The Redemption of the Land

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Alligator Head Foundation offices

Gleaner column 17/1/18

“There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” Psalms 104: 25-30

The new year has dawned like a tsunami, rearing high up in the air and threatening to overwhelm us with its ferocity. As it sweeps us along it spins and twirls us about and the trick is to stay afloat somehow, anyhow. The coldest winter up North, the wettest December in these parts, climate change seems to be ushering us along with a firm but clammy hand.

The message is clear, we have to stop our clueless meddling with the environment we inhabit. The redemption of the land is something the Bible talks about quite a bit. Yet for a country proud to proclaim its Christianity far and wide Jamaica has not distinguished itself through its environmental policies or its relationship to the sea.

Over the weekend I attended a powwow in Portland about the redemption of the ocean, another crucial element of our ecosystem. Organized by Francesca von Habsburg’s Alligator Head Foundation the meeting brought together a range of skill sets to think about the problem of ocean conservation and how to make it more of a priority in local agendas.

Von Habsburg’s intention is to create a space where solutions can be found and thinking changed about our stewardship of the ocean. Her internationally renowned TBA21 Academy, run by Markus Reymann and once devoted to ambitious and daring visual arts projects, is now offering its substantial resources towards creative solutions to regenerating and nursing the oceans back to health.

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Holding framed picture is Markus Reymann, to his right Francesca von Habsburg and next to her in blue is Dane Buddoo


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Baby mangroves being cultivated

Mere ocean literacy and consciousness is no longer the goal as young people are aware of the need to shepherd natural resources. What is needed are avenues to transform that consciousness into change. Art is still central to the program but art as a lens through which to view environmental issues and a powerful tool to produce socially and politically conscious works.

The TBA21 Academy has already spearheaded three voyages in the Pacific Ocean, twinning artists with scientists to come up with insights into ocean conservation and care. Portland and Jamaica have a central place in the scheme of things because of von Habsburg’s lifelong links to the country. Alligator Head was where she learnt to swim on summer holidays with her father Baron Thyssen.

Around the coast near Alligator Head von Habsburg has created the East Portland Fish Sanctuary, now headed by Dane Buddoo, formerly of the University of the West Indies.

According to von Habsburg “Science provides the knowledge and art creates empathy so this is the first bridge we are trying to create. The second one is bringing a wide range of people with different skill sets together to create a new ecology of thinking. From a very young age young people are taught that they have to specialize, if you don’t specialize you won’t have a career they’re told, but we want to break down those walls.” What has been added to the mix is entrepreneurship and finding entrepreneurial solutions that are creative.

Finding solutions to such vast problems requires collective thinking von Habsburg believes so there are three pillars to the project. The first is science as manifested in the creation of the fish sanctuary and its labs; the second is culinary, creating a restaurant on the property which will feature healthy food, using local produce from farmers in the area and also exploring options from the sea—edible seaweed and other algae.

The third option is art programming. “Artists are the antenna of the world today. They are the ones who see many topics that maybe fly by the radar of journalists. We are so saturated by media, the role of media seems to be to keep us all in a permanent state of shock and horror. If we don’t read about some horrible shithole comment that Trump’s made, it’s something else,” says von Habsburg.

Well, as Ezekial 34:2-4 says, “Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.”

It’s time to learn from the shepherds and grasp this opportunity to use the resources offered by TBA21 and the Alligator Head Foundation.

A Critique of Afrofuturism…and more

A critical response to Afrofuturism…

A good friend left the following response on my Facebook page where I had posted a link to my previous post on Afrofuturism, the Studio Museum etc. As I didn’t explicitly get his permission to repost his comment here I won’t name him but he raises some compelling points. While I might agree with some of them I think the main thing is that Afrofuturism is about fantasy, a fantasy of shedding a troublesome past as the two tweets by @StormSaulter indicate. By no means is it a substitute for investment in scientific research or a so-called scientific outlook. So I don’t think the existence of what we call Afrofuturism is at the expense of scientific inquiry or even a placeholder for it. In fact it’s the opposite, an artistic impulse that is futuristic in orientation. Anyway…what do YOU think? Is it a ‘timewank’ to borrow a phrase from Irvine Welsh or is there more to it?

Thanks for heads up on the show. It would be interesting to read whatever texts accompany it to see if at last anyone has finally put forward an articulate, intelligent thesis of what exactly they mean by Afrofuturism beyond inchoate mentions of computers, Octavia Butler, and Africa.
Of the tweet excerpts that you reproduced in the blog there’s only one seriously intelligent line, and it isn’t from the Afrofuturists. It is from Greg Tate where he asks: Well, what isn’t futurist about being Black in America? That’s the first brick of theory at long last, the first spark of serious philosophical thought. The rest is humdrum rehashes of anecdotes and George Clinton.
The fact is that futurism (as most Afrofuturists appear to still understand it) without a serious culture of scientific adventurism is like the proverbial faith without work: it’s meaningless and dead. And, the other fact is that African cultures, no matter where they are, have yet to embrace scientific inquiry let alone adventurism. So, the science fiction remains fiction without a chance of transforming into fact the way Western science fiction consistently transforms into fact, and the utopia is nothing but dystopia.
In my thinking only Tate’s twist in the tale promises to open up a meaningful philosophical platform for defining and understanding the idea of an Afro futurism: one that isn’t about “I’m interested in using gadgets and looking weird, so, I’m an Afrofuturist”, but broaches the comprehensive philosphere of a culture that survives on dreams.
It’s interesting to wear Fula robes and kaftans (not even Dogon) and plastic sunglasses and perform alien descendants of Dogon astronomers visiting Earth. It would be even more interesting for people to emerge from within the culture(s), that is, African cultures be it in the West or on the continent, who have the mindset to invent Google Glass. If you see what I mean. Otherwise, to me the futurism stuff remains mostly a pitiful, mannerist “our ancestors built the pyramids” give me a break, quite frankly.
(PS. Notice the peculiar dissonance between European Futurism–Russian, Italian–which was about dynamism, speed, ascension, the future, and streams of Afrofuturism that seem to be about the past, the Dogon, alienation, hurt memory, or at best, mere consumerism, and hardly about ascent or the future!)

Well, as I said, some cogently argued points there although the rage is perhaps misplaced. The following tweets  articulate some of the reasons for the fascination with Afrofuturism:

Storm Saulter @StormSaulter
–nowadays deep seated issues of race, class, slavery etc. are mashing up with modern life and expectations of what life should be

–it’s refreshing 2 imagine a future where Afro culture/style exists in highest beauty w out always connecting it to a painful past

Ytasha Womack @ytashawomack
–The imagination spurs creativity and  scientific inquiry alike #afrofuturism

–triggers the imagination & helps many see beyond convention.

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