I had to do one final post today to say a final goodbye to one of Antigua and Barbuda’s talented artists, historians, environmentalists, civil servants, E.T. Henry. He died on September 7th 2012 after a short illness, according to the Daily Observer. I wanted to acknowledge not his passing, per se, but his life. We weren’t close; I’ve interviewed him a handful of times in my life but he made an impact not just on Antigua and Barbuda but on my psyche. With respect to the latter, I remember being a TV reporter and interviewing Henry about something, can’t remember what specifically, only that it had something to do with the ancestors during the period of their enslavement. I remember that because he said in that interview that he doesn’t refer to them as slaves “because these people weren’t born slaves”. I don’t know why I heard that message properly at that time, why it stuck, but it did. This idea that my ancestors were not slaves by definition but by condition, they were not slaves innately, it was just the circumstance they happened to be in; and thinking of them as people not slaves began to transform not just the way I thought of them but the way I thought of myself and of myself in relation to them. There’s a conditioning that reinforces itself when you think of yourself as a slave, as the descendent of slaves, rather than as people, as the descendents of people who survived slavery. To this day, in everything I say and write, I make a conscious effort to refer to them not as slaves but as enslaved Africans, because slaves may have been what they were but enslaved Africans is who they were. Henry’s comment, an emotional note, in the otherwise formal engagement between interviewer and subject, was a transformative moment in my way of thinking on these things, one of several ripples in an awakening consciousness. I never told him how much those words stuck with me; I don’t think we ever had a personal conversation. But they did.
The other thing I won’t forget about ET is his artistic talent, because I am an art lover and something about the romance of the early days of art in Antigua and Barbuda, in the 195os when they would gather and learn from each other and travel the island and paint, or so he described it to me in another interview, appealed to me. I first spied his images, the ole time Christmas mas lit up by music and flambeaus, the long ghosts and other scenes at the Museum. I’ve seen portraits and stirring seascapes at his home. And last engaged with his art when while working on the Observer Carnival 50 arts anthology, I reached out to him to give permission for use of some of his images. As the images below (from that 2007 collection) attest, E.T., a retired Permanent Secretary with an OBE awarded in 1978, an artist who won international competitions (sponsored by Alcoa Steamship Co. in 1955 and Benson and Hedges in 1988), a founding member of the Environmental Awareness Group, and a model yachting hobbyist was a man of many talents.
Rest in Peace, E.T.
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