Tag Archives: ancestors

Jumbies all around

Went tonight to the Youth Enlightenment Academy here in Antigua to attend the launch of Mali Olatunji’s book and exhibition. The books are now available for sale and the exhibition remains open for a month.  I quote below from the launch booklet.


Painterly Photographer
The Artwork of Mali Olatunji
Antigua and Barbuda Youth Enlightenment Academy
July – September, 2015

A Note from Artist, Mali Adelaja Olatunji (excerpts)
“This body of photographs, ‘Woodist Jumbie Aesthetics’, is for me an assemblage of abstract speculative conjectures.
“…their strident nature allows for a re-examination of Spirit and the aesthetics of departed souls – Jumbies.
“Each photograph is of two or more images that are inter-layered by inter-penetrating optical images of people, places or object onto silver halide salt (film), in a camera. This process is exceedingly improbable to replicate. Thus each is unequivocally an original.
“(in ‘pure photography’) …exactitude in physical replication: lines, color, form, texture and so on, is your aim. Having mastered this for a long twenty-one years, I deserve the space to make ‘my Art’!
“I made the decision to concentrate less on making photographs that were primarily instantiation of factual accuracy…more on picturing ideas of unreliability as an imaginative activity.”

A Note from Author, Paget Henry, the Art of Mali Olatunji (excerpts)
“In addition to bringing fresh support for the fine arts possibilities of photography, Olatunji brings to this visual practice a new technique and an original vision. This new technique is that of using the lines and textures of wood, tree bark, and leaves to enhance the symbolic capabilities of photography. It is this enhanced symbolic capability that gives his photography its painterly qualities and its power to engage the spiritual, and social themes that run through this exhibition.
“The original vision derives from Olatunji’s attempts to imagine how our world would look if seen through ‘the eyes’ of a Jumbie or a departed soul that has taken up residence in a tree now that it has lost its body. It is on account of this new woodist technique that this original vision that Olatunji’s photography will surely generate a lot of interest and debate.
“His photography is sure to raise questions about the long and tense relationship between painting and photography, as the painterly possibilities of the latter are developed in his work to a heretofore unprecedented degree.”

A Note from the Exhibition Curator, Karen Allen Baxter (excerpts)
“This exhibition, The Painterly Photographer, the Artwork of Mali Olatunji, the first in the Sir Reginald Samuel Gallery, also marks the formal opening of this important arts space. The work of Mali Olatunji is meaningful, engaging, explorative, poignant, sometimes humorous and perfect for this inaugural exhibition!
“These photographs invite the viewer to look again, view with intent, examine closely to realize more or realize something else and to appreciate differently.”


So, this book has been many years in the making. I’ve had many discussions with both Mali and Paget about it over the years. I now look forward to reading it. I’m (insert indescribable emotion here) to be included among the images. Ha! me, a model! From all my discussions with the creators of this book over the years, I know it’s more than just pretty pictures, that there’s technical experimentation and exploration of ideas, and of a particular idea very much rooted in our (maybe more once upon a time than actual these days) African Antiguan belief system. I know books like this are important in grounding us in Self; as Mali said at the launch, there is too much of the Antiguan Self slipping away with this dressing up in other selves that we do, losing our Self in the process. As he said, this book is not just for us; it is Us. Thanks, Mali. Thanks, Paget, for pushing Mali (I know he didn’t go easy …but here it is for the record). Finally, congrats to Hansib for, in this weird time in publishing where even Big publishers aren’t taking risks, being outside the box not only in taking on an unconventional project like this but for quickly becoming an MVP when it comes to taking on book projects from this small place. Think about it, Hansib is responsible for the publication of several Antiguan and Barbudan books in recent years, from my own  The Boy from Willow Bend, to the Art of Mali Olatunji, and including Paget’s V. C. Bird book and Dorbrene O’Marde’s Bocas Short Listed Short Shirt book Nobody Go Run Me and Send Out You Hand. Which other publisher Caribbean or not would have taken a chance on those ideas, simply because they felt they were voices that needed hearing, stories that needed telling, and not rushing and skimping on the quality in the process. No relationship is perfect but jack his jacket on all that and look forward to more. Now go get Mali’s book. In fact, get all those books while you’re at it.

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Fish Outta Water, Musical Youth, and Oh Gad!).  All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, are okay, lifting content (words, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.

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Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, A & B WRITINGS, Caribbean Plus Lit News, Literary Gallery

Posts Inspired by Emancipation

Bob Marley once sang “emancipate yourself from mental slavery…” a reminder that the march to freedom which began (in a legal sense) for Antiguans and Barbudans on Emancipation Day, August 1st 1834, remains a work in progress. Each year since 2007, Antigua and Barbuda detours a little from the Carnival celebrations (which pays, at best, a passing nod to the reason for the bacchanal). That detour usually takes us to Betty’s Hope for Watch Night. Betty’s Hope is an old sugar estate and we are watching and waiting as we imagine the ancestors (those who had some foreknowledge that freedom was coming) did. This year our first stop was Sea Breeze for (an all local) dinner,

Photo courtesy Akua Ma'at

Photo courtesy Akua Ma’at

sweet jazz music (courtesy Roland Prince), spoken word (a little history from Joy Lawrence – interviewed recently in a Wadadli Pen exclusive), and more spoken word (a powerful speech from featured speaker Mickel Brann). The latter is the first thing I want to share with you as it stimulated much introspection, discussion, and poetry. It begins:

“In a village in the small island of Antigua, big sister to Barbuda, an elder dons his dashiki and attends a town-hall meeting.

He’s there to listen to a lecture about reparations by Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Dr. Ralph Gonsalves.

He joins the usual crowd, all of whom beat the drums literally and figuratively. They acknowledge the tragedy, the dehumanization that was 400 years of chattel slavery and the residual effects 200 years after its abolition. These effects range from matters temporal to spiritual, physical and psychological, political and economic.

Around that same time, not day but by period, on a radio station that boasts as one of its taglines listen and learn, a female guest host, a regular staple of the show on which she is featured, roundly dismisses Watch Night, what it symbolizes, its aim and objectives and those who fan that flame.

As far as the host is concerned, slavery is long gone and it is pointless to return to any place to honour the ancestors, reflect on their sacrifices and their struggle and how that has shaped or, perhaps, misshaped descendants and other people’s view of them.

In her words, “if I were a slave and I got my freedom, why would I want to return to any place to talk about slavery?” In other words, forget, because remembering is of no useful value.

And the near silence of the callers who are usually vocal on any and every matter is maddeningly deafening.” READ THE ENTIRE Watch Night Speech final

We couldn’t stop talking about the night, the group of us who went together, or, as it happens, writing about it; a reminder that inspiration is all around and within us, in the reality of our past and the uncertainty about our future, and everything in between. For me, as we drove in caravan into Betty’s Hope, I had an inkling of something that I couldn’t grasp; the ancestors’ presence is strong on this night but we’ve moved so far away from them sometimes it’s difficult to hear. Brenda Lee Browne heard them enough to access what they might have been making of the spectacle we made:

“Did you hear them as they stood in the shadows wondering who are the people who look like us, yet smell like Massa on a Sunday morning.

Did you hear them whispering to the Earth Mother to bring their lost souls home

Did you hear the laughter as they looked at our clothes, too new, too well made, undefined by family, lineage or village and so many bare heads and covered breasts

Did you hear the wailing as a spirit connected with an ancestor standing before the fire and yet, could not understand all that is being sung

Did you hear the low music as voices mingled with the rustling of the trees as the ancestors gave thanks that at least they are visited and drums, the drums told them that not all is not lost “

Akua MaatAkua Ma’at, best dressed in the night’s best African dress contest by the way, also wrote as the conversation continued. She wrote:

“You are here!…even now! You never left and you, here, overwhelm my tiny-fraction-of-you spirit. And I want to know …want to feel… just what you felt that night 179 years ago? Did you lie awake willing the dawn of freedom to come swiftly or did you pass your last hours suspended between this world and the one your ancestors comforted you from? What did you feel baba? Was it hope? Did you know, remember, how to hope? What did you do that night mama? Were you raped, again?…the arrogant’s reminder that freedom would mean little for you. Did the cat-o-nine caress you that day?…the flesh peeled from your back as the skin off a too-ripe finger rose, desperately clinging to its source but powerless to prevent separation. What did you think? What did you feel? Did you dare feel…anything… that night?”

I have one more share. It’s not from someone I was with that night as we reflected but from someone who was moved to share after I posted on Watch Night on facebook (and if that post only attracted half as many likes as my other much more trivial post that night, then perhaps this share is  reminder that it’s not the volume but the depth of feeling that matters in the end).

Waiting by Junie Webson

Stamped on this land of my birth
Is my reckoning with time.

Sitting at the water’s edge,
I made this day mine,
By wading through the rifts of time.

Trying to connect with my past
I coded my lineage.
Lost to me is my ancestral home.

Like the dancers under the stick
Bending lower,
My heritage sits in limbo. ( It maybe emancipation day but we are still waiting)

Do you sense a common thread in these pieces (Mickel’s speech to Junie’s poem)?…perhaps a call not to become remain complacent? an acknowledgment that freedom (in all the ways we can be free) still coming but we’ve got to work at it?

Happy Emancipation Day (belatedly).

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