Saturday, 18 August 2018

REVIEW: ARGENTINE DIRECTOR SCRUTINIZES MALE GAZE

By Dimitri Keramitas
Don Diego de Zama, a magistrate and officer of the Spanish Crown posted in a remote region of South America, often looks with tortured longing at the ocean. The water represents both the distance from his superiors and the separation from his wife and family, as he waits for a letter permitting him a transfer out of what he considers a stagnant place. His regard will translate into his subjugation of a conquered people, but always with alienated detachment. 
This is the drama created by Argentine director Lucrecia Martel in her acclaimed film Zama, based on a 1956 novel by Antonio di Benedetto. It is a different version of those stories of lost male souls in the New World, a story that has been told by Werner Herzog in Aguirre: Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo,  and by Terence Malick in The New World. In those movies, directed by men, we see things from the subjective view of the (male) protagonist and share the objectivizing gaze upon tropical nature and indigenous peoples. Ms. Martel turns the imperialist tables, and the result is an unsettling but refreshing and visionary film. 
For one thing, the women here are not the usual “compliant native concubines”. When Zama happens upon a group of nude women applying mud packs on the beach, they call him a voyeur, and one of them chases after him until he strikes her down. His indigenous mistress has a child with him, but they live apart from him and cultivate an indifferent attitude. A married colonial woman (played by a sensual Lola Dueñas) lives as she pleases, strings Zama along but refuses his advances. Even the women employed at a brothel seem more work(wo)manlike than seductive. The implicit logic is clear: women who survived the voyage across the Atlantic, or went from traditional ways of living to a Europeanized world, wouldn’t have been fragile flowers but hardy roses with thorns.
In contrast, indigenous men and their African peers are portrayed as sullenly docile workhorses. Is it because they were subject to more brutal punishment than noncompliant females? Or is Ms. Martel’s approach less a matter of rigorous logic and more an insistence on gender? This isn’t clear, as these characters remain little more than walk-on extras. 
Mexican actor Daniel Giménez Cacho plays Zama as both repugnant and poignant. He has the scrutinizing eyes, thin lips, and blade-like aquiline nose of the judge his character incarnates. As Zama goes about his duties in a cold but diligent manner, we feel that he’d be at home officiating in the Inquisition or even at a latter-day concentration camp.
Cacho is remarkable at showing Zama’s utter banality, whether at work or in his personal life. Never smiling or raising his voice, he seems to go through the motions not just of a dreary job but life itself. This is no conquistadore from the 16th century in a pie-wedge helmet, physically bloodthirsty and spiritually transcendent, but an 18th-century civil servant in a tricorn hat.
Though Ms. Martel is described as a visionary, that doesn’t mean gauzy, dreamy subjectivity. For the most part her filming is implacably clean, a baleful feminine eye on the brutality and squalor of colonialism. Likewise, the film’s editing omits felicitous transitions, brutally cutting to essential sequences, like an enraged housekeeper surveying a filthy environment and saying “Look here! And here! And, ugh, here!”
Daniel Giménez Cacho as Zama.
At the same time there are surreal touches - a moving box, the shovelling of a rain of dirt on a coffin - explained realistically, but whose reality is left in doubt (though not their metaphorical resonance). There are also beautiful shots of tropical nature, images that contrast starkly but oneirically with the bug-like antics of the people.
Zama finds himself in a No Exit situation. He tries to get transferred out of the backwater where he’s trapped, but to no avail. He pleads with the governor (played by Gustavo Boëm with oily authority) and petitions the king. We can assume that the authorities simply lack replacements for his post, but whatever the cause, Zama is in a Kafkaesque predicament, and a very ironic one: a patriarchal figure stymied by the patriarchy (which fits glove-like into hierarchy).
Aside from Sartre and Kafka, one gets the impression that the director wanted her film to be like those Conradian stories of men stranded in the cosmos they’ve created for themselves as much as in the engulfing tropics, stories like Heart of Darkness, Outcast of the Islands, Almayer’s Folly.
The problem in Zama is that on one hand, the director doesn’t have the sympathy for her protagonist that Conrad had for his. We’re not speaking of the mindless, over-the-top identification of romantic filmmakers, but the sympathy which leads to understanding as well as compassion. Ms. Martel tells us of Zama’s family, but we get no flashbacks or even spoken references in dialogue to his old life. Without this sense of his human side he remains a blank.
On the other hand, while Ms. Martel’s antipathy makes the character opaque, she gives an impression of knowing all too well the nature of external forces on the maintaining of the status quo. There’s no real sense of mystery. Instead viewers get a motif about a renegade on the loose, pillaging and raping, who must be hunted down. The mysterious villain remains lurking about for years, but in the end he’s just a name, as the renegade himself says at one point.
Viewers are meant to get the idea that it is this “villain” (communism, criminality, rebellion, liberalism, dissidence) that helps keep the patriarchy in place. Ms. Martel is a wonderful director, but her narrowness leads her brilliant film to a dead end. The paradox of art is that with no real mystery, there’s no real revelation. Yes, the director’s scathing gaze strips the clothes off her target, but the universe she’s created is already a nudist colony.
Production: Bananeira Filmes / Rei Cine. Distribution: Walt Disney Studios (Argentina) / Strand Releasing (US) / The Match Factory (worldwide).
Dimitri Keramitas is a writer and legal expert based in Paris.
Aug. 18, 2018, marks 500 years since the King of Spain, Charles I, issued a charter authorising the transportation of slaves direct from Africa to the Americas. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/transatlantic-slave-trade-voyages-ships-log-details-africa-america-atlantic-ocean-deaths-disease-a8494546.html

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

TALKING SURVIVAL, AT CARIBBEAN WOMEN CONFERENCE

By Julia Siccardi

Gina Athena Ulysse was at the back of the room when her name was announced, and she started her lecture with an unexpected chant, slipping in the first lines of The Fugees’ “Ready or Not“, as she slowly walked to the lectern on bare feet.

So began the “Caribbean Women (Post) Diaspora: African/Caribbean Interconnections“ conference, held earlier this month at London South Bank University.  It brought together scholars from around the world to reflect on issues facing black women in contemporary societies and to offer views on activism for the future, including on women’s mental and physical health.

Gina Athena Ulysse
Organized by Dr. Suzanne Scafe and Dr. Beverley Goring of LSBU, the two-day event included research presentations, an art exhibition and literary readings, in an attractive venue near the river Thames.
After an introduction by Scafe on the first day, all eyes were on anthropologist and first keynote speaker Ulysse, a professor at Wesleyan University in the United States.
She kicked off her shoes and sang in a clear voice, at the start of her “lyrical meditation on the politics and poetics of movement and suspense”. The aim was to “make sense of why we carry what we do against the weight of exile”.
In her performance, Ulysse emphasized the necessity to “dare to know oneself”, saying that “if we don’t define ourselves for ourselves”, then we are controlled by others’ limitations.
“We exist as we are and that is enough,” she declared. “Subjectivity allows me to claim who I am and not who you want me to be … your objectivity suffocates me.”
At one point, she cried as she shared her experiences, and during the question-and-answer session that followed, another participant, of about the same age, also broke down in tears, as the discussion turned to how often women of colour are “not heard” and vulnerable people “not seen”.
Ulysse reminded participants that people cannot do away with history, as the past affects contemporary situations. She expressed her worry that “forgetting is happening too much in this world” and wondered how it was possible to create spaces so that history won’t be forgotten.
“The need to create spaces for remembrance could not be more crucial,” she said. (For an article in New African magazine about the measures to create sites of memory, see: https://newafricanmagazine.com/news-analysis/arts-culture/fighting-right-remember/)
“The problem is that people prefer simple narratives,” said Ulysse. “However, the past makes the narrative more complicated.”
Guyana-born British artist Desrie Thomson-George
with her work.
Detailing every-day struggles, she told listeners: “I’m forced to believe that we must survive … we are each other’s business.”
The conference also comprised an exhibition by Guyana-born British artist Desrie Thomson-George, whose sculptures told the story of “Jilo, the Survivor”. Her work referenced the “Windrush” generation in Britain and gave insight into how immigrants have coped with being in a hostile setting.
Thompson-George said she was 6 years old when she arrived in Britain, and the sole trace of her existence was the simple mention, on her grandmother’s passport of: “…and child”. She told conference participants about her experience of being a black child in a racist, white environment.
She said that white kids would laugh at her until she started genuinely finding herself ugly. When she was 10, she tried to modify her features on a picture of herself, making her lips thinner. She understood the concept of “invisibility” when her teacher one day asked a mathematical question and her hand shot up in the air but the teacher ignored her until, after calling on every other pupil, she finally had to turn to Thomson-George, who gave the correct answer.
The teacher’s reaction, instead of praise, was to ask: “How did you know that, did you cheat?” Thomson-George responded that her uncle gave her math lessons and made her work very hard, which was why she knew the answer to the question.
Fighting against being invisible, being silenced:
artwork by Desrie Thomson-George.
She recounted how she returned home that day with a letter in an envelope for her uncle, which she dutifully handed over. In it, the teacher asked the uncle to stop teaching Thomson-George because it was “disrupting the class” and made the other pupils feel less good.
Her uncle ignored the “request” and stressed that it was the teacher who had a problem, Thomson-George said. But the experience stayed with her, and her work as an artist refers to this attempt to make some people invisible as it takes viewers on the immigrant’s journey to survive.
A range of other presentations at the conference focused on topics such as: the gender dynamics of migration, queer diaspora human rights activism, new frontiers in black women’s writing, Cuba-Jamaica migration, and black feminist archiving in the digital age.
A second keynote speaker, Jan Etienne of the University of London, discussed and acknowledged the “sacrifices made by the Windrush sisters (first-generation African Caribbean women) whose womanist voices were for far too long suppressed as they prioritised support for the family and wider community”.
British-based health experts Jenny Douglas and Dawn Edge meanwhile focused on the need for women to pay attention to their health and called for increased awareness of the particular issues and challenges that women of Caribbean descent face in Britain.
Citing the increasing incidence of dementia among this population, Edge said that many people with depression end up with dementia. Douglas said greater activism was necessary on behalf of women’s health.
The cover of Diana Evans' latest novel.
The conference ended with readings by authors Alecia McKenzie and Diana Evans. McKenzie first shared a poem before inviting another conference participant (Aisha Spencer, from the University of the West Indies) to join her in the reading of “Full Stop”, one of the first short stories she wrote.
Written in an epistolary style, “Full Stop” takes the reader into the intimacy of letters exchanged between a Jamaican grandmother and her granddaughter who lives in New York. As the letters follow one another, we slowly discover that, maybe, the grandmother is a manipulative woman, but the doubt always remains as to whether this is so or not. The oral performance was fascinating as well as funny and made one want to read more.
For Evans’ reading, she chose an extract from her latest novel, Ordinary People. This was a very intense passage that sparked reflection, and Evans’ smooth writing made listeners want to discover all her books. Both writers evoked the question of belonging. Evans explained that although she is from Britain, she doesn’t quite belong, and writing is a way of exploring what it means to be Black and British, of thinking about “how we wear our history”, because, she said, echoing Ulysse without knowing it, “we will never lose our history.” McKenzie, a Jamaican living in Paris, said she had grown used to not belonging.
Julia Siccardi is a doctoral candidate at the Ecole Normal Supérieure de Lyon, France. At the conference, she presented a paper on “women looking for homes in Zadie Smith’s novels”. Follow her on Twitter @literaryjulia.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

JEAN RHYS RETURNS TO PARIS - IN SPIRIT AT SORBONNE

Nearly 40 years after her death, Caribbean-British writer Jean Rhys made her presence felt in Paris during an international conference devoted to her work and held at the famous Sorbonne university.
Phillips reads from his novel about Rhys.
Rhys was everywhere - in the wide-ranging scholarly presentations, in a new novel by St. Kittian-born English writer Caryl Phillips, and in a French theatre production. She also loomed in the memories evoked by her granddaughter Ellen Ruth Moerman, who seemed determined to correct misconceptions or mis-readings of Rhys’ life and books, including the much-lauded Wide Sargasso Sea.
The aim of the June 21-23 meeting, titled “Transmission Lines”, was to bring the two “sides” of Rhys’ work together: the modernist / European one and the colonial / postcolonial / Caribbean one, said Kerry-Jane Wallart, a professor at La Sorbonne and a member of the organizing committee with her colleagues Juliana Lopoukhine and Frédéric Regard.
“The problem was that (A) scholars did not interact with the other team, which seemed a shame, as academese can petrify, and, conversely, can be much invigorated by new angles and concepts,” said Wallart. “And (B) that this produced an odd dichotomy between Wide Sargasso Sea and the rest of the work.”
Rhys is known for her minimalist, avant-garde style in early books such as Quartet (based on her affair with the writer Ford Maddox Ford in Paris and published in 1928), After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Voyage in the Dark and Good Morning, Midnight. But her greatest acclaim came for Wide Sargasso Sea, published in 1966 when she was in her mid-Seventies.
This “prequel” to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre garnered her fame - after many had assumed her dead - and both scholars and readers developed an intense curiosity about a life that began in Dominica in 1890 and took Rhys from the Caribbean to England, with several stints in Paris. Along the way, she was a showgirl and a model, often facing poverty and depending on unreliable lovers.
Some scholars prefer to focus on her first body of work, while others see Wide Sargasso Sea as a “postcolonial” chef d’oeuvre, with the other novels in a different category.
“But Wide Sargasso Sea is also a modernist novel, and you find traces of an in-between / estranged / unstable other / postcolonial identity in all texts, including the letters and the autobiography,” Wallart wrote in a note about the conference. “That’s why it was important to get all sides talking.”
Although Paris features extensively in Rhys’ storytelling, “no one had ever organized something on her in France, which is a country where she lived and wrote”, said Wallart. 
When the conference organizers issued an initial call for papers, they were “completely taken by surprise” at the response. 
“The number of scholars answering the call for papers was much unexpected (for someone whose last texts date back to the 1960s). It might have seemed that everything had been said in the 1980s and early 1990s, but apparently Rhys insists (on attention),” Wallart said.
Conference organizers J. Lopoukhine and K-J Wallart.
The conference highlighted Rhys’ continued relevance for today’s readers, especially concerning migration and displacement issues, some scholars noted.
“We see so much in her work about the migrant who can’t be read by the society around them,” said Helen Carr, a retired professor from Goldsmiths, University of London.
“The way some people look at migrants as non-humans, it seems to me that this is a moment when we need to re-read Jean Rhys in terms of what’s happening today and to realize how important her work has always been,” Carr added.
For researcher Floriane Reviron Piégay, Rhys made “coherent art out of a shapeless life”. Piégay discussed the many biographies of the writer, quoting the maxim that “you can never trust anyone blindly when it comes to telling someone else’s life”.
The biographies about Rhys in fact generated heated discussion, with the writer’s granddaughter Moerman declaring that many of their assertions were “screamingly inaccurate”.
The conference logo: "Transmission Lines".
As executor of Rhys’ estate, Moerman said she has stuck by her grandmother’s will – “no biography”. She told SWAN, however, that Phillips new book A View of The Empire at Sunset seemed different as the approach was that of “a writer talking about a fellow writer”.
Phillips, the conference’s guest speaker, read from his novel during the event, including at the renowned Parisian bookstore Shakespeare & Company, telling listeners that he was not particularly “interested in facts” and had no desire to write a biography. 
He said he thought that Rhys was “hugely underrated as a writer, particularly because she’s a woman”, and the novel seems an attempt to pay homage to someone whose work he admires. 
“People are more interesting than facts,” said Phillips, who prefers Rhys’ early books to Wide Sargasso Sea
Throughout the conference, Moerman for her part insisted on pointing out what she saw as nonfactual elements in different presentations. (She told SWAN that the conference wasn’t her “cup of tea” as there was “an awful lot of talking about people who’ve talked about Jean Rhys”).
In her own paper, titled “Jean Rhys the Reader”, Moerman gave a lengthy description of books that Rhys had in her library, which explained some of the writer’s literary influences. Moerman said that the more than one thousand titles, records and audio files consisted of “lots of poetry”, “dozens of anthologies of short stories”, Rhys “favourite French writers” such as Colette and Baudelaire, and “an awful lot about the West Indies”.
One of Rhys' early novels.
For some “West Indian” readers, however, Rhys’ depiction of people of African descent in her work is problematic, and this creates an issue about how to teach her writing, said Barbados-based professor Evelyn O’Callaghan, a dean at the University of the West Indies. In addition, what should one make of the debate about where to place Rhys?   
“My not entirely unrelated interest is in the recurring critical classification of Rhys’ work in terms of either/or; black/white; creole/European; Caribbean/continental literary tradition; modernist/postcolonial," O’Callaghan wrote in her paper.  
“Rhys and her work have been transferred from camp to camp over time, and the issue of where they belong shows no sign of being resolved,” she added, before examining how race has played a part in the debate. (Interestingly, there were no black scholars presenting papers at the conference.)
In the end, the divide on Rhys’ work may matter little to readers and to students themselves.
“When I read Wide Sargasso Sea, I never thought about Jean Rhys’ race,” a former student told O’Callaghan.
“What moved her instead”, according to O’Callaghan, “was the ‘pervasive unbelonging that is experienced by many different kinds of people in the Caribbean’.”  - SWAN

Sunday, 17 June 2018

ACTIVISTS, ARTISTS TAKE COMMUNITY ACTION IN PARIS

What impact does our “footprint” - in its many forms - have on our society? This is just one of the questions that the sixth annual “State of the Community” conference in Paris will address over the next two weeks.

The meeting, organized by the Dhillon Marty Foundation, comprises a range of events aimed at highlighting civic engagement and getting people to support sustainable solutions to social problems. It was launched June 16 in France with the distribution of Empreinte Civique, a daily newspaper being published and distributed across 15 countries until June 30.

Sonia Dhillon Marty
According to Sonia Dhillon Marty, the India-born president of the foundation, only the development of critical thinking and common civic values will help humankind to deal with the future, especially in the face of seemingly unstoppable technological changes.
“Democracy needs engaged and thoughtful citizens. Our mission is to build critical thinkers who are passionately engaged to defend a fair and just society,” she said.
A former business-development professional at tech company Cisco Systems, Dhillon Marty says she is concerned about getting youth involved in discussions about sustainability, especially as regards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Her aim is to bring together artists, academics, experts from various disciplines, and young people to “investigate sustainable solutions for our interconnected world”.
In partnership with CIDJ (Centre d’Information et de Documentation de la Jeunesse) and UNESCO’s MOST program (Management of Social Transformations), the Dhillon Marty Foundation has widened its scope this year for a greater appeal to community involvement. The diverse events will bring together “social practice” art and dialogue on contemporary global issues.
Members of the Dhillon Marty team.
Each program provides an “egalitarian approach to the current social challenges and explores how a holistic solution, beneficial to everyone, can be possible”, Dhillon Marty said.
Subtitled “#ShareYourHumanity” (last year’s winning phrase from a global competition), the 2018 event features a street art performance on June 18 at a store in northern Paris. Artists will use mattresses to produce art, as a means of emphasizing that the well-being of the individual and the community go hand in hand, Dhillon Marty told SWAN.
The following day, June 19, the foundation hosts a “Garden Share” and Japanese tea ceremony, with participants exchanging views on sustainable food production. The focus here is on how each person can contribute to “seeding” quality food and life.
Other activities include a “Social Movement” dance performance and a street cleaning, or “Soji”, initiative - inspired by the Japanese practice of cleaning communal spaces. The latter will take place on June 22, at Place de la République, in Paris.
These social-practice art programs will be followed by panel debates and discussions June 26 to June 29, on topics such as inclusive community action, the economics of technology, and democracy and governance. The annual competition to select the “Phrase of the Year”, from submissions by young people around the world, will take place June 28.
A more physical activity - a run for gender justice - is scheduled to close out this year’s conference. The “#JustRunParis” event “represents the struggle for advancement in quality of life and work undertaken by courageous and tireless women to build a world of more possibilities,” Dhillon Marty said. The route will include different locations in Paris where “pioneering, trailblazing women have changed history and keep inspiring generations”, she added.
After the run, participants will come together for a “Lungar” - a picnic where everyone will prepare, serve, and enjoy food in a “bonding experience”, as in the Sikh tradition of India.
For further details on the conference program, please go to: http://www.dhillonmarty.org and @dhillonmarty. Due to limited seating, registration is required for all programs.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

JOHN BEASLEY: A MUSICIAN MAKING MONK COOL AGAIN

A few years ago, pianist and composer John Beasley was preparing for a big writing project when he began experimenting with a new kind of computer software, focusing on the music of jazz legend Thelonious Monk.
John Beasley's first tribute album to Thelonious Monk.
“I went ‘Wow! This is interesting.’ And the light bulb just went off,” Beasley said in an interview with SWAN. “I realized how open to interpretation his music was,”
What followed was a commission to write a piece for a big band, and the release in 2016 of John Beasley presents MONK’estra, vol. 1 – an album with a multicultural cast of acclaimed musicians.
“After we had performed the sets live, a friend who was a record producer said: Why don’t you record the music,” recalled Beasley, sitting in a Paris café, on a break from touring.
“I wondered how I was going to pay 15 musicians. In the end, I had to ask them to do a favor, and they accepted to take a low fee. Some said: I’ll play on your record if you play on mine,” he continued.
The project was “very much a labour of love” and the musicians and their fans have “become a community”, Beasley said. All are united in their admiration for the singular genius of jazz pianist and composer Monk, who died in 1982.
MONK'estra, vol. 1 was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album, and the following year Beasley followed this up with MONK'estra, vol. 2, which received a similar nomination.
The second compilation, which he again arranged and conducted, was launched in October 2017, on the 100th anniversary of Monk’s birth. It features guest appearances by trumpeter and rapper Dontae Winslow, violinist Regina Carter and singer Dianne Reeves, among others. 
John Beasley in Paris (photo: McKenzie).
This is the essence of Monk - for both long-time fans and a new generation. It boasts surprising interpretations of compositions that include “Evidence”, “Light Blue” and “Crespuscule With Nellie” (Monk’s love letter to his wife).
“I hope that people who aren’t necessarily jazz lovers will get exposed to the music,” Beasley said. “But I didn’t compose for any overriding reason. I just wrote what’s in my heart.”
Still, as an artist who has been music director for International Jazz Day Global Concerts and the Thelonious Monk Institute Tribute shows, Beasley says he doesn’t shy away from taking a personal stand on certain topics, as music has always been used to address social issues. 
“When you look at the Civil Rights movement, you had Marvin Gaye, you had Coltrane,” he said. “During the Vietnam War, you had Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and all this was played on radio. But what I hear on the radio now is music that doesn't speak to today's issues. This is not helping to provoke thought and as such doesn't advance our culture, nor is it helping to advance our humanity.
“The rhythm of the day may be changing, but there’s still a need for jazz,” he added.
Born in Louisiana, Beasley comes from a line of musicians – his grandfather was a jazz trombonist who played in dance halls during the 1920s.
“He stayed on the road until my mother was born,” Beasley told SWAN. “Then he became a school-band director, and he would teach my mom to play the instrument that he needed in the band. So, she learned to play a lot of instruments.”
The cover of MONK'estra, vol. 2.
His mother eventually became a band director and a music teacher until she retired. His father was a pianist who learned to play the bassoon in the army and later concentrated on classical music and jazz, playing for Fort Worth and Dallas symphony orchestras.
“Music was always around the house,” Beasley said.
His parents made him take piano lessons from the time he was 8 years old, he revealed, but he chose to play oboe and other instruments throughout high school. 
“Piano didn’t speak to me until later,” he said. “What happened was: I was playing guitar and drums in my teens. In one band the piano player quit, so I took over.”
He had “caught the jazz bug” early on, however, because his father “pulled him out of school” and took him to workshops where he met artists like Oliver Nelson (renowned for The Blues and the Abstract Truth). As the love of jazz took hold, Beasley dreamed of becoming a big-band director because he “wanted to be like Quincy Jones”. 
Later he would do "lots of" studio work and perform with musicians including Dianne Reeves, Christian McBride, Kenny Garrett and a roster of other famous jazz musicians and vocalists. He played with Miles Davis in 1989/1990, and throughout it all, he was inspired by the music of Monk. 
During his break in Paris last November, where the interview took place, he was also working on a 10-minute symphonic piece for an international composition competition. This June, he won the Grand Prize which meant that the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra performed his piece "Simplicity" in the famous "Goldener Saal" of the Wiener Musikverein; it was “inspired by the music of Thelonious Monk”.
“In jazz, we’re always riding the shoulders of our predecessors,” Beasley mused.

Upcoming performances for John Beasley and the MONK'estra band will take place in London, Beijing, LA and other cities. For more info:  http://johnbeasleymusic.com/

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale https://twitter.com/Mckenzie_Ale

Saturday, 2 June 2018

ANGELA DAVIS TO SPEAK AT 'REVOLUTIONS' CONFERENCE

Civil rights icon Angela Davis will be the keynote speaker at “Revolution(s)”, a conference at Paris Nanterre University about the themes of revolt and rebellion in literature and other fields.
Organized by La Société des Anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur (SAES) - an academic association for those researching and teaching English language, literatures and culture - the June 7-9 meeting is expected to attract some 500 participants and include about 30 workshops at the university located just outside the French capital.
Dr. Angela Davis (photo: McKenzie)
Davis’s name was the “first that came to mind” when Nanterre was chosen as the 2018 site of the annual congress of the SAES, said Bernard Cros, the main organizer of the meeting and a lecturer in British and Commonwealth studies.
“What is not revolutionary about Angela Davis is what you have to ask,” Cros said in an interview. “Where would the world be without people like her? She put her own safety on the line. It raises questions about what it means to be politically committed. Whether you agree with all her views or not, this is something that attracts support.”
The university awarded Davis an honorary doctorate in 2014, so she is “already linked” to the institution, he added.
For the SAES, the theme of “revolution(s)” seemed the “obvious choice” for the congress, “exactly half a century after the events of the spring of 1968 in which the Nanterre campus played such a leading role,” organizers said.
Scholars will try to address questions such as: “Is the notion of revolution as a catalyst for action still relevant today? Does it still carry conviction as a plan, hope, or representation of an age? Is it still pertinent to think of it as a framework to make history or to give it meaning?”
After a recent spate of student protests, participants are hoping that the university will be fully accessible for the conference. In echoes of 1968, when nation-wide demonstrations shut down the economy, France is currently gripped by strikes involving railway employees and other workers, while students have been demonstrating against the government’s higher-education reforms that would make admittance to public universities more selective.
A sign from protestors (photo: McKenzie)
The students say the changes are contrary to the French tradition of offering all high school graduates a place at public universities and would adversely affect poorer students, who are already underrepresented on campuses. The government’s stance is that reform is necessary to deal with the current high drop-out rate and overcrowded institutions.
At Nanterre (where the 1968 student demonstrations began, with the occupation of an administrative building to protest class discrimination and other social issues), students in April and early May this year shut down the campus, placing iron barricades and other objects in front of doorways to prevent final exams taking place.
The protests have now quieted, with finals being organized through the university's digital platform and grades to be assigned. Some graduate students are in fact expected to attend the conference, but railway strikes across France are continuing.
At the congress, interdisciplinary presentations will cover a range of issues and literatures, focusing on activist writers such as CLR James of Trinidad, Kamau Brathwaite of Barbados and many others.
The conference will also pay homage to Davis, who has been a revolutionary figure for decades. A member of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, she was active in the civil rights movement before and after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King in April 1968.
Later, in 1970, guns bought in her name were used by a high-school student when he took over a courtroom to demand the freeing of black prisoners including his brother, and left the building with hostages, including the judge.
In a subsequent shootout with police, the perpetrator, two defendants he had freed and the judge were killed. Davis was arrested following a huge manhunt, and charged with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder” of the judge, although she had not been in the courtroom.
Congress organizer Dr. Bernard Cros.
She declared her innocence, and sympathisers in the United States and other countries, including France, mobilised to demand her freedom. After being incarcerated for 16 months, she was released on bail and eventually acquitted of the charges in 1972.
Now Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), Davis focuses on feminist studies, among other subjects.

Her speech at the SAES conference is expected to provide insight on what it takes to improve conditions for the oppressed, Cros said.
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Sunday, 20 May 2018

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL PUTS THE FOCUS ON ‘OUTSIDERS’


A scene from Rafiki (Friend), which is banned in Kenya. It got a standing
ovation in Cannes. (Photo courtesy of the festival.)

With the usual posse of big-name directors and actors missing from this year’s Cannes Film Festival in southern France, the event created space for cutting-edge films from Asia, Africa, small European states, and the Middle East.

Most of these films put the focus squarely on stories about outsiders, highlighting issues of exclusion, disability, racism and gender inequality (including in the film industry). The result was a festival with some of the most engaging movies in the last five years, alongside the trademark glitz.

The winners in the two main categories of the festival, which ran from May 8 to 19, exemplified the concentration on the underdog. Manbiki Kazoku (Shoplifters) by Japanese director Kore-Eda Hirokazu won the Palme d’Or top prize, from among 21 films, while Gräns (Border), by Iranian-born Danish director Ali Abbasi, was awarded the Un Certain Regard Prize, beating 17 other movies. The latter category recognizes films that stand out for their originality, and many critics agreed Gräns was remarkable.

“We feel that out of 2,000 films considered by the Festival, the 18 we saw in Un Certain Regard, from Argentina to China, were all in their own way winners,” stated the jury, headed by Puerto-Rican actor Benicio Del Toro.

“We were extremely impressed by the high quality of the work presented, but in the end we were the most moved by … five films” (including Gräns), the jury added
A scene from Gräns (photo courtesy of the festival).
Full of suspense, Abbasi’s movie tells the story of a “strange-looking” female customs officer who has a gift for spotting, or sniffing out, travellers trying to hide their contraband and other secrets, and it takes viewers on her journey to discover who she really is.
We see her experiencing verbal abuse from some travellers, and we slowly discover the exploitation she and people like her have suffered, while also learning about her origins, and seeing her fall in love and deal with appalling crime.
Based on a short story by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist, and with superb acting, the film combines romance, dark humour and the paranormal to deliver a subtle message about the treatment of people who are different and society’s behaviour towards those most vulnerable, among other subjects.
A second film that won a major award in the Un Certain Regard category also dealt with “difference” and the acceptance of one’s individuality. Girl by Belgian director Lukas Dhont is a first feature about a boy who dreams of becoming a ballerina, exploring the journey of a trans-teen with a passion for dance. Victor Polster, the 15-year-old actor who plays the title role with poignant credibility, won the best actor award, while Girl also won the competition’s Caméra d’Or prize for best first film.
The poster for Rafiki (Friend).
However, Rafiki (Friend), a movie that some critics expected to receive a prize, had to be satisfied with the extended standing ovation it received from viewers at the festival. The film – about love between two young women – is banned in Kenya, despite being the first Kenyan film selected for screening at the festival.
Director Wanuri Kahui said she was moved by the appreciation the film received, telling reporters that people are eager to watch a “joyful” and “modern” African movie, away from the stereotypical images of poverty and disaster.
Regarding the ban, she tweeted in April: “I am incredibly sorry to announce that our film RAFIKI has been banned in Kenya. We believe adult Kenyans are mature and discerning enough to watch local content but their right has been denied.”
Apart from the Palme d’Or winner (about a family of shoplifters), the films that generated widespread buzz in the main competition included Arabic-language Yomeddine, directed by Cairo-born A.B. Shawky, and featuring a leper in Egypt, and BlacKkKlansman, by African-American director Spike Lee, which won the Grand Prix, the second highest honour at the festival.
Yomeddine stood out for its choice of subject and for portraying and employing persons with disabilities. Viewer and British actor Adam Lannon called the film “beautiful and brilliant”, adding that it was “excellent” to see “actors with disabilities working on screen”.
The film’s main character, Beshay, is a man cured of leprosy, but he has never left the leper colony where he has been placed by his family since childhood. When his wife dies, he sets out in search of his roots, with his loyal donkey. He is soon joined by an orphan boy named Obama, whom he has been protecting, although he would rather have been alone.
What follows is an uplifting road movie across Egypt, with a series of tear-jerking encounters on the way and echoes of “Don Quixote”. Shawky’s first feature has some flaws in that certain elements seem too predictable, but he scores overall with his appeal for humanity and inclusion. "It has always been my desire to film the oppressed, the excluded, the journey of someone who pulls through, against all odds," he said in the movie notes.
Director Spike Lee (left). Photo courtesy of the festival.
For Spike Lee, anger at racism comes across clearly in his latest work, which is the story of a real-life African-American policeman who managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan in Colorado. Lee incorporated recent events in the United States in the movie, particularly the killing of Heather Heyer as she protested a white-supremacist gathering in Charlottesville.
At his main Cannes press conference, Lee slammed the current U.S. administration, in a speech full of expletives. “We have a guy in the White House … who in a defining moment … was given the chance to say we’re about love and not hate, and that (expletive deleted) did not denounce the Klan,” he told journalists.
Gender issues were also raised at the festival, with the #MeToo and #TimesUp issues never far from movie-watchers’ consciousness, as is the global scarcity of female directors. Only one film directed by a woman (The Piano by Jane Campion) has ever won the Palme d’Or, and women have long been underrepresented at the directorial level.
During the event, 82 women working in the movie sector took over the famous red-carpeted stairs to protest that inequality. Their number was an indication that since the Cannes festival officially began in 1946, following World War II, just 82 movies by women directors have been selected for competition. In contrast, 1,645 films by male directors have been chosen.
Led by the five women on this year’s competition jury, including jury president Cate Blanchett and American director Ava Duvernay, the protest coincided with the screening of Les Filles du Soleil (Girls of the Sun), a movie by French director Eva Husson about a group of female fighters in Kurdistan.
Front cover of the book.
This was just one of several protest events. A few days later, black women working in the French film industry also denounced the lack of quality roles. Sixteen women who have contributed to a book titled Noire n’est pas mon metier (Being black is not my profession) made their voices heard on the red carpet.
“We’re here to denounce a system that has gone on too long,” said Senegalese-born French actress Aïssa Maïga, who described how black actresses tended to be cast only in certain roles.
Among the three women directors in the main competition, Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki took home the biggest award - the Prix du Jury for Capharnaüm, about a boy who sues his parents for bringing him into the world.
In a moving speech, Labaki called for everyone to do more to protect children and ensure their education.
“Loveless childhood is the root of all suffering in the world,” she said.
By the time the festival wrapped up with a performance from singers Sting and Shaggy on May 19 (the same day as the royal wedding in England), it seemed that both filmmakers and the public were yearning for lasting change, and different stories.
Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Monday, 30 April 2018

GUADELOUPE SHOWS CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS IN PARIS

In a new cultural initiative, works by established and emerging artists from Guadeloupe are on vibrant display in Paris, highlighting the artistic talent in the French Caribbean region.

Freedom by Ronald Cyrille (mixed media on canvas),
200 x 144 cm. Photo copyright D. Dabriou.
The show is the first in a planned series titled Éclats d'îles (Island Bursts), “initiated by Guadeloupe and the regional President Ary Chalus”, according to A2Z Art Gallery, which is hosting the exhibition.
The series will be held throughout 2018, presenting the works of contemporary artists from the various islands that form the French overseas department, in collaboration with the Krystel Ann Art agency.
“This project, which is a real commitment to the field of arts and culture in the region, aims to give visibility to Guadeloupe artists beyond the local territory,” A2Z stated. “The gallery takes enormous pleasure and is extremely proud to reveal to the public, the universe of these selected talents, throughout these exhibitions.”
Under the patronage of renowned Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé, the current show presents the works of six artists, whose different styles make for a rich viewing experience. The artwork was selected “on the basis of the aesthetical properties, the questioning of Antillian identity by the artists, their representation and creative vivaciousness”, according to the gallery.
Among the artists is the 33-year-old rising star Ronald Cyrille, who has won a number of "young-talent" awards. After attending art school in Martinique, he launched his career doing street art in Guadeloupe, and got noticed by gallery owners and curators. He still does street murals, alongside his studio work of paintings, collages and sculptures, and he has become  known for his daring, striking symbolism - mixing images of animals and humans to pose questions about Caribbean identity, societal violence and art itself. SWAN spoke to Cyrille after the opening of the show on April 26 (it runs until May 9) about his background and creative process. The interview is translated from French.
Artist Ronald Cyrille (photo by A. McKenzie).
SWAN: How did you start painting?
Ronald Cyrille: I started when I was a child, first with cartoon characters such as Picsou, Dragon Ball Z, Mickey, Ninja Turtles and others of this kind. I loved to represent things by trying to make them as faithful to the original as possible. Over time, I began to move away from this while keeping some characters from this universe that allow me a certain singularity in my art. I actually use different techniques now, which can be installation, sculpture, drawing or painting.
SWAN: One of your main themes is freedom. How do you choose your subjects?
R.C.: I’ve been developing certain questions based on a personal way of thinking - across creolisation, legends and stories that nourish my imagination as well as my artistic vocabulary. In my work, the violence in contemporary society is something that echoes my cultural heritage, tied to the Caribbean, Africa and Europe.
And yes, I’m quite free in my choice of subjects. Painting allows you to dream and to travel in your mind, in your imagination. In fact, one of the works on exhibition at Éclats d’îles is titled "Freedom". I’m also inspired by the thoughts of some of our writers such as Aimé Césaire, and also Édouard Glissant through his concept of “Tout Monde” and creolisation.
SWAN: Can you tell us about the media that you use?
R.C.: I often use different techniques, depending on the work I envisage. I think technique is like a toolbox for artists, allowing them to experiment or create things according to their need. The techniques or media can be mixed or might be acrylic, spray paint, pencil, etc.
SWAN: Does your mixed Caribbean background (parents from Guadeloupe and Dominica) influence your work?
R.C.: Yes, I think so. It’s a double richness. So naturally my vision is not limited to Guadeloupe but reflect a need to question our differences as much as our similarities, as a kind of cultural wealth. And despite our insularity, Guadeloupe and the Caribbean are a part of the world.
SWAN: How do you feel about this exhibition in Paris?
R.C.: I think that it’s a beautiful experience and that this kind of action should be multiplied so that our artists can be better known and people can see the diversity and singularity of the Guadeloupean (Caribbean) aesthetic.
Our artists often lack visibility and recognition in mainland France. Fortunately things are gradually changing, pushing us beyond this insularity. I think that people have greatly appreciated my artwork and that of my compatriots, and that they have travelled via the works.
SWAN: Please tell us about your other shows in France.
R.C.: Last year, I took part in an exhibition in Bagneux (a commune south of Paris) titled “Mémoires Caraïbes”, with artists who were very representative of the Caribbean. The town acquired two of my grand-format drawings.
I've also exhibited at Memorial ACTe (centre for the memory of slavery) and, following a one-month residency in Sainte-Rose (a commune in Guadeloupe) from Feb. 5 to March 5 this year, I'm presenting an exhibition at the Habitation la Ramee titled “Traces d’hier et empreintes d’aujourd’hui” (Traces of Yesterday and Footprints of Today).  It comprises 43 new works created during this period. They include drawings, sculptures, paintings and installations, and the show runs until June 29.
SWAN: What are your views on the art scene in the French Caribbean?
R.C.: I believe that we are very creative and could have a firm presence in the world of arts, like Haiti, Cuba or Jamaica. We have to develop our market by supporting the sector and finding our place. My generation is very dynamic and audacious.
SWAN: How do you see your work evolving? What are your plans for the future?
R.C.: I’m increasingly trying to teach myself to live in the present. Meanwhile, I continue to create and to increase the number of collaborations in the Caribbean and beyond. In the years to come, I would like to find a good gallery or a good art dealer, participate in some biennales and have more frequent access to a certain number of artistic events. For the moment, I do realize that things are moving in the right direction.
The first edition of Éclats d'îles runs until May 9, 2018, at A2Z Art Gallery, Paris. The six artists represented are: Joël Nankin, Alain Josephine, Nicolas Nabajoth, Anaïs Verspan, Ronald Cyrille, So Aguessy Roaboteur.
You can follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale.