By Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett
The University of The Bahamas
The 2018 Creative Time Summit under the theme “On Archipelagos and Other imaginaries: Collective Strategies to Inhabit the World” was livestreamed at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB) and coupled with key local academics, including Dr Niambi Hall Campbell-Dean, Dr Allana Thomas and Joey Gaskins and other creatives discussing our present-day national realities.
The day provided much fodder for digestion and provoked upset, and it was a necessary light bulb that came on or an explosion that went boom in the night. Also, we all know how those booms go. We wake up startled and unable to get back to sleep. The many conversations were alive and inspiring; it also caused great unease because of the themes explored: spatial injustice, erasure of black and brown bodies and the real threat of climate change and sea level rise along with the erosion of democracy. It is always interesting for me that Miami, often such a conservative space, can produce such edgy and cutting cultural expression and creative experimentation.
The traversing of boundaries is terrific and yet goes against the nature of a conservative space. Recently, deceased American poet, playwright and Black feminist, Ntozake Shange became a hugely significant icon because Black women were hardly women and certainly not feminists, so the first wave of feminism fell short on thinking and acting justly about Black women’s bodies. Thankfully with the rise of intersectional justice that the first wave of Feminism has morphed into the Fourth-wave, and that has changed how Black women are now centred within the framework, they are agitating against the norms and social codes of race, gender, sexualisation, exoticism and oppression.
Shange’s work is such an eye-opening journey through black women’s experiences and as painful, poignant and revealing as it is, it is also touching and hopeful. Her play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1997) speaks to everything that continues to haunt Black bodies in the face of increasingly oppressive, polarising, and erasing times.
The Creative Time Summit provided a fruitful space because it focused on the arts and the impending danger of climate change, which is threatening to take away our archipelagos under the weight of rising seawaters. Of course, Miami can host a conversation and or meeting like this, and we say because they have the money. In reality, they do it because they focus on what needs to be done because they have no choice; they realise they will be washed away or submerged.
We, in this beautiful Bahama land, remain steadfastly resolute in denial of the facts, cause no sea level rise is here while remaining obstinately opposed to the impending geographic and cultural erasure. The silences and silencing of resistance is the removal of the democratic voice from the people, another of the heavy themes several presenters at the summit tackled.
I found the timing somehow weirdly serendipitous and oddly uncanny as Shange had died a few days before on October 27th, and Edwidge Danticat, powerfully and unabashedly, celebrated her foremother/sister with flowers and praise, before she spoke to the audience of her own experiences. Danticat sowed much love into the pain of loss, connecting past moments with less far removed pains of her Uncle Joseph whose life and death she captured in her book, Brother, I’m dying (2007).
The tragic and poignant loss of life because of war and climate change, the threat to close off spaces and to erase cultures and peoples, who are deemed less valuable, by disappearing their lands and vanishing their visages is overwhelmingly present in the day-long summit. While we, as Bahamians, seem to carry on our daily lives as if nothing were awry, we are being shifted, and our appearances are changed. The suffering Danticat pens of her uncle first because of growing and unsustainable violence and instability in Haiti becomes further compounded when other things are added to the growing global political unrest. Like so many parts of the Global South destabilised by international incursion and policy intervention as the walls grow and the discourse around anti-poverty, anti-immigrant, anti-Black, anti-female, anti-gay, anti-Islam, anti-Bahamian, anti-Haitian/Jamaican, or anti-Arabic or—and the list goes on, gains currency, this hardens and deepens exclusion and suffering.
The Migrant Caravan, as Danticat discussed, currently moving across Mexico with the President of the United States comparing refugees to criminals, rapists and unwanted bodies–Black, brown and immigrant bodies that must be exorcised from the world– because while they fuel capitalism’s massive need for labour, they arguably undermine its ethnic purity and its racial and gendered specificity.
Danticat and many of the other speakers’ thoughts and words created a confluence of power that could be shared in conservative Miami, but seem to be less welcomed in Black Bahamas were Blackness is under threat, especially if one is of the less valuable hue of Blackness. A less valuable hue found in the Over-the-Hill communities set to be saved from dilapidation and dereliction by the economic zone. One must be extremely careful of the Trojan horse promising endless and boundless potential that comes pregnant with flaws and dangers. Gone are the days of pestilence, here are the days of development and progress.
Danticat’s presentation, though highlighting the caravan of hope and resistance and our need to create this, to overcome the divisive discourse of extremism and populist nationalism coincided with collective Brigada Puerto de Tierra who are from a ‘slum’ area of San Juan, Puerto Rico an area that has quickly changed, almost disappeared, under the pressure of ‘gentrification’ but more so of social exclusion. They insisted on the need for recreational and living spaces for young people under the banner “AQUÍ VIVE GENTE,” or people live here, that resists the kind of erasure we seem to want to embrace because it claims to promise us somethings that are usually tied to jobs, but there is no promise of prosperity and future resilience. The Imperium is strengthening. “Aquí vive gente” is such an essential yet straightforward phrase to use when we think of Over-the-Hill because so much of the language of criminality and underdevelopment seems to render these bodies less human/not people.
The reality, not the imaginary, of the 2018 Creative Time Summit brings to the fore so much of our daily experiences that we are too busy to appreciate; it tells us that we need to sit up and take note. The walking tour of Over-the-Hill on Saturday, November 3rd, the day after the summit, and NAGB’s work in the area are significant inroads to a discussion that needs to be had about our erasure.
Shange’s poetic play will be celebrated for years to come not only because she was a black feminist who captured the toils and tribulations, the violence and resistance to black women, but because the insistence of the black woman not to be overlooked, unheard by a movement that claimed progressiveness but really did not have space for other voices, speaks loudly in the 21st century where the fight is growing, and the efforts at erasure deepening and widening as the right swings into darkness and black and brown bodies are even more under threat of violence and erasure.