Today’s article is the first of Lockerbie College’s four November articles and it is also a very intricate one. It links and expresses the passion of myself and my daughter, both of whom are artists who also share the hobby of reading and watching Literature and History.
Book, magazine, online, movie; it doesn’t matter. Art, Literature and History together speak the language of humanity, of people and their psyche, of lives lived and loves lost, of memories, impressions and choices, of conflicting perspectives, shattering decisions. These subjects tell the story of the repercussions driven by anger, regret, ambition, forgiveness, retaliation and retribution, and the contrast between glory and shame or disgust and illumination. I could go on forever. Together these subjects chronicle the human journey, the irrevocability of being human and the signatures of civilisations.
The antithesis here is that Art, Literature, and History are basically three dying subjects at school and hugely unpopular at CSEC. They lie among the ruins of the rise of Science and Technology and are shunned choices among students who argue that Art is a waste of time in the age of personal photography. What can an artist say in paint that a click cannot accomplish?
Similarly, Literature involves too much reading, too many words no one uses in common language anymore and stories with rich context and vocabulary are now found to be boring in the age of simplistic, literal understanding heralding the rise of the superficial. Meanwhile History is all about dead people and places that no one remembers; there’s nothing to learn from the past and why should dead somebodies who were important to Barbados and the world – once, long ago be worth of the neural activity required to remember them?
And let’s not forget that students drop these subjects because often parents OK this decision when deciding subject streams. The rationale? The son who doesn’t like to read and the daughter who ‘hates’ that History books have no pictures. Yes indeed, it is far easier to capitulate than to fight a battle with a teenager who knows everything.
So I’m here to share some complex thoughts with you. Let’s look at the blend of Literature and History. Ours. Here is a CXC poem by Olive Senior, in the month of our 50th Anniversary of Independence, called, “Colonial Girls’ School”.
willed our skins pale
muffled our laughter
lowered our voices
let out our hems
dekinked our hair
denied our sex in gym tunics and bloomers
harnessed our voices to madrigals
and genteel airs
yoked our minds to declensions in Latin
and the language of ShakespeareTold us nothing about ourselves
There was nothing about us at all
Some of you listening, perhaps you Millennials out there, will not recognise this but for those of you, like me, who happily and proudly traded British citizenship to be a Barbadian in 1966 will, perhaps like me, be full of righteous indignation that in 2016 Literature like this that tells OUR nation’s story so eloquently and meaningfully and truthfully is lost, not in translation but because it has become an option and has been deemed non-essential to our children BY OUR CHILDREN THEMSELVES!
Storytelling – Literature – is the oldest form of teaching children about the why and the how of your own people and in failing to demand that our children exercise their ability to think critically and understand deeply, we, quite simply, fail them. Literature grows our human understanding, stretches our human compassion and creates clean, clear interpretation within the disparity and disconnect of daily life and experience like nothing else can. THAT’S why we read. To interpret. To understand. To participate. To know what it takes to belong meaningfully to the human race and our own culture.
Now take all of this and add it to History which chronicles the past thereby clarifying the present – cause and effect, which taken together, impact, influence, control and govern the future.
Then let’s take the words of History and illustrate them in glorious technicolour, the hues, shades and tones, the lines, contours and perspectives that speak of another time, another place, all of which are brought magically to life by an artist’s eye which sees beyond the reality of mundane and extinct facts. An artist sees the symbolism of the moment in time and feels its impact and it is THAT which is captured on canvas.
So this brings me to a recent experience my daughter, the artist and I shared last weekend with her childhood friend. The result of the expedition we made can be seen at The Carmichael Exhibition which opened last night at the Village Gallery at the Crane Resort. Her painting is titled, “Our Father” and through explaining the process I witnessed of the artist’s journey, I hope to illustrate the magnificent importance and relevance of Art.
Being our 50th year of Independence my daughter decided her subject needed to honour this event so we went on a trek to find the birthplace of the Father of our Independence, at ‘The Garden’, in St. Lucy. Having done her research online and a general idea of the location, we took several wrong turns and made a few enquiries which led to more wrong turns. Just as we were about to give up, my daughter spotted a roof in the distance; its beams exposed, devoid of cover and far more overgrown with vines and tree boughs than any google image actually depicted.
We found an unbeaten track leading in its general direction, passing an exquisite, almost ripe field of sorrel and there we were – amid a carnival of local fruit and vegetables growing wild everywhere on the property. A veritable orchard of scattered guava and okra and pumpkin vines, with young coconut trees and a giant breadfruit tree, full of ripening fruit, literally growing out of, and into, the derelict house.
It was quintessential Errol Barrow, the Father of our Independence; he was feeding us all, the bounty was all around us, just there for the picking, his message was alive still even for the disrespectful who had dumped garbage at the feet of the wild vines which formed a hedge, like a protective, reverent wall in front of the rotting, front door. This home, now ignored by ‘party’ that placed an ostentatious plaque on its front wall had chosen not to care that that wall would soon be consumed by nature, leaving nothing…nothing to mark the birthplace of our Father in this 50th year of his dream becoming a reality.
We walked around, in saddened homage and furious shock and stood before the marble plaque: “…in honour of the late Right Honourable Errol W. Barrow, Premier of Barbados, Prime Minister, Father of Independence, who was born at this house, The Garden, Born 21st January, 1920.
The three of us stood there, broken-hearted. 50 years after we shrugged off colonial rule and stood alone as our own country, led by a Titan with dreams of a new land in which we lived on our own terms, THIS carelessly disgarded pile of old stone was the memory we preserved of our Father. The symbolism was intense.
“We loyal sons and daughters all
write our names on history’s page
Strict guardians of our heritage
Firm craftsmen of our fate.”
We did not know, standing there amid the symbolism of Art, Literature and History whether to weep in shame, embarrassment or fury.
This month of this year, it’s time. Celebrate being a loyal son or daughter of the soil, and read some Literature of our culture and of our time: George Lamming, Austin Clarke or Karen Lord. Spoil yourself with a great historical read “Sugar in the Blood”. Until the 28th of November, you have an opportunity to visit the Trevor Carmichael Art Exhibition at the Crane. Take the journey and take it now, because soon there may be even more of our culture discarded and your children need to know the ‘Strict guardians of our heritage’ and ‘firm craftsmen of our fate’.
Hopefully I have helped you to see the magic of Literature and History and Art, three links in the chains of our heritage and three reasons to celebrate our future by knowing from where we have come and what we need to change to get where we need to go.
At Lockerbie College, as at other schools, our students have the option of choosing NOT to study Literature, History and Art but we puree it anyway and slip it in like magic pixie dust… we integrate it on treasure hunts, camouflage it as games and competitions, build it into adventures and expeditions and treks and we show movies, debate, research and discuss. Why? Because our children need to know who they are.
Finally, for those of you patriotic Barbadian women listening today, here’s a serious challenge. In the United States of America in 1893 a diverse group of women ranging in age from 20 to 90, who were dedicated to patriotism, education, and historic preservation saved George Washington’s derelict home at Mount Vernon in Virginia from certain demolition.
Our Father’s birthplace at The Garden in St. Lucy is a national disgrace in this our 50th year of the Independence which was his dream for us all. We MUST do something about this because someone has to. As citizens, we should all make it our duty to restore the birthplace of our Father and relieve us all of our cultural shame.
Lockerbie College has a passionate and committed staff of innovative and motivating professionals. Visit us online or come in and see how we raise critical and creative thinkers with character and integrity and that not-so-common virtue of ‘common sense’. Perhaps you may witness the beauty of a well-used literary device in the middle of a Business class, when a teacher asks: “What does History teach us on the link between printing money and a country’s global reputation or worth?”
It’s a special place at Lockerbie. Bajan to the bone. God Bless our Father of Independence and thanks for sharing this time with me.