Hung out to Dry…Who were the Tivoli 73? A preview of Ebony G. Patterson’s ‘Of 72’

A report on Ebony G. Patterson’s ‘Of 72’ project commissioned by Small Axe: A Journal of Criticism.

…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.

Of 72 project by Ebony G. Patterson, March 15, 2012

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.

Patty Bandits in Paradise…#ironymuch

Robbery at Juici Patties in Kingston, Jamaica, hostage situation defused, how it was discussed on Twitter

Juici sent patties to Haiti after the earthquake

What an irony that the very day after Playboy magazine asked me to expand on my statement “In Jamaica farce, intrigue and tragedy remain inextricably intertwined” (Don’t worry–re Playboy–ALL will be revealed in due course) another farcical scenario played itself out in downtown Kingston when armed men took over the Juici Patty outlet on West Street.

@pd_rickards was tickled. lol who would rob a patty shop? <Pattybandits he tweeted. When I was a kid they used to call me Patty Bandit..and seet deh now it come to pass. 8:48 PM Sep 4th. they would bring box of patty home and bam..3 gone..ppl seh..’Is peter dean dweet uno..him is the patty bandit. 9:03 PM Sep 4th.

Meanwhile @JustSherman joined in the commentary: Hostage situation at A Patty Shop, Sounds like something written by @PD_Rickards but sadly true, Lord deliver us.

Details are still sketchy; it was only last night that what rapidly became known as “the hostage situation” developed like a hurriedly-formed hurricane which huffed and puffed but ultimately kept from blowing the house down. I was up in Stony Hill listening to Kate Bush sing Wuthering Heights over and over when i saw the first tweet about hostages being released in downtown Kingston.

I blinked. Had i fallen asleep and woken up in a Bollywood film? Or was this a nightmare in which life was trying to invade the reality show we’ve become? In response to my query as to whether this might be a b-grade Bollywood flick @ drewonline said: that would involve a dance routine on king street ma’am so no it’s not a Bollywood movie it’s a Jamaican farce–:-(

Turn on the TV, turn on the TV, everyone yelled when i announced that my Twitter feed was indicating that people were being held hostage at Juici Patty on West Street. Of course once again real life was quick to intrude. We were in Kingston, Jamaica, not some place with real television stations that report what’s occurring AS it’s occurring around us. Both major local stations were replaying American TV series and there was no live coverage of the potentially deadly drama. As @ArnoldKer said in disbelief: #nowwatching Gossip Girl on TVJ while hostages are being held downtown. How awesome is this!

The inevitable reference to the erstwhile reign of Dudus was made: Likkle bwoy cyan manage bigman work. Now dem know how Presi work did hard and Dem waan do Don work and cyan manage it. They should have tried to co-op the System into regular governance and then use an diffuse it. The latter makes eminent sense for as the same tweeter pointed out: Tivoli was the only “ghetto” with Moneygram, Claro, Digicel, Lime and numerous small and large businesses that were profitable and safe.

Hopefully the international media won’t get hold of this, someone said. I thought events in Barbados where six people were killed in the process of a robbery in Bridgetown were likely to distract attention away from Kingston, where nobody has been killed after all. The farce continued to unfurl; after a tense standoff police orchestrated an invasion of the building only to find the armed men long gone by the time they broke in. Said @DLee876: Welcome to #Jamaica, where police surround a building and yet ALL the criminals inside escape. hahahahah #sadbutfunny.

So the gunmen freed themselves under the guise of being hostages? asked @cucumberjuice.

That was when @drewonline memorably declared: Sometimes i believe we are all hostages inna patty shop (that has a beach, a soundtrack and people who run really fast) #ironymuch

Interestingly it was only a few days ago that there was a situation at another patty shop, Sugar & Spice, in Liguanea. I don’t think it even made the local news because i never did hear the details of it tho’ my twitter feed showed photos of police cars blocking one of the Liguanea plazas and there were rumours of bullets being fired. It is said that a woman who had gone to the bank next door before deciding on a patty for lunch was robbed of J$800,000. But honestly who knows for sure? In the information age crucial information is frequently withheld in Jamaica; its like wading through a perpetual smog.

The hashtag in front of words means that the tweet in question will be filed under those terms in the global twitter feed. For example #nowwatching is usually appended to tweets announcing what movie, TV show or video the person is watching at the time. #sadbutfunny had one quite poignant tweet: hard enough being the slow kid but needing a reminder for drivers not to run you over is just #sadbutfunny http://twitpic.com/2lf035. Another example, this one from Sept 1 @rpugh Discovery Channel gunman James Jay Lee called 4 TV shows promoting war be removed. Holding hostages at gunpoint. #ironymuch

Alas it’s true, we’re all hostages in a patty shop. There’s no escaping it. Jamaica 2010. #ironymuch