Saturday, 13 October 2018


One of the Caribbean’s most acclaimed authors, Maryse Condé of Guadeloupe, has won the “alternative” Nobel Prize for her writing.

Announced on Oct. 12, the award replaces this year’s official Nobel Prize in Literature, which was postponed to 2019 following a scandal involving sexual misconduct. The alternative honour, formally called The New Academy Prize, was set up by “a wide range of knowledgeable individuals” who accepted the nominations of authors from Sweden’s librarians.

The New Academy then urged the public to choose from a list of 47 writers, and about 33,000 people around the world voted, according to the organizers. Condé emerged the winner from a resulting shortlist of four authors that included Vietnamese-Canadian writer Kim Thúy, British writer Neil Gaiman, and Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami (who later withdrew his name to “concentrate on his writing”).

Condé, who writes in French, is the author of critically praised books such as Segou (Segu), Une saison à Rihata (A Season in Rihata) and Moi, Tituba sorcière… Noire de Salem (I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem). Her work has been translated into many languages.

In its citation, The New Academy said: “Maryse Condé is a grand storyteller. Her authorship belongs to world literature. In her work, she describes the ravages of colonialism and the postcolonial chaos in a language which is both precise and overwhelming. The magic, the dream and the terror is, as also love, constantly present.”

Condé has previously won literary prizes in France, of which Guadeloupe is an overseas department, or part of the French Caribbean.

In a 2010 interview with fellow Caribbean writer Elizabeth Nunez, published in the UNESCO Courrier, Condé said she writes about slavery, Africa, the condition of black people throughout the world” as a means “to order” her thoughts, “to understand the world, and to be at peace with” herself.
Maryse Condé. (Photo: MEDEF)

“I write to try to find answers to the questions I ask myself. Writing for me is a type of therapy, a way to be safe and sound,” she said in the interview.

On receiving the alternative Nobel, Condé said she wished to share it with her family, her friends and, “above all, with the Guadeloupean people who will be so thrilled and touched by seeing me receive this award”.

The prize will officially be awarded during a “grand celebration” in Stockholm Dec. 9, according to the New Academy, which said the organization “will be dissolved in December”. - SWAN

For more information, see:

Thursday, 4 October 2018


When Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings were shown in France a few years ago, a visitor overheard a teenager remarking that the artwork seemed to have come from “a very angry little boy”.
Posters announcing the Basquiat exhibition in Paris.
Now, that sense of artistic fury or frenetic energy is put into context in a stunning new exhibition that comprises more than 120 works displayed in the remarkable setting of the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris  -  the museum and cultural centre designed by the architect Frank Gehry and launched in 2014.
The Foundation’s spacious galleries present the Caribbean-American artist in a new light, emphasizing Basquiat's status as a major figure in the history of art, 30 years after his death at the age of 27.
“The Foundation spotlights an artist I personally consider to be among the most important of the second half of the twentieth century,” said Bernard Arnault, president of the Foundation, and CEO of global luxury-goods company LMVH, which sponsors the museum.
In a foreword to the exhibition, Arnault, an avid art collector, added that the “complexity of Basquiat’s work is equalled only by the spontaneity” of the feelings it arouses.
“He figures among the origins of my collection and I owe him a tremendous amount for inspiring my passion for art in general, and for contemporary art in particular,” wrote Arnault, whose collection has contributed to that of the Foundation.
A visitor views Basquiat's "Gold Griot".
The exhibition comprises an impressive range of huge paintings and drawings on canvas, wood and other materials. They are shown in a thematic fashion that takes viewers into Basquiat’s thoughts and feelings about issues such as discrimination and inequality, and one can’t help being impressed by the immense number of works he produced in his short life.
The show runs in tandem with an exhibition on Austrian painter Egon Schiele, who also died in his twenties - 70 years before Basquiat, in 1918. Both artists are “signal figures in the art of their time, the early and late twentieth century respectively,” says Suzanne Pagé, artistic director of the Louis Vuitton Foundation.
Although their art is presented separately, in different parts of the museum, the artists are linked by “their breath-taking, youth-driven work” which has made them “icons” for new generations, according to Pagé.
The “Jean-Michel Basquiat” exhibition certainly addresses his iconic stature: his work is easily identifiable from his graphic style of painting, his use of vibrant colours and the subjects he addressed. As viewers walk through the eight galleries, over four flours of the museum, the works form a searing biography of the artist.
Born in Brooklyn in 1960 to a mother of Puerto Rican descent and a father from Haiti, Basquiat grew up with a love for art, as his mother took him to museums in New York and enrolled him in art lessons.
His childhood was marked by an accident in 1968 when, at the age of seven, he was hit by a car as he played in the street. While recovering from a broken arm and internal injuries, his mother gave him a copy of Gray's Anatomy, a book on human anatomy with illustrations of body parts, skulls and skeletons.
The exhibition includes a gallery of Basquiat's drawings.
According to biographers, this book would have a great influence on his work; indeed, a theme in the current exhibition is Basquiat’s preoccupation with the inner functions of the body and with dying.
As a child, Basquiat also experienced his parents’ separation and his mother’s mental illness, as the family moved between New York and Puerto Rico. He dropped out of high school at age 17 and was homeless for a while, producing postcards and other items to support himself. But his precocious talent soon caught the eye of gallery owners, collectors and fellow artists including the influential Andy Warhol.
“With a natural instinct for openness, linked to his twin Haitian and Puerto Rican roots, Basquiat absorbed everything like a sponge, mixing the lessons of the street with a repertoire of images, heroes, and symbols from a wide range of cultures,” Pagé said in a text introducing the exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Foundation.
The sequence of his works at the show begins with the 1980 painting Untitled (Car Crash) and ends with Riding With Death - a striking painting that depicts a figure on a horse-like skeleton and which Basquiat produced shortly before he died in 1988 of a heroin overdose.
Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Horn Players", 1983.
Acrylic and oilstick on three canvas panels
mounted on wood supports. The Broad Art
Foundation. Copyright Estate of Jean-Michel
Basquiat. Picture: D M Parker Studio, LA
In between, visitors can view the works portraying boxers such as Sugar Ray Robinson and Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali, and see Basquiat's artistic and political commentary on exploitation and the slave trade through paintings that include Price of Gasoline in the Third World and Slave Auction.
“Basquiat mirrored himself in his figures of black boxers and jazz musicians, as well as in victims of police brutality and everyday racism,” said Dieter Buchhart, curator of the exhibition, in an interview published by Le Journal de la Fondation Louis Vuitton.
“He connected the Black Atlantic, African diaspora, slavery, colonialism, suppression and exploitation with his time in New York in the 1980s, always keeping his own circumstances in view as well as those of humanity in general.”
For Basquiat, who was a forerunner of hip-hop culture, music and musicians were an essential part of the diaspora experience, and he paid homage to jazz artists, particularly Charlie Parker, with Horn Players, Discography and other works in his signature style of skulls, teeth, frantic figures, and text that send cryptic messages.
His collaborations with Warhol also form a significant part of the exhibition, with huge mural-type paintings that they jointly produced. The painting Eiffel Tower illustrates their respective styles as they playfully depict the most symbolic structure in the French capital. It’s a fitting inclusion in this Paris-based retrospective. - SWAN
The Jean-Michel Basquiat Exhibition runs until Jan. 14, 2019, at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. Related events include conferences, literary readings, and a talk by renowned African American curator Thelma Golden, who recently received the J. Paul Getty Medal for contributions to the arts.
Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018


“Is that you in the picture, Grandma? And is that Grandpa?”

This is a common question when youngsters see a slightly yellowed wedding photograph in an album, on a living-room wall or on a family sideboard.

Agnes Jane Harris (1924-2016) and
Henricus Leonardus (Leo) Maria Knoppel
(1917-1995). Photo courtesy of L. Nankoe.
For answers, they and other visitors can currently view a wide range of ancestral photos in ‘Trouwportretten, Surinaamse Voorouders in Beeld 1868-1950’ (Wedding Portraits, Surinamese Ancestors in Images, 1868-1950) - an exhibition that runs until Nov. 14 at the Amsterdam Public Library in the Netherlands.
Photos bring the past world to the present day and that is certainly the case with the photographs in this show, say the organizers, headed by Lucia Nankoe, the freelance curator of the exhibition. 
The pictures portray Surinamese bridal pairs, or couples in which one of the partners has a Surinamese background. The photos not only provide a striking depiction of the period in which the marriage occurred, but they highlight how much the Surinamese have travelled to all corners of the Netherlands under Dutch administration, according to the organizers.
The introduction of photography to Suriname in the second half of the 19th century enabled couples to be photographed in the first studios in Paramaribo or in their parents’ courtyards. Some marriages were also performed in the Netherlands. The oldest photograph in the exhibition dates back to 1868, and some stories are even older, the organizers add.
The exhibition is the first of its kind to focus on the cultural diversity of Surinamese society through the use of photographs and the stories of the descendants of those pictured. It also includes wedding photographs of Surinamese-Dutch, Surinamese-Indian and Surinamese-American couples.

Saturday, 18 August 2018


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 posting. 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, abruptly 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.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018


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:
“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


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, 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


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: and @dhillonmarty. Due to limited seating, registration is required for all programs.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018


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:

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Saturday, 2 June 2018


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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