Garvey Lite?

Garvey v. 1
Bust of Marcus Garvey v. 1. After a massive protest by Rastas in Papine Square on June 25, 2017, the University of the West Indies agreed to take down the offending bust and replace it with another that would approximate the demands for a big-head, big nosed Garvey more like the photos that exist of him.

My column of June 2 in the Gleaner. After much public agitation and disapproval the University of the West Indies finally agreed to bow to public pressure and withdraw the offending bust. At a tumultuous press briefing (see video above for a brief taste of the event) the Dean confirmed that a new bust would be produced by August 2017. The sculptor would still be Raymond Watson. At the briefing Watson said that he had tried to create a youthful image of Garvey, to befit the University setting where the bust would be installed.

During his lifetime Garvey was much vilified as those who fight the status quo often are. Born in Jamaica he strode forth boldly into the world and changed it by rallying people of African origin who had been systematically exploited and denigrated by slavery. His influence rebounded all the way from the Americas to Africa, where he promised to take all those who wanted to ‘go back home’ in the immortal words of Jamaican singing star Bob Andy. To the pre-eminent shipping enterprise of the day, White Star Line, he counterpoised his Black Star Line, a fleet of ships that would carry the descendants of slaves back to Africa. The rest is history.

Decades after they’re gone how do we memorialize such individuals? In May 2017 during a short run of Garvey: The Musical at the University of the West Indies in Kingston a bust of the great man was unveiled at the Department of Humanities and Education. Members of the Marcus Garvey Movement on campus had demanded a statue of Garvey after a life-size one of Mahatma Gandhi was installed there a few years ago. How could the University pay tribute to an Indian leader before even nodding in the direction of its own home-grown hero, the first national hero of the country, they asked.

Accordingly the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education (FHE), Professor Waibinte Wariboko, a Nigerian by birth, volunteered to take on the task of arranging for a suitable monument to the great man. A Jamaican sculptor, Raymond Watson, was commissioned to produce a bust, the University’s slender resources not stretching to accommodate the expense of a full-bodied statue in these hard times.

Details of the commission, such as the brief presented to the sculptor, are unknown but on May 19 the bust was duly unveiled in the courtyard of the FHE. The ceremony was timed to coincide with the visit of Professor Rahamon Adisa Bello, vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos in Nigeria, who jointly unveiled it with the Principal of the Mona Campus, Archibald McDonald. When they ritually removed the cover revealing the modest bust underneath a gasp of consternation went up from the audience. Rastafari representatives in the audience started grumbling loudly that this was the statue of an imposter, not Garvey, this slim, unremarkable, downtrodden looking person could never represent the magnificent Marcus. Garvey, they said. Many agreed.

“Garvey seems poorly. His posture conveys passivity. He looks like a weakling,” declared Carolyn Cooper in her column. #NotmyGarvey protested lecturer Isis Semaj-Hall commenting on what she called the “slimmed down interpretation” of the great leader. This is a “UWI interpretation of Garvey” said a Facebook commenter while Xavier Hutchinson accused the sculptor of “fat shaming one of my heroes.”

Suzette Gardner was kinder to Watson: “Maybe he was trying to inspire young people capturing Garvey as a youth. Still, Garvey might have been slimmer but his head was always big. Give us our big headed Garvey so the youth can know him as he was – young or old!”

According to Am’n Ron: “Regardless of the artist’s explanation this presentation should never have been approved. This was a moment for a recognizable rendering that will last through the generations and not a moment for a random artistic interpretation. From what period in Garvey’s life did he take this, and what is the image source he used? This seemingly made a mockery of the whole effort. I fully appreciate the spirit of the mounting of a Garvey bust, and I agree that it was overdue, but I’m in agreement with the woman who calmly said, “tek it dung!”  To those who have the authority, please replace it. It feels disrespectful.”

Another Facebook commenter said: “I’ve been too upset to speak on it but i have  much more to say. I will write and share. The best part of the ceremony for me was catching up with people I have not seen in ages. Unfortunately it was an upsetting occasion for all of us.”

For me the problem wasn’t so much that the bust didn’t look anything like the Garvey we feel we’ve come to know and love. It’s the scale and unambitious scope of the representation that bother me.The only other life-like sculptures on campus are of Mahatma Gandhi (Indian) and Philip Sherlock (white) both full body representations. Then for the champion of black identity you have a modest bust. It’s a problem to say the least.

In the weeks since the unveiling calls have been mounting for the removal of the ‘fake’ statue of Garvey. The Gandhi and Sherlock sculptures were gifts to the university, and it may be that those who feel strongly about this might have to undertake to commission a better representation of Garvey that can be situated at the University of the West Indies or some other location.

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Petrina Dacres, whose Ph.D dissertation, “Modern monuments: Fashioning history and identity in post -colonial Jamaica” documents the furore surrounding almost every public monument in Jamaica, was also at the press briefing.

In future any public commissions of art should be informed by the well-documented history of responses to public monuments in Jamaica. Edna Manley lecturer and first Stuart Hall Fellow Petrina Dacres has written an entire thesis on the subject. There is no excuse to be caught by surprise like this. Contrary to what many seem to think, commissions of public statuary are not occasions for artists to wield artistic license and express themselves as they would with work meant for a gallery or private setting.

Garvey’s Lesson

 

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Latoya Nugent

My Gleaner column of March 29, 2017 which i wrote in sympathy with human rights activist Latoya Nugent, arrested under the controversial new Cyber Crimes Act in Jamaica is presented below the following commentary on her arrest and detention.

For a relatively minor action (naming three alleged sexual predators online)  that could have been tried under civil libel laws, the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch descended on Nugent and fellow activist Nadeen Spence in a massive show of force, arresting Nugent and keeping her in jail for the night. After attempts to set an unreasonably high bail of over a million Jamaican dollars failed, the police reduced the amount to station bail of J$100,000 and released Ms. Nugent the following day. On a point of comparison, the bail for 64-year old Moravian pastor Rupert Clarke who was caught in flagrante delicto with a 15-year old girl, was only J$800,000. 

Ms Nugent’s case has been postponed twice now with the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) taking a personal interest in the matter. The DPP has ruled that the Cyber Crimes Act does not permit criminal prosecution for libel and defamation. With the case now slated to return to court in May we await the outcome of what is looking very much like an attempt by the police to intimidate activists and freedom of speech in cyberspace. Noteworthy is the fact that the new date scheduled for the  case — May 17th — happens to be the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia when Ms Nugent and others were planning to hold a pride march.

In the meantime a forum has been organized to discuss the Cyber Crimes Act at the University of the West Indies this Wednesday, April 5. Appearing on the forum will be Dr. Canute Thompson, who is suing Nugent for defamation regarding her allegations that he has sexually abused girls.

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The sympathy of the public and the media in Jamaica too often seems to lie with the perpetrators of rape rather than the victims or as Ms. Nugent prefers to call them, the survivors. For instance a Jamaica Observer article covering the statutory rape case of Ruper Clarke headlined the article thus: “Court to hear case of girl in Moravian pastor’s plight tomorrow.”

One radio station kept referring to Ms. Nugent as ‘the controversial Latoya Nugent’ every time they reported on the case. But by that token they should also say ‘the controversial Marcus Garvey’ or ‘the controversial Sam Sharpe’ every time they mention the names of those national heroes because till very recently both had  criminal records. The media of the time vilified them but that hasn’t prevented them from taking their rightful place in the pantheon of Jamaican heroes.

In that sense Latoya is in excellent company…she is a latter-day Nanny, a heroine for our times, a contemporary warner woman. She is exactly the kind of leader Jamaica needs today–independent, uncompromising and fearless. An inspiration. Let the Jamaican state try to arrest or detain that. In fact the powers-that-be should be wary of inadvertently creating a martyr who could easily metamorphose into a new leader. They should learn from history and Mr. Garvey himself.

Below is my column Garvey’s Lesson:

“Real leaders don’t care whom they offend, if in offending they are serving the cause of humanity and working for the good of their country. Jesus Christ was the greatest offender when he was on earth, and we ought to take a leaf out of his book in this respect.”

Marcus Garvey, arguably Jamaica’s premier national hero, certainly knew what it meant to be considered offensive for when he wasn’t being sued for libel he was being denounced as a villain by powerful interests both at home and abroad. One of the more frivolous lawsuits he faced was in 1930 when a Mrs Barnes-Haylett, a dressmaker who lived at the corner of Church and Beeston Street, sued Marcus Garvey’s newspaper The Blackman for libel, demanding damages of £1000, a small fortune in those days.

At the time Etheline Marjory Barnes-Haylett earned only £3 a week yet was represented by none other than his learned counsel, Norman Manley, while Marcus Garvey, in an effort to save money, as he did in the US, represented himself. The Gleaner carried blow-by-blow accounts of the trial with some of the in-jokes traded by Norman Manley and the judge at Garvey’s expense reminding me of the virtual heckling of the lawyer representing Tivoli victims by lawyers for the state at the recent West Kingston Commission of Enquiry.

The offending article in The Blackman described the formation of a new club at premises occupied by Barnes-Haylett, suggesting it was a place that might offer opportunities for whist drives and games of poker and twenty-one. Appearing under a section called Night Life the article said that the club had enlisted a large number of female members and that this itself should contribute to the club’s success promising ‘crazy’ times ahead. The writer of the article, one Thoywell Henry, who affected an American slang style of writing, said he had acquired this information from Clifford Parker, a customs officer, and a member of the club whom he described as a ‘spree’.

Mrs. Haylett complained that this account had damaged her reputation and that of the Amateur Choral Union which she had founded at her home. The word ‘female’ suggested prostitution, she said, and there had never been any mention of whist drives or poker or ‘sprees’. The organist of the club confessed that the mandate of the Choral Union may have been extended somewhat. “We…may have…sung secular songs but the original intention of the organisation was to sing hymns and songs in church, and not on the stage.”

I was struck by the following exchange between Garvey and Mrs. Barnes-Haylett who argued:

“…that false statement about me should not be in the Blackman making attacks on my character and reputation. My character is priceless.”

“Mr Garvey: We know that and would not take that away from you under any circumstances.”

Another striking thing about the reported exchanges is that it seems in those days witnesses were allowed to answer back and even question the lawyers cross-examining them.

Mr. Garvey: You know that Mr. Mends is a politician, don’t you?

Witness: What is a politician? (Laughter.)

Mr. Garvey: A person who indulges in politics.

Witness: And what is politics? (Laughter.)

Mr. Garvey: The science of Government.

Witness: I don’t know about that: I am only a dressmaker (laughter).

Clifford Parker too tried to claim damages of £100 but didn’t get very far with this. Marcus Garvey suggested that the entire libel suit was concocted by a group of people, including Barnes-Haylett and Parker, who thinking that “Mr. Garvey of Somali Court” was a man of means, had planted the story on one of the Blackman’s reporters.

What is curious is that the lawsuit did not allow time for the Blackman to publish an apology before proceeding to court. When a clarification was published after the fact Barnes-Haylett complained that it had caused her more grief, as the police had come to her premises to investigate. She therefore was claiming aggravated libel. Marcus Garvey challenged her to provide evidence of the visit of the police.

After much court time was taken up deciding whether Garvey was even liable for the damages or not, as he insisted he was not the managing editor of the publication, the judge awarded the plaintiff damages of £30, a considerably smaller sum than the £1000 she had demanded.

How interesting that today no one remembers Mrs. Barnes-Haylett or her “priceless” character while the ‘libellous’ Marcus Garvey is a national hero and widely acknowledged as a global leader whose influence far exceeds the shores of the country he was born in. The fact that we keep repeating history suggests we’ve yet to learn from it. Perhaps as someone once said “The only lesson you can learn from history is that it repeats itself.”