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Trying to Make a Dollar Out of Fifty Cents

What we Really Need

It is my belief that the Day of Absence should not reappear in 2010 unchanged. As I said at the outset of this essay, I do believe that Nicolette deserves to be commended for doing something, however, in its present form, the Day of Absence is flawed beyond salvation. She has attempted to give us a pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped and ready-made festival / arts holiday complete with its own mythology and appropriate attire and the result is an ideological mess. A proposal such as this needs to be fleshed out with the input of the entire arts community, should be open for debate, and not simply announced with an “are-you-in-or-are-you-out” tag-line.

The scope of the Day of Absence is far too broad to be effective. If we are going to give the Bahamian art community a day for self-evaluation, it needs to be far narrower, be held on a politically neutral day, and be something that everyone involved can agree on. We should not go around asking for respect from Bahamian society when we do not deserve it. Solidarity is a double-edged sword in this effort. We can not and should not be asked to support everything that a Bahamian does. Just because. How can we as a group speak truth to power when we can’t even tell the truth to ourselves?

Despite all of the problems I have with the Day of Absence, I still believe that we can use it towards positive growth. It allowed us to see clearly the desire and demand for something like this. The fire-in-the-belly displayed by the present generation of Bahamian artists is greater than I have ever seen before — it can still lead us somewhere. Ironically, everything I have read about the Day of Absence points, not at absence, but at the concept of presence. It is the presence of the arts community that is sorely lacking in this country. The wider society needs to be reminded that we do exist. We need to remind ourselves that we exist.

I asked Maelynn what she would have liked to have seen instead of the Day of Absence and she said

[I wanted] A day where we were all encouraged to do something. Where we put guerilla art and poems all down Shirley and Bay and plastered busses with poems. Where we sent poems to the community announcements and had them put on screen for people to read among the dead. A day where we saturated the air waves with Bahamian music — all kinds. Where we could walk downtown and hand out flyers with poems and stories and photos and paintings to everyone.

Like her, I believe that what we need is to take a baby step. A small step forward into the greater sphere of social responsibility. We need to put our distinctive stamp on Bahamian living, to let our voices be heard. We need to stop waiting for the government, to stop pointing fingers at everything ‘out there’ and realize that the greatest hollow is actually in our own back yard. We need to be here. Really here.

Or, to paraphrase the words of Helen Klonaris: The new day will be born only when we come out of absence.

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#1 Day of Absence 2010: Introduction on 12.31.09 at 9:46 pm

[…] it’s generating some pretty solid critique. Over on Mental Slavery and on Bahama Pundit, Ward Minnis has taken apart the idea pretty thoroughly. In a nutshell the core of the critique is that (a) the concept is ill-founded and muddled, and the […]

#2 Day of Absence 2010: First Response – Clarity on 01.02.10 at 11:25 am

[…] critique(s) offered by Ward Minnis about the Day of Absence concept on his blog, Mental Slavery, and on Bahama Pundit, are both comprehensive and impressive. And he’s right, in several […]

#3 Day of Absence – Second Response: Quality on 01.02.10 at 6:26 pm

[…] by Nicolette Bethel on January 2, 2010 … are all Bahamian artists worthy of respect? The simple answer is no. Why should anyone respect bad poetry, bad writing, bad painting or poorly organized festivals? … Allow me to suggest that there are perhaps two reasons why Bahamians, on the whole, have not received much in the way of international (or local) acclaim for their art. The first is that average Bahamians, and the rest of the world, don’t understand us. The other, and more interesting, reason is that we are not that good. Ward Minnis, “Trying to Make a Dollar out of Fifty Cents”, p. 2 […]

#4 Day of Absence ‘10: 11 February 2010 on 02.06.10 at 5:32 pm

[…] The critique interrogates that very idea of respect. Articulated by Ward Minnis just in time for the new year, it questions the call to respect artists, particularly in The Bahamas, when artists themselves appear not to respect their craft as they should. It also questions the idea of absence, suggesting that good art, conscious art, art that challenges rather than anaesthetizes is already absent enough in our nation, and calling for a Day of Presence. And it queries the political resonance of the title of the day, resisting the parallel with the place of African-Americans in the pre-civil rights era. Here’s just a taste of it (but to fully comprehend it, you must go and read the whole thing on his blog Mental Slavery): […]

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