CREATIVE SPACE #17 of 2018 (uploaded November 22nd 2018)
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The Lecture Circuit – UnMasking
A good teacher can make a world of difference and for a number of us during my years at the University of the West Indies’ Mona, Jamaica campus, Dr. Carolyn Cooper (pictured above at the Alliougana Lit Fest in Montserrat reading a copy of my picture book With Grace) was a good teacher: the kind of good teacher that challenges us to re-consider how we see the world. Dr. Cooper may be now retired from her role as literary and cultural studies professor but, as a roving academic and speaker, she continues to teach. In November, she lectured in both Montserrat, at the Alliougana Festival of the Word and at the UWI Open Campus (Antigua and Barbuda), part of the UWI’s ongoing 70th anniversary observation. The latter was held on a balmy Sunday night after a week of heavy rains that prompted the rescheduling and, as an unintended blessing, gave the organizers and those of us learning about it late, more time to promote it.
Disappointingly there were only 40 people, give or take, at the Antigua lecture, but as we would say in Antigua, to those who didn’t make it, ah fu dem dey loss. Because Dr. Cooper still can teach and she said a Word. Also, the Q & A and after chatter as we sipped and mingled was also fun.`
Dr. Cooper, author of Sound Clash: Jamaican Dancehall Cuture at Large and Noises in the Blood: Orality, Gender, and the ‘Vulgar’ Body of Jamaican Popular Culture, true to form roped in art and pop culture luminaries past and present to enliven her presentation. So alongside references to the writing of Zora Neale Hurston and Marcus Garvey, the Harlem Renaissance writer and early 20th century Black rights activist, respectively, there were references to the music and words of the likes of Godfather of soul, James Brown, and dancehall bad man, currently incarcerated, Vybz Kartel. She pulled from traditional scholarship and literature and more oral forms. So that you had references in her speech to Antigua and Barbuda’s Jamaica Kincaid, Ivan Van Sertin who wrote, They came before Columbus, counterbalanced by the rhythmic oral poetry of Mutabaruka and reggae group Burning Spear – variations of the same message.
And what was the message. If I had to sum it up, I would say, as she has ever done, challenging us to re-consider what we have been told about our history and ourselves. Cooper even drew on Black Panther and specifically Killmonger and his iconic line that he be buried in the sea among his ancestors who knew a free death was better than life in chains. There were the ones who died beneath the sea, there were the ones who subverted from inside and outside the plantation, there were the millions before erased or minimized by history, in order to minimize us in our own imagination; so much to consider. And as on the plantation, reading and re-reading can be a revolutionary act. Dr. Cooper spoke, for instance, of James Brown remarking that with Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud, he lost a huge chunk of his crossover audience, because as much of an anthem as it became for black people needing the affirmation in a world that demonized their blackness, white people didn’t want to hear it. She spoke of insisting on speaking your truth – even if that truth is the battle she’s waging with the people behind the Museum of African American History in Washington to acknowledge her sister Donnette Cooper as the first person to make a donation to the building fund.
Her message was about unmasking history, true true history, bringing to light – per the poetry of Mutabaruka – the histories that have been deliberately repressed. And – I might add – our own repression re our histories by her insistence on writing her newspaper column in not only English but also Jamaican patois, freeing our tongue so to speak. Another link to the past and another way of redefining our present and future. We are, after all, as she noted, a folk who have already “from the centre of an oppressive system been able to survive, adapt, create”.
(Another picture of Dr. Cooper, centre, in Montserrat with, left, Vincentian writer N. C. Marks, and, right, Antiguan and Barbudan writer and bookseller Barbara Arrindell)
And, good news, the UWI Open Campus (Antigua and Barbuda) head of site Zane Peters said, “spread the word because we’re going to have other lectures (and the ) conference next year.”
– By Joanne C. Hillhouse.
This sponsored post is part of the online edition of my culture-and-arts-focused CREATIVE SPACE series. As a journalist in Antigua and Barbuda for many years, it has been one of my favourite beats. Our culture and the arts don’t get covered nearly enough for me, and, as I have a platform I’m going to use it to expand that coverage. That’s why I’m doing this. I’m hoping that companies in Antigua and Barbuda will see both the online marketing potential in terms of their brand and the value in supporting Antiguan and Barbudan art and culture by sponsoring a post in this CREATIVE SPACE series. Boosting your brand while boosting local art and culture. Posts are syndicated on Antigua Nice, one of Antigua and Barbuda’s first and largest online platforms. More to come. If you wish to support Antiguan and Barbudan art and culture while advertising your brand across potentially multiple online platforms, contact me.
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