Monday, 24 June 2019

‘INNA DE YARD’ DELVES INTO THE ‘SOUL’ OF JAMAICA

Dogs barking in the distance. Birds chirping nearby. A man walking through the mist, surrounded by lush vegetation. A distinctive vibrato singing “Speak Softly, Love” over it all.
So begins Inna de Yard, a documentary that can safely be called a love poem to reggae music - or to the “soul of Jamaica”, as the film is sub-titled with an obvious play on words.
The poster for Inna de Yard.
Directed by Peter Webber (whose first feature was the acclaimed Girl with a Pearl Earring), the documentary comes at a timely moment: reggae was inscribed last November on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Before opening across Germany on June 20, the film was screened in Paris at the UN agency’s headquarters to a full house of spectators, many of whom seemed to know the artists and the songs. Several stood up to dance when the musicians performed after the projection.
Inna de Yard takes us into the lives of pioneer reggae musicians who have come together to record music in a hilltop studio. This is a weathered, old house that offers breath-taking views of the capital Kingston. It is filled with stacks of vinyl records spilling out of decaying jackets, while an ancient piano sits on the porch.
The man walking through the mist at the beginning is a piano tuner, who tells viewers that the instrument is sometimes infested with insects, but he needs to get it ready for the musicians. We watch as he uses bits of wire and other objects to do just that.
Then the music begins in earnest. We are introduced to the artists - Ken Boothe, Kiddus I, Winston McAnuff, Cedric Myton, The Viceroys and Judy Mowatt - as Boothe’s vibrato accompanies aerial shots of the spectacular landscape.
The four main artists of "Inna de Yard" (L-R): Cedric Myton,
Winston McAnuff, Ken Boothe and Kiddus I. 
(Photo copyright: N. Baghir Maslowski)
Kiddus, who appeared in the 1978 cult film “Rockers”, explains in his deep, pleasant voice that the project is “an amalgamation of elders playing acoustic music”, and McAnuff adds that the aim is to capture the music “in its virgin state”.
Mowatt, looking like an urban goddess in her patterned robe, says that the house up in the hills “felt like heaven” when she first visited.
In a previous era, Mowatt performed with the I-Threes, the trio of backing vocalists for Bob Marley and the Wailers. But beyond her presence, the extended Marley clan is not in focus here. This documentary is about the other trailblazers and about the sources of the music.
“Some countries have diamonds. Some countries have pearls. Some countries have oil. We have reggae music,” says bass player Worm in the film.
With footage from the Sixties and Seventies, the documentary recalls the beginning of ska and rocksteady, showing how the music developed, influenced by American rhythm and blues.
One of Judy Mowatt's early albums, "Only a Woman".
“We paid attention to what was happening outside our shores and we amalgamated (that) with what was happening here,” Mowatt tells viewers. “The 1960s was the romantic era, but the 1970s was the conscious era.”
She said that reggae “talked about the realities of life” and that “all of Jamaica was living the songs that were being sung” - songs about political violence, hardships, and police repression of Rastafarians, for instance. It was the “golden age” of the music.
The documentary gives each of the artists space to reminisce even as it describes their lives now. “We miss everything about those days,” says Cedric Myton, a playful, lively spirit in the film who knows he’s “going up the ladder” at 70-plus years old.
During one of the most memorable scenes, we see him heading out in a boat and joking around with fishermen as he sings “Row, Fisherman, Row”, in his iconic falsetto. The film cuts from the sea to the studio in the hills, then to Myton enlightening viewers on the origins of the lyrics.
Like many of his peers, Myton started out in the music business with what seemed a bright future, but troubles in the United States - related to “herb charges” - meant he couldn’t perform there. In addition, all the musicians have had experience with unscrupulous record producers, or “thieves” as Myton calls them.
The musicians and film director discuss their art at UNESCO.
(Photo: McKenzie)
“We’re not giving up because we know there are better days ahead,” Myton says. “But financially it’s been a struggle.”
Some of his fellow artists have had more personal struggles. Winston McAnuff lost his son Matthew, also a singer, in 2012, and his description of the “senseless” death is among the most moving sections of the film. So is the story of younger musician Derajah, who lost his sister to gun violence. We see them working through their grief via the music.
“It’s a message for healing,” Kiddus says.
The “Inna de Yard” project puts the pioneers in contact with younger musicians who perform with them in the studio and on tour, and the film profiles these artists as well. “We learn from the younger guys and they learn a lot from us,” Kiddus comments.
Mowatt also records with two younger singers, the fiery Jah 9 and her colleague Rovleta. Speaking passionately, Jah 9 gives an introduction to the history of the island and the role that the Maroons and their legendary leader Nanny played in fighting against slavery.  Then she joins Mowatt and Rovleta in the studio to sing Mowatt’s “first solo anthem” - an intense track called “Black Woman”, and a call to stay strong.
Filmmaker Peter Webber. (Photo: McKenzie)
“It’s a love splash,” Mowatt characterises the session, describing the affection and solidarity between the three.
Accompanying the individual musicians to their childhood homes, the film also carries us through unspoilt areas of Jamaica - waterfalls, natural diving pools, forested Maroon country. But it doesn’t shy away from showing poor sections of the capital Kingston where the music was born, or the environmental degradation of some beaches. We also get a glimpse into eroticised dancehall culture, during a segment in a bar.
Film director Webber was not interested, however, in showing scenes “that would cause eyes to pop in the West,” as he told SWAN in an interview following the screening in Paris. Webber added that the restraint in filming certain aspects of the culture was “deliberate” as he didn’t “feel the need to labour the point”.
Because of this approach, viewers get a sense of the love and respect for the music, unlike some sensationalist portrayals of Jamaican arts.
Webber said he was first introduced to the island’s music as a teenager in London and became “a huge fan of reggae”. Years later, he was working with French producer Gaël Nouaille on a Netflix project when Nouaille told him about the “Inna de Yard” musicians and their recordings.
“I had never been to Jamaica before, partly because I had a Jamaica in my head, and I knew that if I got on a plane, I would have a touristic experience and it wouldn’t live up to what I imagined,” Webber said. “I didn’t want to spend two weeks on a beach in Negril. But this was a different way to go.”
When he got to the island and met the musicians, he initially wasn’t sure there was a feature film to be made, and he questioned whether he could produce a documentary that would “appeal to a more general audience” than traditional fans of reggae or dub.
He said it was also important to meet younger musicians. “I was wondering: are these guys like the last of the Mohicans?” he joked.
Asked why he was the one to make this film, Webber said: “I did it because of my love and enthusiasm and because I had an opportunity to do it. You may wonder if the world needs another middle-aged white man dropping into Jamaica, but I see myself as a medium. I’m a channel, and I basically put my technical skills and my creativity at their disposal to tell their story. It’s not a film of cultural appropriation.”
He said the documentary developed based on the “spine of the story” - the musicians recording an album “up in this house in the hills”.
The house is indeed at the centre of the documentary, but from there, Webber and the musicians take us on a journey: back to the past, around the island, to concerts in Paris, and into the soul of reggae and Jamaica. And Webber does so with an artist’s touch, reflecting his background as a student of art history. – A.M. / SWAN
Production: Bolsalino / Wagram Films / Le Pacte. Opens in French cinemas July 10.
Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Sunday, 9 June 2019

REVIEW: A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE

By Dimitri Keramitas
In many countries, abortion has long been legal and so has passed out of current debate. This is the case of most "Western" nations. However, in the United States, where a Supreme Court decision legalized abortion in 1973, several conservative states have passed restrictive laws that are tantamount to a ban. Missouri may soon no longer have a single abortion clinic.
These states aim to force the Supreme Court to reconsider its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, now that a majority of justices (with two recent Trump Administration appointees) are conservative. If this happens, the US won’t want for company. Research shows that 26 nations forbid abortion under all circumstances (including three small European states: Malta, Andorra, and San Merino). Thirty-seven permit abortion only in exceptional circumstances (when the mother’s life is in danger). Thirty-six more permit abortion under slightly less rigid legislation (preserving the mother’s health). And 24 countries take into account preserving the mother’s mental health. (Figures from World Population Review).
A scene from Que Sea Ley.
That makes 123 countries where the right to choose is restricted or prohibited. This is the context to keep in mind when we watch Juan Solanas’s documentary Que Sea Lea (Let It Be Law), about a recent effort to liberalize abortion law in Argentina. The film was screened at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where women assembled on the red carpet to continue their protest.
Argentina is one of those nations that doesn’t completely ban abortion, but severely restricts it. Many women in the country are too poor to finagle pseudo-legitimate abortions as the more privileged do, and this highlights the sharp schism between rich and poor concerning the most basic of rights, reproductive freedom and control of one’s own body.
On a practical level, it leads desperate women to fatal alternatives: self-abortion and clandestine abortion. A new law was to change this situation. It was voted by the Argentine House of Representatives and needed only the approval of the Senate to become law. Que Sea Lea focuses on the campaign in 2018 to convince the Senate to pass the legislation and put Argentina among the ranks of advanced countries with liberal abortion laws.
The film is on one level a mosaic, with a diversity of segments that alternate. There is kinetic, colourful footage of huge street demonstrations of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, marching on the pavement in Buenos Aires. The atmosphere is festive, with much chanting, singing, drum-beating, and dancing. Visually we note the color green, symbol of the pro-choice movement.
Film director Juan Solanas.
What’s remarkable is the overwhelming number of women, mostly young, with contingents of the middle-aged and elderly, and a smattering of children. It’s reminiscent of the Women’s March in Washington after Donald Trump’s election. This being Latin America, one cannot help recalling the scenes of enormous pro-Allende crowds in the film The Battle of Chile. (Solanas’ father Fernando was the director of another classic Latin American documentary, The Hour of the Furnaces.)
We also see a few scenes of anti-abortion protestors, with their blue color. They seem to be mostly evangelical Christians, with more male speakers, and are generally an older crowd. Like right-to-lifers in the US, they can be vociferous (the crowd’s mascot is a giant embryo reminiscent of the star-child in 2001). Some activists openly make references to the American anti-abortion movement as inspirations (it’s common knowledge that evangelical groups have become increasingly active in Latin America).
We also witness several speeches inside the Senate chamber. There are Senators and guest speakers on both sides. The most powerful pro-abortion advocate is actually an elderly male senator, while a doctor, also male, presents a forceful anti-abortion speech that strangely mixes medical authority and evangelical fervour. Whatever position one has on abortion, it’s hard not to be impressed with the passion with which the Argentines debate the issue. 
There are the inevitable talking heads as well, speaking directly to the camera. Activists, politicians, and doctors contextualize the issue for us. They’re obviously intelligent, educated, sincere persons, and we appreciate the explanations concerning Argentine society. However, as with all such interview sequences, we can’t help feeling we’re being told how and what to think. This is why the great documentary film-makers like Frederick Wiseman do without them, while someone like Michael Moore prefers antagonistic interviewees (e.g. Charlton Heston in Bowling for Colombine) that he can undercut and skewer.
Street demonstrations in Que Sea Ley.
The most impressive figures are the parish priests who work in poor villages. Their faces have a worn yet hardy look, so different from the slick elegance of the upper-class interviewees. Their spiritual values are implicit, incarnate if you will, as they unpretentiously recount the simple facts about the plight of poor women and girls with unwanted pregnancies.
The most searing parts of Que Sea Lea, the set-pieces of the mosaic, are the case studies of women who desperately sought abortions. One woman, Ana Maria Acevedo, seems to have become a cause célèbre. The mother of several children, she died after having a clandestine abortion and receiving egregiously poor care in a hospital. We hear from her parents and her children, see the primitive place where the family lives.
The stories of other women depicted are no less heart-rending. Many of the women were not only poorly treated in hospitals but subjected to persecution by the police - even while hospitalized - for having obtained illegal abortions. In one case a woman had miscarried, yet was threatened with arrest on suspicion of having had an abortion. Thanks to these powerful segments we see that abortion laws aren’t just abstract talking-points but have life-and-death consequences.
The varied segments are not organized haphazardly. Seeking a comprehensive view of an entire society through the prism of one issue, Solanas divides the film into sections dealing with different themes: social inequality, feminism, religion and the like. Keeping the mosaic form throughout, especially the vivid demonstration and case-study scenes, prevents the film from becoming schematic.
There are gaps: the role of sex education, contraception, and adoption are mentioned but not really explored. We also never get the perspective of the men. I don’t mean the male politicians, activists, doctors, priests, and even fathers, but the partners who were co-responsible for the women’s pregnancies. What were their feelings? Did they support the women? Were they irresponsible or just indigent? Perhaps intellectual lucidity comes at the price of not gumming up one’s emotions.
The campaign comes to an end, bringing the film to a close. It was not the result the women campaigners were hoping for. After such heroic efforts and so much heartbreak, the conclusion feels genuinely tragic. But as in a Shakespearean tragedy, once the bodies are cleared away, there are the survivors who carry on. The title, Let It Be Law, implies an arc that will bend to justice one day even if we can’t put a timeline on it. In the meantime, we can be sure that the importance of Juan Solanas’s brilliant documentary is, unfortunately, not limited to his own land.
Production: Les Films du Sud. Distribution: Wild Bunch. Photographs courtesy of the producers.
Dimitri Keramitas is an award-winning writer and legal expert based in Paris.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

BOOKS: STORIES OF ACTIVISM, COMMITMENT, GROWTH

If you’re compiling your summer reading list, here’s an opportunity to check out the following new releases.
To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe
This timely and relevant book explores how Black Feminism and Afrofeminism are being practised in Europe today and gives significant historical background on the struggles for gender and racial equality on the continent.
In the form of an anthology of scholarly and creative essays, it brings together activists and artists of colour, who discuss a range of issues in various countries, offering insight into Black women’s experiences in a “racialized and hierarchical” region.
Edited by Akwugo Emejulu, a professor of sociology at Warwick University, and Francesca Sobande, a digital media studies lecturer at Cardiff University, the volume recounts how activist spaces for survival and resistance are built and sustained, among other issues.
The contributors also address the subject of how women engage with creative practice and the arts "as a means of activism and self-preservation”, and this topic gets particular focus in the chapter written on behalf of the Mwasi Collectif, an Afrofeminist association based in Paris, France, that includes artists and writers and which has faced antagonism from officials.
The book equally explores a “variety of critical spaces” such as motherhood and the home, with discussions of Caribbean households in Britain and an examination of Caribbean “versions of patriarchy” (chapter 7). Other countries that feature in the anthology range from Belgium to Greece, for a comprehensive and astute look at Black women’s experiences across Europe. (Pluto Press)
Trouwportretten (Wedding Photos)
Trouwportretten, Surinaamse voorouders in beeld (Wedding portraits, Surinamese ancestors in pictures, Album 1846-1950) portrays more than a century of marriages in Suriname, in word and images. It’s written in Dutch, but you don’t need to be a linguist to enjoy the photographs.
Edited by Lucia Nankoe and Jean Jacques Vrij, the book was inspired by almost 100 wedding photos and dozens of stories. It invites readers to be a guest at the weddings of these Surinamese couples, or couples whose partners have a Surinamese background, between 1845 and 1950.
Surinamese citizens travelled the world early and, apart from finding partners in their own country, they also tied the knot with residents of Aruba, Curaçao or Bonaire (in the Caribbean), and of the Netherlands and North America, according to the editors.
“Although most marriages took place in their own religious, ethnic and social circle, these boundaries were also often crossed,” the editors explain. Several stories in the book show that this was not without complications and prejudice.
“The lovers, however, followed the path of their heart and often the family and community got over it after some time,” the editors state.
Readers get to know the wedding couples not only through the pictures but also through the stories related here, sometimes in the words of family members, sometimes compiled by the editors.
The stories were previously highlighted in the similarly titled exhibition that took place in the Netherlands in 2018 (curated by Nankoe), and more accounts are recorded in this attractive book.
The collection informs readers about Surinamese society in important phases of its history. “This is also the story of immigration and emigration, of different religious backgrounds, of slavery and contract workers and above all of an ethnically-culturally diverse society in a shared national history,” the editors say.
The book’s encouraging message is that ethnic or religious differences between people in intimate relationships often become irrelevant. In other words, love conquers all … sometimes. (Publisher Uitg. In the Knipscheer)
Dogly Days
If you’ve ever wondered how our pets view us and the world, My Dogly Days, by Philadelphia-based Indian writer Vijay Lakshmi, is the book for you.
This is a story of adventure, compassion, friendship and growth, seen through the eyes of that ever-loyal best friend, and it will appeal to both young and “mature” readers.
As playwright Quinn Eli has written, the book comes at a time when “so many of us lose sight of the humanity we share in common”.
He adds that My Dogly Days reminds us that under the surface, "our struggles, our dreams and our aspirations" are all the same.
"We long for companionship, we long for love, and most of all we long to make our stories known," Eli remarks.
The poetic and insightful nature of the book inspires us to look at our neighbours and to realize that we all have similar concerns, that we're all on some kind of a journey. (Austin McCauley Publishers)

Monday, 13 May 2019

SHOWCASING DESIGN, INNOVATION FOR SUSTAINABILITY

A coffee cup that you can eat. Chairs made from recycled wood. A stationary bike that powers a blender when you pedal, to produce fruit smoothies. And a range of biodegradable packaging.

A chair made from recycled wood by Pimp Your Waste.
These were some of the items on display at Sustainable Brands Paris (SB Paris 2019), a ground-breaking event on creativity, innovation and sustainable development that took place April 23-25 in the French capital.

Organized by design agency Pixelis, the event attracted more than 3,000 participants who shared information about how art, design and technology can be used for sustainability, for combatting climate change, and for reducing waste. The speakers included “youth hactivators” who challenged corporations to improve their environmental policies.

“We all need to find solutions,” said Pixelis CEO Edouard Provenzani. “And that includes big brands, innovators, designers, consumers, youth.”

Provenzani, who founded Pixelis 22 years ago in France, said the main aim of the meeting was to help brands become “more environmentally aware, more useful and more efficient” in their sectors. The event forms part of the Sustainable Brands movement launched in 2006 in San Francisco, California, to help “design the future” of the business world.

“We want to demonstrate that sustainability is not a burden, but an innovation driver in every dimension of business,” Provenzani said.

Pixelis CEO Edouard Provenzani
He stressed that multinationals who contribute massively to the crises of carbon emissions, pollution and loss of biodiversity need to be part of the solutions.

They should demonstrate the measures they’re taking to improve their business models, even in the face of criticism because - as environmentalists have pointed out - doing “business as usual” will not meet the climate targets set in the Paris Agreement to reduce global warming, he added.

The companies that took part in SB Paris included small firms as well as the global consumer giants L’Oréal, Danone and Ikea, who staged exhibitions and discussed their sustainability pledges.

“We’ve assessed all our products … and we have a commitment that each will have a better impact on the environment than the previous one,” said Anthony Grassi, a communications representative for L’Oréal, the world’s leading company for “beauty” products - mostly sold up to now in single-use plastic containers. 

The group says that it aims to play a “catalysing role” in addressing the challenge of climate change and that it is committed to making a “profound transformation towards a low-carbon business model”. 

Actions include improving energy efficiency and using renewable energy at all manufacturing sites, L’Oréal says, as well as upgrading the “social and environmental” profile of products. It displayed its “certified organic” skincare line as well as biodegradable containers at SB Paris. Consumers can read the company’s “sustainable commitment” at:

Plastic waste in the river Seine, near the venue of SB Paris.
Still, “big companies are doing a terrible job in educating consumers”, says Mirela Orlovic, an activist and founder of UrbanMeisters, a green-lifestyle community for urbanites.

Orlovic told SWAN that the public often doesn’t know what to do with packaging or with items that they don’t need anymore, and that it’s mostly up to the media, including bloggers, to try to decipher and describe what is being done.

“Companies need to show consumers how sustainability can be part of their everyday life everywhere,” she said.

At SB Paris, Danone personnel showcased recyclable containers for brands including Evian water and certain yoghurts, saying that “cross-industry” collaboration is needed to address the “critical issue” of plastic waste. 

Danone - which markets a range of beverages in plastic bottles, is active in some 120 countries and recorded income of 24.7 billion euros in 2017 - said that SB Paris was an opportunity to “showcase how together we are transforming our approach to plastic and changing the future of hydration”. 

A representative said in an interview that recycling may not be the only solution, however, and that consumers would increasingly need to consider providing their own containers for products, as is already happening in some stores.

Recyclable, reusable bottles among the solutions. - Danone
According to a report published in Science Advances magazine and quoted by environmental group Greenpeace, only about 9 percent of plastic has been recycled, 12 percent has been incinerated “(polluting the air with toxic gases)”, and the other 79 percent remains in the environment.

Greenpeace says that if current production and waste management trends continue, there will be 12 billion tonnes of plastic in natural environments by 2050, including in the world’s oceans.

In Paris, Danone equally put focus on plant-based drinks produced by Alpro, the Belgian-based company it acquired in 2017. Alpro has expanded its range of beverages to now include soya, almond, oat and coconut “milks”, with the message that a “plant-based diet is better for the planet”, as Greet Vanderheyden, Alpro’s senior sustainable development and communication manager, told SWAN.

Alpro used its beverages in coffee to demonstrate the point, offering frothy, tasty coffee mixed with coconut milk, for instance, to SB Paris participants. This coffee was distributed in recyclable paper cups, but in another section of the event, participants were given coffee in cups that they could eat, taking sustainability a step further.

Tassiopée serves coffee in cups that one can eat. 
The company responsible for the edible cups - made from organic ingredients - is Tassiopée, launched in 2016 in France, after many months of research and design. The idea is that eating your cup reduces waste and is good for the planet, and the cup is relatively low in calories too (about the same as two squares of chocolate), Tassiopée says.

The waste-reduction drive was evident in other items as well, such as wooden chairs made by the start-up “Pimp Your Waste” - begun by four friends who graduated from an architecture school in Paris.

“The motivation was to help reduce the amount of waste produced each year by the construction industry,” said Eric Dorleac, one of the co-founders. “All the material comes from building sites. We take it, transform it and create furniture."

The renewable energy section of SB2019 showcased a range of innovative products, including a stationary bike that participants can pedal to yield energy for food blenders. The bike can be used in restaurants or for special events where patrons can power-pedal to produce their drinks.

While these may be considered minor steps compared with the fundamental global change required in economic models, small-scale innovation is helping to address the issues, through putting creativity to effective use for sustainability, says Provenzani. 

“We can use our creativity to change the model or to create a new model,” he told SWAN. “It’s an issue of urgency now because we’re running out of time.”


Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Sunday, 12 May 2019

JAMAICAN FESTIVAL: TAKING LITERATURE TO THE BEACH

The stunning region of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, is once again hosting the Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta, taking place May 25-26, 2019, with the theme “Literature: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow”.
The organizers have partnered with the Department of Literatures in English at The University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Gloria Lyn Memorial Fund to stage this biennial event at Treasure Beach, an area known for community and ecological tourism on Jamaica’s south coast.
Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta: May 25-26.
The family-oriented day will feature readings by new and established poets, novelists and playwrights, while children will have their own programme running concurrently with activities on the main stage, the organizers say.
The literary fiesta helps to promote literature beyond the college campus, according to UWI. The aim is to broaden the reach and to spark “interest in literature as an important field of study”. In addition, the event will be a time for fun and reflection as participants listen to Jamaica’s poet laureate and other acclaimed writers.

Monday, 29 April 2019

THE POSTER IS A POEM: PARIS' FIESTA OF GRAPHIC ART

The first thing that will strike pedestrians this month as they approach the Maison de l’Amérique Latine in Paris is the riot of colour – vivid reds, yellows and blues on a massive banner announcing a special kind of party.
One of the posters for the exhibition.
Until May 7, the Maison (or MAL) is hosting Fiesta Gráfica, an exhibition of pulsating graphic artwork by French artist and curator Michel Bouvet and his 26 “friends” who hail from nine Latin American countries.
The show is the fruit of Bouvet’s travels throughout Latin America and of the collaborations and friendships he has formed over the past 30 years. The wide-ranging exhibition includes political posters, graphic novels, cartoons, advertisements and other forms of graphic art, and it highlights a variety of techniques and perspectives, across decades and borders.
Bouvet’s own designs are regularly visible in the Paris Metro and on the city’s Colonnes Morris, announcing La Fête de la Musique or Les Rencontres d’Arles, and he has been a fixture in French graphic art since the 1970’s.
An art fan views works by Cuba's Idania del Rio.
Alongside some of his most well-known affiches, Fiesta Gráfica offers works of diverse artists, 11 of whom work in collectives.
The countries represented include Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico and Paraguay, and the artwork provides commentary on social and philosophical issues, among other themes. A notable feature is the presence of many women artists (so often missing from group exhibitions), with striking works by Bebel Abreu of Brazil, Idania del Rio of Cuba, and Marta Granados of Colombia, for example.
As visitors enter the lobby of MAL’s imposing building, they are first greeted by a joyous poster of bold lines and the words “FRIDA & DIEGO” against a yellow background. Meanwhile, the rooms on either side of the lobby are filled with giant-sized works by Bouvet, “in dialogue” with works by artists from a range of countries.
Crowds packed these rooms on a recent Saturday, among them Paris-based artist Randy Dims who gazed intently at each poster, as if absorbing their energy.
Paris-based artist Randy Dims at the exhibition.
“Some friends were raving about this exhibition, and I really wanted to come and see it,” said Dims, who puts his own art on tee-shirts and does portraits of Hip-Hop music personalities. “All the colours and shapes really make an impact.”
The exhibition fills the vast downstairs spaces of the MAL as well. Here, the collage pieces of the collective El Fantasma de Heredia (Argentina), the satirical images of Bebel Abreu (Brazil) and the lyrical, surreal compositions of Celeste Prieto (Paraguay) comprise just a small sampling of the dozens of works by the effervescent community of graphic artists active in Latin America.
Socially engaged and provocative, these artists believe, as the Uruguay militant Pablo Irturralde puts it, that “the poster is a poem”, and a weapon in the fight against injustice. This show is a visual fiesta of colour and content and well worth the visit. – Susan Hamlin / SWAN
FIESTA GRAFICA, MAISON DE L’AMÉRIQUE LATINE, PARIS. More information: www.mal217.org

Monday, 22 April 2019

BACKING EDUCATION FOR RIGHTS AND SUSTAINABILITY

A teacher enters a classroom and is surprised to find that the students who should be waiting for him are all missing.
“It’s as if their absence is sending a message,” he muses in consternation.
In fact, there is a message. Written on the desks are letters that taken together spell: “STOP GLOBAL WARMING NOW”.
Cartoon by Floris Oudshoorn, done at ICSW 2019.
This is the storyline of a cartoon titled “The Educators” by Amsterdam-based artist Floris Oudshoorn, who participated in sessions on global citizen education during International Civil Society Week (ICSW) - an annual meeting held this year in Belgrade, Serbia, from April 8 to 12.
Co-hosted by the Johannesburg-based global civil society alliance CIVICUS, the event brought together more than 850 delegates from around the world to focus on the protection of “democratic values” and human rights, amidst increasing attacks on rights defenders.
Oudshoorn said his cartoon was a shout-out to the students participating in the weekly climate strikes in various countries, calling on governments to act to decrease emissions and fight climate change.
During ICSW, Oudshoorn produced a series of live drawings that reflected the topics addressed by Bridge 47, a Finland-based organization created “to bring people together to share and learn from each other” with the help of global citizenship education.
This system of civic learning puts emphasis on rights, environmental awareness and social justice - subjects that engaged participants during Bridge 47’s four ICSW sessions, held under the title “Global Citizenship Education: Recalibrating Action for Systemic Change”.
“With members hailing from all continents of the world and a total of 48 countries, the gathering provided a dynamic hub for exchanging experiences and perspectives on the different types of value-based education,” Bridge 47 stated.
Rilli Lappalainen, founder of Bridge 47.
The organization used storytelling, art, communication activities and other techniques to provide its members with “new ideas and tools” to employ global citizenship education for social change.
Rilli Lappalainen, Bridge 47’s founder and steering group chair, said that the Belgrade meeting demonstrated that civil-society groups and others (educators, artists, policy-makers) need to work together.
“It showed how we need to allow the space for dialogue, and that dialogue is the essence of peaceful society. If we really want to make a change, we need to communicate and cooperate, rather than everyone sitting in their own box.”
Besides “getting to know each other and strengthening their work”, Bridge 47 Network members also had the opportunity to explore other topics among the host of ICSW event sessions. These included issues such as shrinking civic space, attacks on press freedom, and the engagement of youth, which Oudshoorn covered in his cartoons.
The Bridge 47 sessions were also open to those outside the organization’s network “in order to further disseminate information” about global citizenship education as well as to “facilitate new, cross-sectoral partnerships amongst the international civil society community”, the group stated.
Bridge 47’s name comes from “Target 4.7” of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set in 2015 for achievement by 2030.
Goal 4 is to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
Target 4.7 is to ensure that by 2030 “all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development” through education that includes “human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development”.
African educator Bolanle Simeon-Fayomi uses story-telling
for global citizenship education, at ICSW 2019.
Photo courtesy of Troy Bjorkman / Bridge 47.
For the UN, an “indicator” of Target 4.7 is the “extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights, are mainstreamed” at all levels.
Lappalainen said that formal education “is absolutely needed” for this mainstreaming but that it’s not enough.
“We need to recognize the importance of learning outside of the school system. Part of our work is that we advocate for governments to give the space and respect for this kind of education,” he said.
A key exercise during Bridge 47’s sessions was storytelling, done verbally by lecturers such as Nigeria’s Bolanle Simeon-Fayomi who focuses on literacy for development, or communicated through the written word or art.
In the case of cartoonist Oudshoorn, his work is a means to educate the public by using satire to effect social change, to promote rights and sustainability, and to help defend activists.
“As cartoonists, we’re between artists and journalists,” he told SWAN. “And one of the first things that autocrats try to rub out is journalists and artists. So, I’m in the crosshairs as well.” 
Follow SWAN on Twitter @mckenzie_ale. See also https://comichouse.nl/
For more information about ICSW, see IPS news agency stories, including: http://www.ipsnews.net/2019/04/civil-society-leaders-meet-amid-protests-attacks-rights/ 

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

VIEW: EVERYONE'S CULTURAL HERITAGE IS IMPORTANT

No sooner had the fire been put out at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris than the backlash started, sparked by the perceived double standards in reactions to disasters of this kind.
When President Emmanuel Macron said that France would appeal for international help, someone tweeted, for instance, that the country should use the money it “stole” from Haiti, referring to the vast sums that Haiti had to pay the colonial power after declaring independence in 1804. The comment was retweeted thousands of times.
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, after the fire.
Another Twitter user, "Doe Bitch" (@bacchianbabe), also started a thread of “ethnic cultural heritage sites that have been destroyed throughout history, including in recent years”. The listing comprised a range of sites around the world, with the addition of the 6th-century monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan, which extremists dynamited in 2001. Doe's point was that few of the sites received extensive international attention. This thread has got thousands of retweets and "likes" as well.
A third commenter, based in the Caribbean, slammed the media for the continuous coverage of the fire, saying that “a cathedral" burns, and the press acts as if a major catastrophe had happened.
Further, when the White House announced that the United States would offer "assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization," social media commentators like Dana Vivian White wondered about the missing help for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, and the apparent lack of assistance for destroyed U.S. black churches.
A painting of Notre Dame by student J. De Clercq.
The criticism doesn’t minimise the fact that the damage to 850-year-old Notre-Dame is a tragedy for universal heritage, especially when we celebrate World Heritage Day on April 18. This is a day meant to "encourage" us to reflect on the importance of cultural patrimony to our "lives, identities and communities", according to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

As people packed the area around the cathedral in the aftermath of the April 15 fire, one of the most frequent remarks was that Notre Dame belonged not only to the French but to everyone. The 13 million visitors it receives annually come from all over the globe.
The backlash does indicate, however, that many believe the cultural traditions of some are considered more important than those of others. Looking at the sites inscribed on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it’s clear why this is a concern: a few countries dominate the list, with France in fourth place for the number of sites registered, after Italy, China, and Spain.
Numerous countries of the Global South are barely represented on the list, although UNESCO is trying to remedy that, urging member states to put forward sites for inscription. At a press briefing last year, officials said that the UN recognized the issue.
What needs to be stressed, though, is that the world has a stake in protecting monuments that are historically significant, wherever they might be located. Former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, who was in Paris this week as part of her “Becoming” book tour, said in a tweet: “The majesty of Notre Dame - the history, artistry, and spirituality - took our breath away, lifting us to a higher understanding of who we are and who we can be.”
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay (file photo).
The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, meanwhile issued a statement saying, “Notre Dame represents a historically, architecturally, and spiritually, outstanding universal heritage. It is also a monument of literary heritage, a place that is unique in our collective imagination. Heritage of the French but also of humanity as a whole. This drama reminds us of the power of heritage that connects us to one another”.

She added, "We are already in contact with experts and ready to send an emergency mission to assess the damage, preserve what can be preserved and plan short and medium-term measures".
The statement is actually nothing out of the ordinary, as UNESCO has mobilised resources to support restoration of patrimony in countries from Haiti to Mali, especially when such patrimony is of global and historical value. (We may argue about who decides on such value, but that is another discussion.)
Notre-Dame forms part of the world’s collective memory. As a recent example, in 2010, hundreds filled the church after the earthquake in Haiti, participating in a mass for the victims, coming together in sorrow and grief. Several in the congregation expressed anger toward France and the West in general, for past and continuing injustices; Notre-Dame provided a space to do so. It belonged to all who were there in that moment.
Still, as French tycoons and people around the world donate vast sums to restore the cathedral, we need to think about others' cultural heritage as well. (Haiti's is still in need of rebuilding, nine years after the earthquake.) We need to highlight what has happened in Iraq, Syria, Mali and other countries. We should emphasize that the loss of artistic and cultural heritage has an impact on development.
In 2010, Haiti’s then Minister of Culture Marie-Laurence Jocelyn-Lassègue said, “For us, culture is not a luxury, not an accessory … It is through culture and by culture that we’ll be able to develop certain aspects of our society.” (http://www.ipsnews.net/2010/03/haiti-artists-join-un-to-rebuild-cultural-life/)
We all need to give increased global attention to exceptional monuments in cities less well-lit than Paris, in towns off the beaten track - monuments being destroyed by warmongers, terrorists, state agents, vandals and others; monuments lost to fire; monuments ravaged by hurricanes and other natural disasters. Leaders need to send a clear message that everyone’s culture is important - particularly when it doesn't infringe on the rights of others.
We also need to restrain ourselves from expressing unseemly glee when someone else’s patrimony is destroyed and instead work together to safeguard universal heritage.

As Claire Oberon Garcia, a U.S. Black Studies professor and author, said: Notre-Dame is "a triumph of human ingenuity, aspiration, and longing for beauty and transcendent truths". It has meaning for all of us. - SWAN

INFORMATION ON WORLD HERITAGE DAY:  http://whc.unesco.org/en/events/868

Monday, 25 March 2019

FRENCH MUSEUM SHOWS IMMIGRANTS’ MUSICAL IMPACT

Amid the morass of Brexit and continuous debates on immigration, a French museum has launched a thought-provoking exhibition about music and migration.

The massive show at Paris’ Musée de l’histoire d’immigration (National Museum of the History of Immigration) “explores the close and complex relationship between migration, music, anti-racism and political activism”, according to the curators.
The poster for Paris-Londres: Music Migrations.
It comes at a time when “many European nations are turning inwards and succumbing to the temptations of closed borders,” they add.
The exhibition – “Paris-Londres: Music Migrations (1962-1989)” – runs until Jan. 5, 2020, and was inaugurated ahead of the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, observed annually on March 21. The launch also preceded the fourth edition of a one-week “Grand Festival” in Paris against racism, antisemitism and anti-LGBT prejudice.
The show breaks new ground by linking artistic movements in England and France that demonstrate how “successive generations of immigrants in these two colonial powers used music to stake their claim to equal rights, affirm their presence in the public space, and contribute to the urban, economic and cultural transformations reshaping” both countries, the curators say.
Most music lovers are already aware of the influence that genres such as ska, reggae and rai have had on popular music in Europe, and the exhibition details this impact through an array of documents, videos and recordings. But it goes further by highlighting how immigrant musicians played a crucial role in fighting racism, with movements such as “Rock Against Racism” in Britain and “Rock Against Police” in France.
“These two stories have not previously been put together side by side in a postcolonial way,” says Martin Evans, a professor of modern European history at the University of Sussex, and one of the three international curators of the exhibition.
“We really wanted to look at how London and Paris reinvented themselves with the influence of the new arrivals from the Sixties to the Eighties,” he said in an interview.
As the exhibition puts it, a “wealth of musical styles linked with successive waves of immigration transformed Paris and London into multicultural capitals” between the early 1960s and the 1980s.
A section of the exhibition about Linton Kwesi Johnson.
A significant aspect of this immigration has been the global impact of Jamaican history and culture, Evans said, particularly through the contributions of dub poets such as Linton Kwesi Johnson, who was himself influenced by Martinican writer and statesman Aimé Césaire.
“In doing this exhibition, we discovered a lot of stories about links between artists and activists in France and Britain,” Evans said. “So, a very important aspect is uncovering these hidden stories”.
The curators showcase more than 600 documents and artworks “connected with music”, including instruments, photographs, concert posters, videos, costumes and other items – many of which are on loan from institutions such as London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and from the personal collections of well-known musicians.
Visitors to the exhibition are greeted by black-and-white footage of people exuberantly dancing, while a narrator explains the origins of the music that’s driving them into paroxysm of delight. “This is ska”, taking Britain by storm in the 1960s after its emergence “from the Jamaican sound systems of the late 1950s”.
Following this introduction, and the familiar lyrics of “Sammy Dead”, the show moves into the activist nature of music by London-based groups such as The Equals (the first major “interracial” UK band, formed by Guyana-born Eddy Grant), who used their song “Police on My Back” to highlight police harassment of immigrants.
A clip from The Harder They Come, among the exhibits.
Meanwhile, history lessons about the arrival and settlement of immigrants are included in the captions to a host of memorable photographs, detailing how immigrants to England settled in the inner cities while those to France inhabited the outskirts or banlieues.
The Windrush generation (which refers to Caribbean passengers on the HMT Empire Windrush in 1948 and their descendants) also feature here, with information about recent scandals regarding the British government’s treatment of individuals and historical documents.
In addition to the visual displays, the exhibition boasts a “killer playlist” that features ska, reggae, punk, makossa, rai, rumba, rock and other genres, and visitors will be seen dancing as they listen to music through headphones or stand in front of video clips of Millie Small singing “My Boy Lollipop” or Jimmy Cliff belting out “The Harder They Come” from the iconic 1972 film of the same name.
On the French side, one learns about African and North African musicians who changed the sound of French music: Manu Dibango, Salif Keïta, Noura and Khaled, among others. Meanwhile, the cross-border links can be seen in Serge Gainsbourg’s reggae version of France’s national anthem La Marseillaise – a recording that sparked outrage in certain quarters and earned the singer death threats.
“Gainsbourg used this music as a political vector,” says Stéphane Malfettes, the lead curator, who’s in charge of the museum’s cultural programming. “He went to Jamaica to record and was a big fan of reggae. In fact, France has always had a link with this music.”
Lead curator Stéphane Malfettes.
According to Malfettes, concerts by reggae star Bob Marley and other artists drew thousands of fans in France in the 1970s and early 1980s and provided a spur for the later creation of France-grown reggae groups such as Danakil who perform political music.
Some visitors will find the political aspect of the music to be the most interesting part of the exhibition, as it gives the background to Rock Against Racism – an activist movement sparked by the “rise of the far right and the spread of racism in political discourse”.
English musicians Red Saunders and Roger Huddle launched Rock Against Racism in 1976, following “murky racist proclamations from the likes of Eric Clapton and David Bowie,” the curators state. The first concert was held in Victoria Park in the spring of 1978 and attracted some 100,000 people, with groups including Steel Pulse, The Clash and the Tom Robinson Band performing – “revealing the often-overlooked solidarity between” rock, punk and reggae.
The movement influenced activists in France, where Rock Against Police grew out of a “proliferation of racist incidents and violence” in the late 1970s and early 1980s, “compounded by the success” of the far-right Front National in the municipal elections of 1984, according to the curators. The exhibition highlights the personalities and musicians involved, through footage, music, photos and articles.
A poster for an anti-racism concert.
As the exhibition nears its cut-off point (1989), visitors also learn about other landmark happenings that emphasised the “multicultural identity” of Paris and London. Two such events were the huge SOS Racisme concert held in June 1985 on the Place de la Concorde and the massive anti-apartheid show held at Wembley stadium to mark the 70th birthday of South African icon Nelson Mandela, in June 1988.
“All these stories push us to look at things differently,” says Malfettes. “We hope to reach people interested in the music, interested in the movements and those who may not know this background, especially young people.”
If there’s one drawback to the exhibition, it is in the sheer range of objects and information, which makes it difficult to absorb everything during a single visit. Many visitors will feel the need to return for a second look, especially regarding the musical connections – the punk and dub-reggae productions of John Letts, and the “Asian underground sounds” of Asian Dub Foundation, for instance.
An irony, too, is that this exhibition is taking place at the imposing Palais de la Porte Dorée  – which houses the history museum. The building, with its ornately decorated façade, was constructed to host the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931 and was used for many decades to showcase the “civilizing influence” of French colonialism. It has now, seemingly, changed its focus. – A.M.
You can follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale.