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A Comprehensive Critique of Nicolette Bethel’s 2009 Day of Absence.


Out of absence let the new day be born. — Helen Klonaris

The response to Dr. Nicolette Bethel’s Day of Absence held for the first time on February 11, 2009, was nothing short of amazing. I had almost lost faith in the desire of Bahamians to band together for a cause, and yet here they were banding. Nicolette deserves to be commended because she did something — she threw an idea into the void and the response to that idea proves conclusively that we, as an emerging art community, need something like this to rally around.

Nicolette Bethel and I have been friends since she taught me English 120 at the College of the Bahamas in 2001. When I was in Nassau this past January gathering research for my Masters thesis she suggested that we get together and share a coffee. We eventually met at the Starbucks across the road from the College of the Bahamas. At the time I had only briefly heard about her Day of Absence, I had skimmed over the press release cum manifesto and I thought then, much as I do now, that the idea had potential. Over lattes and tea we talked about her upcoming day, the need for art in society, the inescapable nature of design in every aspect of our lives, and the fact that a place like the café in which we sat, was what it was, in large part because of the art.

The warm and fuzzy feelings left me once I read what had been written about the Day of Absence more carefully. The more contemplated the ideas as presented, the more I was bothered by the incongruities in the project. This essay is thus my odd way of congratulating Nicolette on a job well done while taking her to task for ideas that are at best half-baked. Her Day of Absence clouds over and conflates many different and unrelated ideas while advancing an awkward historical agenda and a cumbersome theory of cultural development. It is political and apolitical, about something and about nothing, clear and blurry, all at the same time. I still believe that the Bahamian art community is in need of something like this though, and if we can begin a dialogue on what we really lack, maybe we can eventually get at what it is we really need.

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Coming soon…

Imagine a day with no artists.

On February 11, 2009, the first Day of Absence was observed in the Bahamas with the above tag-line. This event was the brain child of Nicolette Bethel, prominent Bahamian anthropologist, scholar and playwright. With a demonstration at the College of the Bahamas and numerous blog posts, interviews and radio appearances, the Day of Absence captured the imagination of the Bahamian arts community.

On December 31, 2009, Bahamian writer and artist Ward Minnis, (me, a.k.a. mainslave) will release a comprehensive critique of the Day of Absence on this website, and also an abridged version at Bahama In the essay I question many of assumptions upon which the Day of Absence was based, and while I agree that it filled a need, I argue that it should not continue in its present form.

On January 12, 2010, at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas at 6:30pm, the merits of both the Day of Absence and its critique will be debated between Nicolette Bethel, myself and the Bahamian art community at large.

What is the role of the artist in Bahamian society? What part, if any, should the government play in the arts? Have Bahamian artists been absent from the wider society?

What do you think?

Horror of the Christ?

Passion of the ChristHow would you define the film “the Passion of the Christ”? What genre would you place it in? Horror? Psychological Thriller? Documentary? This piece was written in 2004 when the film came out and the topic came up recently in a conversation I had with a film studies grad student. Thought I would share it here:

“Horror! That ain’t no Horror movie! Thats Jesus Christ!!” Yes I know I blaspheme (not the first time either) but bear with me. Religious types usually have a problem with me when I make this comment, and I guess the conversation hinges on what “horror movie” means in the minds of most people. No other genre is as closely related to “the devil” as Horror, so for me to label the pre-eminent (and most successful) film about Jesus as a “Horror” film is just too much.

I saw it twice, and i stand by my pronouncement that it is a Horror film. No other genre of movie has such a particular effect on you. I guess when I say horror, most people assume I mean “freddy kreuger”. Not so. This is as intelligent as any film you will ever find, yet its main purpose is to shock and jar you into a state of “damn.”

This is one film reviewer’s take:

I have to offer a concession to those critics who have been so offended by the graphic portrayals of violence and torture in this film. It is, in fact, incredibly offensive. I cannot deny this fact.

I agree. See, Mel Gibson (the director) didn’t have to show all that he showed. Come now, do we really need to see the nail being pounded into the hand? No. But you show everything in a horror film, and Gibson gives it to you, with squirting blood no less. The whipping scene for me is the most difficult to watch. Once again Gibson spares no detail. Having seen it the second time, (Believe me when I say I didn’t want to go through it a second time.) I find myself questioning some of the directorial decisions. Does it really have to be THAT graphic? The answer is no if it were any other genre.

Think of Schindlers List for a comparison. That could have easily become a horror film, yet it remained a heart-wrenching drama. (The black and white toned down the gore, and Spielberg just didn’t show you everything like Gibson did. Remember the only color in the film, the girl in the red jacket?) Even a descent into hell film like “the Pianist” was less painful than this was. But this was what Gibson wanted. He wants you to feel sick when you’re finished. These are classic Horror genre motivations.

So I say again. Horror. Very well done. Well filmed. Well acted. Well directed. Beautiful cinematography. Great Set and Costume design. But a horror. And this doesn’t cheapen the film in my estimation. Just helps to classify it.

The Debt

The DebtRead a cool book recently called “The Debt: What America owes to Blacks” by Randall Robinson.

I had come to an intuitive understanding over the years about white privilege, but had difficulty articulating what it was that I really meant. I know that in the Bahamas, when my parents were growing up there were hotels that they could not go into because they were black.

But generally you tend to buy into the notion that enough time has passed since then and gee whiz lookie! everything is alright now. This book helps to set it straight. You can’t deprive people for four hundred years and expect them to catch up in fifty, with no help, and more than a little help from the systems in place to keep them down. Very good and compelling reading that I recommend to you.