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Caribbean Icon visits art and design students

Caribbean Icon visits art and design students


by Vonnie Roudette Tue, Nov 8. 2011

Dr. George Lamming, treasured visitor to our Art Room on Wednesday, October 19, is known in literary and academic circles as a Caribbean ‘icon’.{{more}}

An ‘icon’ originally referred to a holy picture used in worship, or someone symbolising a movement, but to the younger techno’ generation, an icon is a picture or symbol universally recognised to be representative of something. According to the Encarta World English dictionary, an icon is “a small image on a computer screen that represents something, for example a program or device that is activated by a mouse click or a trash bin for unwanted files”.

A comparison of these two distinctly different interpretations of the same word sharply contrasts radically different perceptions of the iconic as: a divine image to venerate or a small virtual image activated by human whim.

The audience at his lecture “Rethinking Perspectives on Independence” on October 18 would, no doubt, having experienced his presence and knowledge, assign Dr. George Lamming the former attributes of the word.

However, it is not too radical a stance to submit that many of our cultural icons have indeed been regarded similarly to the computerised icon as “something that is activated by a mouse click or a trash bin for unwanted files”, where the mouse click is a gesture of dismissal of the importance of a creative mind; the trash bin, of course, the artist themselves. Such is the plight of many creatives who have striven to express from the heart of their experience that which stirs within the spirits of their country folk.

Lamming’s decision to read Vincentian poet ‘Shake’ Keane’s ‘Soufriere’ at the beginning of his lecture highlighted one such artist whose genius was lost to this little island. Not so much as read in Vincentian schools, or examined for its aesthetic prowess as a guide to creation of authentic island creativity, the body of Shake’s work has been virtually thrown into the trash bin, whilst what passes for artistic genius is that of an imported culture, engaging our energy and attention, endlessly replicated and fed to the dulled mind of mass consumption.

This is, in part, what Lamming refers to as “silencing of the past”, and what is alluded to when Earl Lovelace asked at Carifesta X: “ What have we done with what we have done?” It is what all cultural creatives agonise to articulate through their actions and output, through imaginations that are not ‘whimsical’ as mainstream thinking would categorise them, but are profound in their ability to sense as tangible the divine in our natural surrounds, the tenuous threads of connection that linger in communities, the creative and capacity for good inherent in every child. The actions that emerge from such an imagination, by their very nature, engender improved community relations, cooperation and healing of social ills.

Lamming argues that the power and sovereignty of the imagination is directly linked to political status of sovereignty that he refers to as “freedom from control of external influences.” He stated clearly there is no difference between aesthetics and politics and that “the edifice of cultural and political achievement is constructed in primary school through creative education”. He stressed that the arts can be used to teach all subject areas.

It was indeed fortifying at a gathering of Caribbean minds to have the importance of creative education underscored by such an ‘icon’. I have observed in my work that creative and aesthetic education can excavate a child’s life purpose and reveal it to their consciousness for creative production and service to community. An outcome of this process is young people who know how to work productively with others.

During his visit to our art room at the Community College, Dr. Lamming’s message to the students was to cultivate a relationship with their community, and he urged them to be passionate about what they do and to create opportunities for themselves in accordance with that passion.

He was deeply moved by a collection of murals the students have painted, which he said had made the college building “a very different place” than having bare walls. Introduced to our students’ work in 2007, he was then so impressed that he featured some pieces in BIM magazine. He said ‘if only I had seen this before I would have mentioned it in my lecture”. I am sure many officials would be happy he did not!

I was deeply grateful for his visit and marvelled at the sight of Dr. Lamming talking to the youths, reinforcing the validity of the art and design study experience. But he was visibly dismayed by the facilities that he translated as reflecting a “lack of understanding of the requirements of art education,” but which made our achievements all the more remarkable. Later, he asked me how and why, as a creative artist, I had continued teaching for a decade in conditions that he said “ must be very stressful”. I struggled to put an answer from my heart into words – a conviction that once existed in my imagination, and I now know to be true:

Through educational service to the creative imagination, Vincentian children can become what we, individually and collectively, are born to be – widely and uncritically admired ICONs in all fields of activity.