I am pleased to present the first ever guest essay on Mental Slavery.com written by prominent Bahamian architect and cultural icon, Jackson Burnside. This is the full text of Jackson’s speech, presented during the Day of Absence debate, held at the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas on January 12, 2010.
BY Jackson Burnside III
“I can’t see anything,” he thought. “If I see nothing, that means I’m stupid! Or, worse, incompetent!” If the Prime Minister admitted that he didn’t see anything, he would be discharged from his office. Hans Christian Anderson
First I must thank both Nicolette Bethel and Ward Minnis for the opportunity to participate at this level in the ongoing debate about A Day of Absence. For some time now I have been following these two scholars on their blogs, on Facebook, and in e-mail discussing a variety of issues particularly important to the culture, arts and heritage of our country. Ward has been in several places including Canada and Eleuthera, and Nicolette has been at the Ministry of Culture and the College of The Bahamas and Shakespeare in Paradise. What is fascinating today is they could be anywhere and still be here, getting in the business of “Who we are and What we are all about”.
Both of these Artists have managed to draw me, and many others, into their musings on the state of Art and Culture in our Bahamas, and they have managed to maintain a mature level of discussion while throwing the kind of blows intellectually that would have knocked out the toughest head-fellas back in the days of the Cinema on East Street. Now you must understand that all this is happening on the Internet which opens up The Bahamas to expose ourselves to the world, to give and to receive, consciously and subconsciously. We seem helpless to control the volume of the information we are exposed to, and we seem to accept and wait for our opinions of ourselves and our worldview to come to us from those outside to whom we have given the authority to define us.
We did not always have the Internet, obviously. Less than twenty years before Independence in 1973, we thought that television was the limit of technological innovation and we accepted the intelligence came from Ed Sullivan and Walter Cronkite. Before television we were connected to the radio. Even before electricity was inside the house, we turned on battery charged radios on schedule to listen to the BBC and ZNS to hear the news and special stories. Continue reading →
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.
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 Pundit.com. 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?