Saturday, 18 of January of 2020

Letters from the Dead

I am sitting in a hotel room in Rochester New York. My job as a research assistant to Honor Ford-Smith, a professor at York University, has brought me here. I’m helping with her new play, a production called Letters from the Dead: A Vigil for Roxy. We were joined a few days ago by the team from Jamaica. On Wednesday we presented the full play at a theatre in Geneva NY. Tonight we  presented excerpts from the play at the Baobab Cultural Centre in Rochester. The play is about Iris, a mother in an inner city community in Jamaica who loses her son Roxie, to gun violence. Unable to make sense of the past, she keeps an annual vigil for Roxie who was gunned down by the police 5 years ago. The complex story is told through several characters, all played by Carol Lawes, an extraordinary actor. This play is part of Honor’s research project on memorialization practices of violence and what we can learn from them.

Our trip was facilitated by Cedric Johnson, a professor at Hobart and William Smith College in Geneva who invited us. Honor was invited to speak at the University to Cedric’s students. She was magnificent.

Asked how she came to create this play, she spoke passionately about the exhilarating feeling shared by people like herself  who grew up in the 60’s in a newly independent Jamaica. I imagine that the excitement in the air must have been similar to the feeling in Egypt and Tunisia after their popular uprising resulted in the overthrow of their oppressive regimes. Working hard to realize their hope and vision for a brand new world in which everyone would share power, Honor and her cohorts were deeply shocked and disappointed by the resulting mess and resulting violence that Jamaica now finds itself steeped in.

I will try to give a synopsis of what I heard her say. Honor’s point is that the violence is not natural. It was created in order to maintain the balance of power that benefits the imperialist interests of the US. She began by telling the students that the violence was territorialized. To bring it home, she said, imagine growing up with a group of friends — now a line is drawn, that no one can cross. Each group is defending its turf. Mothers like Iris, on both sides lose their children to the violence. Here’s how and why it happens.

During the cold war between Russia and the USA, the struggle for world domination was played out on battlefields in “third world” countries, mainly populated by people of colour such as: Viet Nam, El Salvador, Angola, Mozambique, Chile, Columbia, Nicaragua and Jamaica. In the battle of that pitted capitalism against socialism, the Soviets backed many of the liberation struggles and the Americans supported the other side. Because of internal weaknesses in the Soviet Union, the US won the war. The US  rule mirrors the tactics of old empires like Britain whose “civilizing mission” gave them the right to govern other countries. The US mission is sold to its citizens as the promotion of democracy. The hallmark of democracy, is seen as elections, yet if the elections don’t support the interests of the US, they have no qualms about dismantling democratically elected officials and putting in place the folks they want. Meanwhile, the conflicts continue in these countries. Old battle lines remain intact and the death toll continues to rise.

The presentation of this play generated a lot of discussion.  We would love to hear your ideas/responses/opinions. Check out the blog for Letters for the Dead at http://forevermissed.wordpress.com


Fresh from the Great White North

As the familiar rush of the city seeps into my bones, I will try to capture some reflections while I am still fresh from my trip to the Great White North.

I was the keynote speaker for a Black History Month celebration on February 4. The audience at Algoma University in Sault Ste Marie teemed with students, staff and faculty. I hesitated before launching into my message to take in their smiling expectant faces. Moments before, I was at a party laughing and chatting with faculty members, many of whom were friends I met during my first visit to “the Soo” a couple of summers ago when I was invited to teach a course in the Fine Arts Department. The talk I had prepared was pretty heavy and I didn’t want to spoil the nice vibe. There was African dancing, hip hop music and all manner of festivities at a dinner prior to my presentation but it was too late to back down now so I let ‘em have it.

The crux of the message is that Canada, was on the one hand, proud of its official multicultural status and its pluralistic identity. Yet on the other hand, our historical narratives, which shape our national identity, are seen through the lens of British and French founders that render bodies and histories that do not fit this story absent. I used Sylvia Wynters’ cultural coding model to look at Canada’s hidden code and the racism embedded in every facet of our society. I summed up the invisible code operating in Canada as “Real Canadians” and “Diverse Others”, giving examples of how this plays out and how this constructs the idea of who is at home and who belongs.

I dug up some of the dirt that has been swept under the rug —like the fact that Canada benefitted from the trans-Atlantic slave trade for two hundred years. Thousands of Black and Aboriginal slaves were used to clear the land and construct buildings. I told the story of Marie Joseph Angelique, the slave woman who allegedly burnt down Montreal in 1734. This fire destroyed numerous buildings and caused extensive and expensive damage according to historian Afua Cooper in her ground breaking book “The Hanging of Angelique”, yet, not a word is whispered about Angelique in Canadian history books and slavery is still a carefully guarded secret in our history.

I then spoke about Miss Canadiana’s Heritage and Culture Walking Tours, Outerregion’s new initiative to remap Canada from an Afrocentric perspective. The audience listened in rapt attention as I told a few stories  of some of Canada’s Hidden Black histories that will be included in the tour. I ended with the Final Frontier and showed how this Afrofuturist project opens up an inclusive afro-future by inviting inter-cultural engagement. There were a few scattered questions and comments. Many students came to talk to me afterwards, posing for photos (no, I wasn’t Miss Canadiana, so go figure).

Then the real discussions happened. They were spread out over three days of wonderful parties, chocolate fondues and snowshoeing in the back countree.

Everyone  made sure they reached out to me to tell me that they’re thinking about what I said. As hard as the message was to hear, they didn’t run away and the gears are still turning.


Miss Canadiana is an intervention that was conceived in Northern Ontario. She has reached out across cultures and difference, challenging Canadians  to re-think their assumptions and the folks in the Soo have challenged me to do the same.

I smiled as I flew home today. Looking down from the tiny plane over forest and lakes, I am certain that Sault Ste Marie will always have a special place in my heart.

Camille


Ten Things Outerregion Can’t Live Without

The Outerregion Team is excited about the possibilities for 2011.  We are in the midst of visioning and charting our course.  We are making plans for our (r) evolution.  Look out for a new blog format, event listings,   forums to interact with us and opportunities to even write blog posts.

We thought we’d kick off the year by giving you a little background information on us.  You’ve all seen these lists in magazines about celebrities.  Now you can get first hand information on the ten things the Afrofuturists behind Outerregion can’t live without.

Camille Turner – Chief Creative Officer, Founder, Afrofuturist, Student

1.     My macbook – Its four years old and in dire need of upgrades and repairs. It works as hard as I do and I can’t imagine how I could do without it.

2.     Email – I check it obsessively and I get way too much of it.

3.     My phone – Like a lot of my friends, I haven’t had a landline for years and I don’t miss it. Sometimes the best feeling is disconnecting but really, I am totally obsessed and would go into withdrawal without it.

4.     CBC – I started listening to CBC when I was a kid. I have a constant craving for intellectual stimulation and I love listening to smart people talk about just about anything. My fav programs are: Ideas, Quirks and Quarks, The Age of Persuasion and the Massey Lectures. Revision Quest was fantastic when it was on and I totally love the quirky Johnathan Goldstein’s Wiretap.

5.     My info jukies– My sister Karen, and my friends Jim Ruxton, Patrick Ellard and Michael Alstad are an unending source of fascinating information. I have no idea where they find all the whacky things they glean and send me via email. Thank goodness they have taken it upon themselves to share. I am infinitely more well- informed about the world because of them.

6.     Spas – I am a big fan of the luxurious, sensuous feeling of feeling pampered and totally letting go of all the worries and cares of the world. My favourite spa is Scandinave in Collingwood but I also love St. Anne’s and the spa at the Bellagio. The biggest spa I have ever experienced is Bad Wilhelmshöhe in Kassel, Germany. It has 9 Finnish saunas, solariums, Turkish steam baths and a giant water slide.

7.     Sunhine – At this time of the year I suffer from the lack of light. I will come to life again when the sun returns. Sunshine is like life itself. It reminds me that I am a physical being and meant to feel pleasure. Natural surroundings give me that same high. It doesn’t matter if the sun is shining if I am out in the country, canoeing down a river or walking through the woods on a crisp autumn day.

8.     Sticky Notes – I am constantly on the lookout for the ultimate organizing tools. I love sticky notes and just about any other office supply I can get my hands on.

9.     Traveling – I asked for two things in life…to travel and to make art. I have done both, probably in equal measure. Traveling is a way to get beyond my boundaries and see myself clearly.

10.  Good emollient skin and hair care products – I love anything from Burt’s Bees. I especially like their Radiance line which makes my skin sparkle. And I totally dig Nubian Heritage Shea Butter hair mist.

Karen Turner – 2nd in Command, Afrofuturist, Civil Servant

1.     My silver bangles – I have several silver bangles from Jamaica. Most of them are gifts from my mother.  Silver bangles are sometimes passed down through the generations, though fewer young women wear them now.  I never take mine off and often forget I’m even wearing them.  They’re a part of me.

2.     Earth, Wind & Fire – This band are some of the original Afrofuturists.  Their music and album cover art convey dreams of future worlds.  I love their funky clothes, the much-sampled bass lines, the horns & of course, those falsettos!

3.     Isotoner gloves – I buy a pair every winter.  I wear them every day until they fall apart and the next season, I start the cycle all over again. They’re warm enough for walking, but thin enough to wear while driving.

4.     Black mermaids – I started collecting Black mermaids about 15 years ago.  I’ve always loved the mysticism surrounding mermaids, but they’re often depicted as White women with long flowing blond hair.  Black mermaids are  hard to find.  I now have several  in the forms of prints, dolls and wood, stone and tin sculptures from local Canadian and Caribbean artists.

5.     Leslieville brunch – I moved to Leslieville (an East-End Toronto neighbourhood) six years ago from the West end, and previous to that, Hamilton.  I’ve totally fallen in love, and my favourite weekend activity is brunch. Among my favourite spots are Edward Levesque, Joy Bistro and Lady Marmalade, and the baked French toast at Bonjour Brioche reigns supreme.

6.     Jamaican pastries – Of course my first love is being in Jamaica and patronizing the bakeries there.  (A favourite is the Devon House bakery in Kingston).  In Toronto, I can’t resist pastries from several Jamaican shops.  When in Kensington Market, I always stop for bulla, ginger cake or toto from Patty King.  Albert’s Real Jamaican produces substantial and dense fry dumplings.

7.     Edwidge Danticat – She is a Haitian-American writer whom I absolutely adore.  I have read almost all of her books and am mesmerized by her haunting, poetic writing.  Even when writing about pain and sadness, her words are beautiful to read.  I’ve given “Krik? Krak!” as a gift several times, but I think my favourite is still her first, “Breath, Eyes, Memory”.

8.     Niagara Region wines – I grew up in Hamilton, within an hour of a multitude of vineyards.  However, I didn’t really begin to enjoy the region’s wine until much later in life.  I am trying to embrace shopping and eating local, and Niagara wines have been a pleasant surprise.  Some of my favourites are from the Kacaba Vineyard –their best wines are found only in their store at the vineyard in Vineland.

9.     Blaxploitation movies – There’s something about the over-the-top Black films from the 70’s that constantly intrigues me.  Politically, of course this genre was full of negative, ridiculous stereotypes, but my guilty pleasure is curling up for a few hours of Pam Grier.

10.   Le Scandinave spa – I started going to this Collingwood spa a few years ago.  It’s an outdoor series of hot and cold pools, a sauna, eucalyptus steam room & relaxation rooms.  Best of all, the smell of cedar burning envelopes the whole resort.  I have to get there at least twice a year.

…and after all that, if you’re still wanting more, here’s ‘the list’ for two African-Canadian revolutionary brothers living Toronto.  These lists are from Toronto Life Magazine.

Cameron Bailey – Co-Director, Toronto International Film Festival:

http://www.torontolife.com/features/cameron-bailey/

K-os – spoken word artist, record producer:

http://www.torontolife.com/features/k-os/

One love,

Karen


Happy Martin Luther King Day – May the Force Be With You

What? Have we lost our minds? Why would we reference a classic sci-fi line in the same sentence as Dr. Martin Luther King?

It turns out that MLK has had a huge influence on the science fiction genre. There are numerous science fiction books and comics that reference MLK and his words in various forms.
Enjoy this post, “Martin Luther King and Science Fiction”, explaining the MLK/sci-fi connection from the science fiction site i09. The post is written by Managing Editor, Charlie Jane Anders:
http://io9.com/5735912/

One Love,
Karen


Spirit of Christmas Past

Camille is leaving for 11 days in Jamaica shortly as part of her studies. Before we shut down for a little while, we wanted to wish you all an early Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and festive celebrations – but of course, we have to throw in a little Afrofuturistic style.
The picture above is Boney M. Their famous Christmas Album spawned many hits, including their renditions of “Mary’s Boy Child” and “Feliz Navidad”. “Are they Afrofuturists?” you may be asking. We had always suspected they were due to their often futuristic costumes. Now we have proof from this album cover depicting them ready to beam up to their awaiting spaceship.
The video below is the legendary ‘80’s Christmas rap video, “Christmas in Hollis” from Run DMC. Again, you may be asking, “Run DMC? Afrofuturists?” In this case, I have to say, an unequivocal, “Yes”. Back in the spring, I talked about Afrofuturism as African descended people inserting ourselves where we are not expected, and creating the Afro Future. In Christmas in Hollis, Run DMC does just that. They turn the classic story of the European St. Nicholas on its ear as they create a new reality based on their fantasy: Santa is Black, his elf is White, instead of climbing down a chimney with gifts for good little boys and girls, Santa leaves a wallet full of money in the snow. Christmas Eve isn’t children sleeping soundly “with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads”, it’s “Mom cooking chicken and collard greens.”
So, on that note, enjoy the video!
Wishing you all much love, joy in your lives and peace for this world.
One love,

Karen & Camille.

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Album Art from the Afrofuture

1. Erykah Badu – poster art by Emek

The digital age has given us a myriad of platforms to view and hear music instantly. However, now that we don’t have to go to a store to buy music, it’s easy to not think about cover art – or back in the day, LP album cover art. Just as music has been a medium that many artists have used to dream of the Afrofuture, many album covers have also portrayed a futuristic world of African peoples.
There have been so many futuristic album covers over the past few decades – particularly from the days of 70’s and 80’s funk. It was a difficult task to just showcase a few. Here are some of my favourite Afrofuturistic album art covers.

2. Parliament – Mothership Connection (1975)

3. Earth Wind & Fire – Spirit (1976)

4. Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force – Planet Rock – The Album (1986)

5. Michael Jackson – Dangerous (1991)

6. George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars – T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M.
(The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Mothership) (1996)

7. Newcleus – Destination: Earth (2005)

8. Janelle Monae – Archandroid (2010)


9. Kelis – Fleshtone (2010)

For info and galleries on some of the art above, check out these links:
http://www.emek.net/posters/b/badu_covers_2008.html
http://www.myspace.com/earthwindandfire/photos/albums/ewf-album-covers-and-rare-photos/603795
http://www.jamonproductions.com/
http://www.fastnbulbous.com/funkadel.htm

I leave you with the words of Earth Wind & Fire front-man, Maurice White:
“We live now in a new age dawning upon computer technology, higher consciousness, higher elevation of space, and higher ideas. In this age, the true essence of sharing should be acknowledged. It is time for man to understand that we share the same sun, and we are all essentially the same with different names. All around the world, the most enjoyed vibration is that of a smile. Through our smiles we touch the heart of our fellow man. Together, let’s lift our planet to a higher vibration. In love we stand”

One love,
Karen


Claudia Jones: Left of Karl Marx

 Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones

Its been a long time since our last post. As many of you know I’m back in school and believe me, its a shock to the system. A good one. I’m loving every moment, even though most moments have been stressful.

Right now I’m reading about Claudia Jones for my Black Revolutionary Thought course. I’ve included a trailer for a movie called Looking for Claudia Jones below. Claudia was an incredible woman from the Caribbean. Born to a poor family in Trinidad in 1915, she immigrated at eight years old with her family to the USA. As a working class Black woman, she was concerned about the rights of  Black women, many of whom, as she pointed out were working in other people’s homes to support their own households and had very little access to opportunities for better wages or other poisitions.  At 21 she became active in the labour movement and the youth wing of the communist party. She was imprisoned in the States then exiled to the UK during the McCarthy era. Her life was cut short by an illness contracted in prison from which she never recovered fully. She was a tireless leader right til the end. The women’s movement, the Black revolutionary movement, and anti-imperialist movements owe a debt of gratitude to Claudia yet in the canon of feminst and Black revolutionary thought, she is rarely mentioned.

Above, is a book we are reading for the course. Not only does the title refer to her political position but Claudia, was actually buried to the left of Karl Marx.

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Dawn Scott, 1951 – 2010

She was a Jamaican artist who died two weeks ago. She was a painter, a sculptor, a textile and installation/mixed-media artist, a teacher, a designer of clothing, interiors and buildings.
She had many accomplishments, but I only knew her from one piece – a piece that has stayed in my head for 20 years.

A Cultural Object is an installation created by Dawn Scott. It was part of a show, “Six Options: Gallery Spaces Transformed” in 1985 and was the first installation ever to be displayed in the National Gallery of Jamaica. I saw, or rather, entered A Cultural Object in my 20’s on a visit ‘back home’. The installation is a re-creation of a piece of inner city Kingston life. It is a winding, dusty pathway, lined with zinc fences, complete with graffiti and posters announcing social and cultural events, alcohol and political allegiances. As I walked further along the pathway, I felt a nervousness, an anticipation of dread, but also excitement for what was to come – similar to walking along a real pathway in inner-city Kingston. You never know what or whom will be around the corner – you may encounter a smooth-tongued hustler, or perhaps a thief ready to pounce on someone ‘from foreign’ foolishly flashing their property. I turned the final corner, and found there was indeed a surprise waiting for me – a dead, mutilated body.

This image has never left me – as a young social worker, it was a commentary on poverty and marginalization. As a Jamaican-born ‘visitor’, it was everything my parents warned me about as they attempted to protect me from experiencing this part of Jamaica and distanced themselves from their own impoverished beginnings.

The piece has been controversial for some due to the negative depiction of Jamaican life. Historians and journalists have been writing about A Cultural Object for the last 25 years. It has been described “one of the most powerful social statements ever made in Jamaican art”
http://www.petrinearcher.com

A Jamaican Member of Parliament has said recently that the piece “caused us to take a good luck at ourselves”.(Minister Olivia Grange)
Here is a slideshow of A Cultural Object as well as further information on the artist:

A Cultural Object is on permanent display at the National Gallery of Jamaica located in Kingston. Be sure to visit if you take a trip to our beautiful island (but not now – wait til hurricane season is over). Check out the National Gallery’s blog at: http://nationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com

Rest Dawn,
One Love,
Karen


MISS CANADIANA’S HERITAGE AND CULTURE SHOW

Captive Heart: The James Mink Story » RHI Entertainment

Miss Canadiana is expanding our notion of Canadian history by leading a series of heritage and  culture events making hidden histories visible across the country. Most people are familiar with the rich Jewish history of the Grange/Kensington area and its transformation into a vibrant Chinese community but few know about the thriving Black businesses, families, artists and institutions that have contributed to this city since its the genesis in the early 18th century.

James Mink, a Black millionaire, owner of Mansion House Inn and Livery on Adelaide had several livery stables in Toronto and an estate in Richmond Hill. He paid a white man $10,000 to marry his daughter Minnie. On pretense of taking her on a honeymoon, her new husband sold his young bride into slavery. It took Mink 7 years to get back his beloved daughter.

For the Out of Site exhibition during Nuit Blanche Miss Canadiana will present an intimate evening recounting this and other stories from the history of the area.

where:
Beaver Hall Gallery 29 McCaul Street (just north of Queen)

when:
October 2, 2010, from 9pm – 2am

Many thanks to our collaborators:
Afua Cooper, Historian/Researcher
Darren O’Donnell, Dramaturge

Supported by Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council and Queen West BIA
This event is a part of the Out of Site exhibition curated by Earl Miller for the Queen West BIA
Produced by Outerregion

a special thankyou to Erica Simmons.


CLR James

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I’m back in school as most of you know. I’m at York University in an interdisciplinary self-directed masters program that calls itself Environmental Studies. In it I’ve found professors researching everything from food to exurbia ( have you heard that term? it means the phenomenon of city folks who are buying property in rural areas in droves). My advisor, Honor Ford-Smith is studying the performance of memorialization by people who have lost loved ones due to gun violence. I feel fortunate to have come across this unique program that accepted my so so undergrad marks and values my practice and experince. In this program students chart their own path, taking courses from any department or even other universities and doing fieldwork and independent studies.  I will be focusing on using media and performance for intercultural engagement. exactly what Outerregion was created to do!

I have just completed my first week. I cannot believe  how many readings there are. My rusty brain is slowly waking up. Neurons are firing on all cylinders for a change. One of my courses is outside the department in the Social and Political Thought program. It is called Black Revolutionary Thought.

So far I’ve been introduced to thinkers from the Caribbean that I’ve never read before. It is mind-blowing. I’ve just read about CLR James, a phenomenal man born in 1901 in Trinidad. See the video above. He lived in Britain then later America then was expulsed at the height of McCarthyism. He was a novelist, cricket reporter, art critic and playwright. One thing that surprised me was his starting point. He had a thorough knowledge of European history, art and literature. His favourite author was Thackery, a 19th century satirist of British society. He pooled his formidable knowledge with an interdisciplinary group that became known as the Johnson Forest Tendency. They theorized a society in which humans are free. The Trotsky movement appealed to him, not so much because of Trotsky but because the movement was anti-Stalin. He became a leader in the Trotskyist movement then critiqued Trotsky, and charted his own course as a radical thinker.

One of the most accomplished, rigorous critical thinkers of his age with a global perspective that examined everything from Shakespeare to European, African and Caribbean politics, CLR James is not even mentioned, except in the company of other Black revolutionaries.

Here are some links so you can start exploring this great man
http://www.mclemee.com/id84.html
http://www.clrjamesinstitute.org/convers.html
http://www.marxists.org/archive/james-clr/index.htm