Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sonia Boyce at Greenwich

This follows on from my previous post about the event at the National Maritime Museum last night. Click here to read it.
Sonia Boyce started out by saying that it has been said that political subject matter can never make good art.

One of the two objects she chose was a ladies’ whip. This was clearly designed to be decorative yet functional, and had a silver-plated, carved handle. Boyce then screened a short film she had made, part of which included her reading from the slave narrative of Mary Prince, an enslaved African Caribbean woman.

Prince described how familiar she became with the different types of pain inflicted by each of the different instruments used on her by her mistress, including fists used on her face and head.

Boyce had a white woman on screen describing each of the objects and her own responses to them. The second object Boyce chose was an iron ring designed to be worn around the neck, with a long iron arm and hand to be worn in front of the face. This was to serve as a constant reminder to the enslaved person of his or her status of subjugation to the white master.

The film concluded with a dance performed by young people in Carnival-type costumes. The dance celebrated and commemorated resistance by enslaved African people. We must always remember that the enslavement of our ancestors was met with constant, continuous acts of resistance by our ancestors and that our creativity was and is part of that resistance.

There followed a long discussion about the collusion of African people in their own enslavement, i.e. we were sold by other African people. Bonnie Greer pointed out that the situation is very complex and needs to be addressed. She asked whether this was the moment to address it.

I feel that this situation has been addressed for many years, in ways that are not that helpful. People say ‘I ain’t no African, I am Jamaican’. We hear our contemporaries from the Continent refer to us as ‘sons of slaves’. Greer mentioned that Ekow Eshun had stated that the Fanti people of Ghana, his ancestors, were unhappy when the Transatlantic trade ended.

One person in the audience pointed out that among the complexities we need to address – and possibly a higher priority than addressing the complexities of African people’s complicity in our own enslavement – was the complexity of the ways in which we resisted our enslavement.

Clearly, greed and exploitation occur in every society. The Buddha taught that greed, hatred and delusion are part of each and every one of us. However, we need to discuss these issues in our history and address them in ways that are going to heal us, heal our communities, heal our people and heal our species. This ongoing culture of blaming is destructive and must end. And our creativity is one way in which we can heal ourselves and each other.

See also: Poem - The Blood


Keywords: Black Arts, African creativity, African history, Transatlantic trade

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