches. Avoidance of work is a chronic feature of the police force with the discouragement of reports or complaints from victims who are often treated as nuisances. People coming to report on domestic disputes were often chased away as were women complaining of rape especially if they were considered ‘disreputable’.
The rank structure of the JCF is pyramidal with 11 levels of rank. Even by ex-colonial standards the JCF is extreme, says Harriott, with more ranks and levels than India. The JCF practices differential policing against the poor, especially the urban poor who are stereotyped as being irrational and incapable of deferring self-gratification or of acting in their own self-interest —in short their view is at one with the way European colonizers viewed ‘natives’.
With the departure of Police Commissioner Quallo Jamaica may be entering territory familiar to citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, another crime-ridden Caribbean island. That country’s acting commissioner, Stephen Williams, has had his term extended 12 times since his appointment in 2012. Even if appointed Commissioner, were Williams to take the 27 months’ leave he has accumulated, by the time he came back it would be time for him to retire.
The situation regarding the police in both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago suggests a deep malaise that we haven’t even begun to address yet.
“Why, then, have we not taken steps we know would have some effect? The answers are complicated, but chief among them is that for every proposal that might be made to reduce crime, there is a powerful, organized interest that opposes it. These obstructive groups often include the most influential force of all, the middle-class interests that so frequently complain about the threat of crime.”
“Every effort at improvement in the criminal justice system will seem either helpful or threatening, depending on the perspective of some political-interest group. Thus an increase in the number of policemen means more protection to some, more bullying to others. If, for example, the staffs of prosecuting attorneys are increased so that they can diligently prosecute armed robbers, murderers, and dope peddlers, they will also be available to ferret out consumer fraud, anti-trust violations, and political corruption.”
And of course the latter would be a threat to the middle and upper classes here who then have little incentive to improve the justice system or the Police force. The problems we’re facing in the Caribbean in regard to crime control are not new or unique to us. The two quotes above are taken from an article titled “The Politics of Crime: Why governments don’t do what they could to reduce violent crime” by Richard Neely. It was published in The Atlantic inAugust 1982 and pertains to the situation at the time in New York City.
It’s high time we adopt solutions from countries that have overcome similar problems as ours as well as the recommendations of our own criminologists.
Germany was sued in a New York Federal court on January 5, 2018, over what some claim was the twentieth century’s first case of genocide—the slaughter of members of the Herero and Nama groups in Namibia between 1904 and 1908. 65,000 Hereros and 10,000 Nama were murdered by Imperial German troops after they rebelled against German rule and occupation of their land, now part of Namibia.
The lawsuit was initiated by descendants of these two groups who were excluded from talks held by Germany with Namibia regarding the genocide. Germany has publicly said any settlement will not include reparations directly to the descendants of victims, even if compensation is awarded to Namibia itself. The problem is that the Namibian government is not sufficiently representative of the minority indigenous communities in question and there is no guarantee that the proposed remuneration in the form of aid will reach the descendants of the Nama and Herero.
It would be similar to a hypothetical situation in which reparation for damages inflicted on the Rastafari community during the Coral Gardens Rebellion were disbursed to all of Jamaica instead of the injured group. According to a Reuters article the proposed class-action lawsuit seeks unspecified sums for thousands of descendants of the victims, for the “incalculable damages” that were caused.
The Herero were pastoral herdsmen and women who migrated from Eastern Africa to what is now Namibia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Nama came from South Africa in the early 19th century. Initially competitors the two groups banded together in the late 19th century against an influx of German settlers who acquired land from the Herero in order to establish farms. The territory became a German colony called German Southwest Africa (later under a provision of the League of Nations charter the region came under the administration of the white South African government.) Apartheid was practiced with the Herero and Nama herded into smaller and smaller areas with little access to land and water.
According to a Wikipedia article, between 1893 and 1903, the Herero and Nama people’s land as well as their cattle were systematically appropriated by German colonists. In 1903, the Herero heard that in a further land grab the Germans planned to place them on reservations. On January 12, 1904 Samuel Maharero, the Supreme Chief of the Herero, led his people in a large-scale uprising, against the Germans.
The German government sent Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha to take over as colonial governor, “and with his arrival, the rhetoric of forceful negotiations gave way to the rhetoric of racial extermination”. Von Trotha declared that “no war may be conducted humanely against non-humans” and issued an infamous order called the Vernichtungsbefehl—an extermination order.
“The Herero are no longer German subjects,” read von Trotha’s order. “The Herero people will have to leave the country. If the people refuse I will force them with cannons to do so. Within the German boundaries, every Herero, with or without firearms, with or without cattle, will be shot. I won’t accommodate women and children anymore. I shall drive them back to their people or I shall give the order to shoot at them.”
In the slaughter that followed the Germans drove the Herero into the vast desert adjoining their territory, poisoning their water supplies and limiting access to water and food. Many were held in concentration camps where experiments were conducted on their bodies. German researchers treated Africans as fodder for scientific experiments. Papers published in German medical journals used skull measurements to justify calling Africans Untermenschen—subhumans.
Was all this an advance trial of the tactics Germans would unleash on Jews forty years later? At any rate of approximately 80,000 Herero who lived in German South West Africa at the beginning of Germany’s colonial rule only 15,000 were alive by 1908. A1985 United Nations report has said the “massacre” of Hereros qualified as a genocide.
A recent New Yorker article documents the presence of the remains of eight Hereros at the American Museum of Natural History, in Manhattan, and the attempts of Herero descendants to have these remains repatriated. In 1990 the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or nagpra, was passed requiring institutions to inventory and repatriate human remains although nagpra applies only to museums that receive federal funding, and does not cover human remains taken from outside the United States. Researchers at prominent museums such as the Smithsonian and the American Natural History Museum opposed the Act arguing that their museums owned the human remains. Those proposing the law had to invoke the precedence of human rights over property rights before the Act began to gain traction!
The history of science certainly has its share of skeletons in the closet, a good number of them African, apparently.