Friday, September 11, 2009

I am here on Friday, September 11th, at my kitchen table in Oakland, thinking about how political imagining is. I am thinking about how political telling stories is, first to tell them at all, then, to tell the ones that could break us out into ways of seeing we were not meant to discover. I am thinking about what it takes to claim the imagination as a site of resistance. To own one's own imagination. To believe in the right to imagine as necessary as the right to food and shelter. Audre Lorde told us "...poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence." But even before the words, even before the feelings that stir in pre-cognition of themselves, there is a place, something like mangrove swamps, where what could be born is not there yet: the place of imagination. I am thinking about how I knew how to get there in the beginning, and then how it dried up, slowly, till there was no water left, only caked mud, hard, cracks running through it, estuary like. How there was no narrative there, no story, only a haunting of story, the rumor of story, the yearning. And then, trying to find my way back, to story, to the place of water and mud and roots growing up out of that watery place. How everything was connected, in the roots of that place: sex, God, bodies, love, fear, memory. How the watery place was impacted by the realities of patriarchy, colonialism, racism, capitalism; goliath structures that sucked the water out of the place and the roots that connected my body to everything else, the connections that generated seeds of story, struggled to grow, wasting. I am here thinking about what it means to re-water the swamp, feel the mangrove enlivening again, roots wetted swelling and growing new shoots. How this is resistance. How stories come from my body and without them I cannot survive.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Into the Cracks: A Review of Anya Antonovych Metcalf's "There is a Crack in Everything"

There is a crack in everything. I read the words first and then saw the paintings. I came from San Francisco, California to see them, really. From the street murals of the Bay Area all the way to The Hub on East Bay Street, Nassau, Bahamas, last Friday night. It’s a long way to travel to see cracks. Not everyone thinks there is something to be seen in the hairline fractures that cross tired walls and stained cement sidewalks like dry riverbeds. But Anya Antonovych Metcalf photographed, then painted them, made art from their portraits, hung them on walls so that we could look at them, into them, into the cracks.

I’m a writer, not a painter. I looked at them, paintings of jagged black lines crossing and circling and framing coloured spaces, and didn’t know what I was supposed to see. Abstraction scares me. For a moment. Till I begin to see things. Till I decide to see what I want to see. Till I decide to take charge of what I’m looking at. Why I’m drawn to this one that looks like fire, like a cave of fire and cracks all around. And this one over here, blue water blue, blue hole blue, pregnant belly blue, cracks circling the belly, the swollen space center of the cracks. In another a black chasm drips pale pink wetness across a smooth mustard landscape, and in another still, the gashes are smudged with greenness, something living trying to get out. Or in.

And then something clicked. These paintings, which had begun as portraits of concrete surfaces, became instead landscapes of the psyche. They were inner spaces as visceral as lung tissue and as necessary as dreams. They breathed. They expressed heat and cool, clean openings and rough surfaces and the tension between their differences was generative. What at first appeared broken and despairing now seemed swollen, full, pregnant. Sutures and awkward, ugly scars gave way to mossy filaments. The dripping of pink wetness against a dry wall of old facades seemed to suggest the possibility of rejuvenation. A halleluiah moment. Leonard Cohen crooned out of a black box or inside my own head.

If you want to know the truth, I have been one to stare at cracks. They call to me. They are insistent. They stare back. Cracks in walls suggest a way through them, suggest what might live behind them, unseen till the crack; a shift in the solidity of all that we know. That’s how the light gets in. What if these are cracks in our own psyches, and what might the light getting in illuminate? Cause to grow and swell and open to give birth? There is no definitive answer, but one can imagine. This is what the work of Anya Antonovych Metcalf accomplishes: faced with the distressed and neglected and weathered landscapes of the psyche, of course our own, we are compelled to imagine the possibility of renewal; the kind of renewal which is a transformation of the old into something not imagined before – before the crack, and the light getting in.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

In Honour of A Day Of Absence

This is written in response to the idea proposed by Nicolette Bethel -A Day Of Absence, February 11th- to raise awareness in the Bahamas of the devaluing of its artists and culture workers and the need for solidarity, all the better to create a society in which artists and culture workers can thrive. Thank you to Nicolette Bethel for her vision and the fire to get up and doing something.

I am here in my apartment in Oakland, California thinking about my people there in Nassau, Bahamas, in Grand Bahama, in Eleuthera and Andros and Cat Island, and on and on across the archipelago, and I am thinking of the artists, the culture workers, the creators of the new symbols, the creators of the new songs and poems and plays and films, the tellers of the stories, the old stories, the new stories, the stories we have to write if we are going to live them and I am thinking about this planned day of ABSENCE and how you are all coming together, to rally around the desire for not only work but for the kind of society that values you/us, that values the life of the artist, the role of the artist, (the artist who knows how to make life out of her body, his body, life that the community needs and most of the time doesn't know it, can't appreciate it, and can't live, really live, without) and I am thinking that I am with you ...if only in spirit... in solidarity with all my co-creating artist sistren and brethren... more power, more creativity, more valuing and honouring to all of you; more love, more celebration, more hopefulness, more bigitteyness, more soulfulness, more inspiredness, more getting paid-ness, more community and solidarity-ness to you there, in my beloved community... I am with you, if only in the vibration of these words, in the vibration of my heart sending you these words, believing in a new day... Let absence make the heart grow stronger; out of absence let the new day be born.

Helen Klonaris

Sunday, January 25, 2009

No Human Being Is Alien

It is five days since the inauguration of a Black man to the United States presidency and I can feel the tremors of a new era as they ripple across air and land and my own body. I am in Oakland, California, but my eyes and heart are resting uneasily on an article written for the daily Tribune, in Nassau, Bahamas, almost two weeks ago. I’ve read it several times, even written a letter in response, but the thought that comes to me now is that ideas are perhaps the single greatest threat to the future of the Bahamas. Not people. Not guns. Not fists. Ideas. The presence of some ideas; the absence of others. By the same token, ideas are also our greatest hope. And ideas, of course, belong to all of us.

The following is my response, then, to John Marquis’ column “Insight”, published in the Tribune on January 12, 2009:

Dear Editor,

Just because a man studies the history of a people, this does not mean he is able (or willing) to interpret it in a way that does justice to the people he has studied. John Marquis has made this clear in his gross attack on Haitian people in his weekly column “Insight” (sic) that appeared last week in the Tribune. In fact, if indeed Marquis is a scholar of Haitian history, as he claims he is, what is most apparent is that his own privilege, as a white English man, has prevented him from seeing this complex history clearly; he sees instead through the thick and warped lens of the imperialist, making judgments rooted in white imperialist values that do not fundamentally care for the people he has ‘studied’.

Marquis writes that it is “mass illegal immigration” by Haitians to Bahamian shores that poses the “single greatest threat” to the future of the Bahamas. He defends his position by promoting two basic ideas: the supposed inherent differences between Bahamians and Haitians and the claim that Haitians are intrinsically a violent people: “(Haiti’s) people are from a different tribal background than most Bahamians and they are notoriously volatile in settling their political and domestic differences.” Marquis goes on to compare Haitians to “pit bulls” and Bahamians to “potcakes” and hopes that this metaphor will show the reader the potentially devastating effects of becoming “a creolized extension of that unruly nation to the south.”

Marquis further laments the creolization of the once “greatest country on Earth” (England) whose transformation (post colonization of the Caribbean, India, Africa, the Middle East?) has turned the suburbs of many major towns and cities into immigrant ghettoes.” It must be this tragedy (I wonder what Africans thought of their own great nations prior to the invasion of the English, Dutch, French and Portuguese who cut and carved these nations into colonialist ghettoes and mass graves?) that forced Marquis to get on a plane (or boat?) and travel far from home to this small place, only to be confronted again by the ills of postcolonial unrest – Haitian women and men seeking a dry, safe place to make a way for themselves and their families. When will it all end?

In Marquis’ world view, one which sees Haitians and Bahamians as dogs, and racial and ethnic monotony as superior and preferable to ‘creolization’, the solution to the “Haitian problem” is understandably black and white: Haitians are “aliens” who must not be allowed in. At least, this is what this reader infers from Marquis’ final assessment: “To counter the dangers, Bahamians need to display the will to force firm action.”

Regardless of his final assessment, Marquis’ primary objective (he spends 99% of his column doing this) is to cultivate fear of Haitians and Haitian Bahamians to manipulate non-Haitian Bahamians to use their “will”… to do what? To send Haitian Bahamians back to Haiti? To create and enforce stricter anti-immigration policies? To fear and hate our Caribbean sisters and brothers, so many of whom have been living in this country for generations now and are an integral part of the complex fabric of Bahamian community and culture? To stir non-Haitian Bahamians to violence against Haitian Bahamians? Doesn’t this sound disturbingly familiar?

I am not a scholar of Haitian history. But I understand enough about the Caribbean’s colonial past, racism, the brutality of poverty in the wake of colonial oppression, and the struggle to survive in an adopted country that refuses to grant statehood to children born on its shores, to know that life for Haitians in this country is its own kind of hell. Haitians leave their country to escape to places like the Bahamas because they want to survive. (My own grandparents left their homelands for a similar purpose after World War II.) They are not “invaders”. If they are angry, it is because we have treated them with the kind of fundamental disrespect that has been so crassly articulated by John Marquis. If they are angry, it is because we continue to ignore the history of Haiti, and act like we are not their sisters and brothers. If they are angry, it is because they understand more than we do that regardless of national borders, the struggle to survive as Caribbean people (with all our tribal and ethnic backgrounds) belongs to all of us.

In Marquis’ world (and his own words) it does not take much imagination to predict what colonizers have always feared: oppressed people will surely rise up. It takes a little more imagination, however, to see that oppression and division will always create more of the same. It takes more imagination still, coupled with radical love for one another, to see that Haiti’s problems are our problems, not simply because there are generations of Haitian Bahamians living alongside Chinese and Greek and Indian and English and African Bahamians, but because our survival as human beings depends on each other’s survival; we are still none of us free until we are all free.

Marquis’ words –his ideas- are dangerous, and, for any human being wanting peace and a compassionate country in which to live, his words should not be taken lightly and they should not be accepted glibly as ‘insight’; they should be questioned and held up to the light of our best imaginations, all the better to shape a society in which all our best interests are recognized and cared for. Haitian Bahamians are Bahamians. Haitians are our Caribbean family. Bahamian immigration policies must be firmly rooted in a plan to assist in bringing justice to the lives of Haitian people and should be part of an overall plan to make life better for all Bahamians, not regardless of, but in celebration of our respective differences.

And, if indeed we are in the early moments of a new era, I suggest it is time we let go of the use of the word ‘alien’. No human being is alien. It is a word that prevents us from seeing the ways in which we are connected to each other as human beings, and prevents us from seeing the possibilities of how we can make a way together, instead of engendering new kinds of apartheid, in the name of nationhood.

Helen Klonaris
January 25th, 2009
Oakland, California