The book report is based on The Arts Journal Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Literature, History, Art, and Culture in Guyana and the Caribbean Volume 3 Numbers 1 and 2. It was published by The Arts Forum Incorporated in March of 2002 and the ISSN number is 1728-7723. The copy bought is a paperback edition which cost $125 and contained 15 articles and 216 pages. Aneena Gafoor edited it with guest editor Rita Pemberton. While the text re-examines the British Slave Trade and the manner in which its victims have been portrayed in literature, the articles reviewed focus on the theme of the changing images of African people.
According to the Arts Forum, a review by Professor Selwyn H. H. Carrington stated that these three articles including another “represent images of how blacks saw themselves at different times during slavery and the post-emancipation period” focussing in particular on the effect of texts, paintings, and films. The Art Journal presented these articles in honour of the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the trans-Atlantic Trade in captive Africans in order to provide a fresh Caribbean perspective on the events encompassing this dark spot in our history.
Though each of the three articles reviewed approached it from a different slant each did so convincingly. Additionally, these articles give an in-depth analysis of aspects which may not be considered by the average person. In the first article entitled Visual Expressions of Slavery and Emancipation 1700-1834, Edith (Nancy) Jacobs posits that in the event of depicting art out of its relevant period, some historians reduce the value of it and that even now when society is supposed to be enlightened the artistic images of are not incorporated effectively to represent Caribbean history.
She examines the importance of the development of a variety of printing techniques used to bombard the general with images of what they (pro-slavery and abolitionists) wanted to portray. Jacobs concentrates on three major points in the depiction of slaves textually and visually. Firstly, she looks at those paintings commissioned by European patrons that generally portrayed the Blacks as subservient helpless people, who were more like household pets. Secondly, she examines those images distributed by the abolitionists that showed the Blacks in varying states of depravation: food, clothing and being sold at auctions.
Finally, she observes the evolution of the paintings now depicting the Black man as an educated man often shown reading the bible. However, she notes that none of these truly portray the Black man and the rebellions that occur from 1791 prove this as it contradicted the initial perspective of the Blacks as docile and helpless. Jacobs presents her argument systematically, tracing the changing perception of the Black man over the period 1700 to 1834. In particular, she addresses the relationship between the pictures depicted and the techniques of the printing devices of the time; an aspect that the average reader may not consider.
Her attention to details such as the right side of a photo being the weaker visual position upon which the Black man was inevitably placed in the later seventeenth and early eighteenth century in comparison to the opposite occurring in the late eighteenth century demonstrates her point that the media was used to influence the public. The second article by Jean Antoine-Dunne and Bruce Paddington entitled Filmic Representations of the Abolitionist Movement, examines “the responses of Caribbean filmmakers to the abolition of the slave trade and the insurgences associated with it” (p. 82).
Their argument posits that the film industry is one of the most powerful methods of communicating ideas and that it influences peoples perception of one another and their cultures. They look at abolition from a Caribbean perspective based on five important, yet not well-known films from the British, French and Spanish territories of the Caribbean. One of the central ideas permeating through the films is the idea of visually shocking the audience out of a false historic narrative. They posit that the five films give a more accurate representation of slavery and the circumstances that surround its abolition in the Caribbean.
They give enough details of the films to indicate to the reader their similarities and their differences. A general idea which permeates through them is the fact the very manner in which abolition is viewed may be colonial. This leads to the question raised at the beginning of this course; is history the truth? Or is the truth different for each party, or even each individual involved? Ken Crichlow’s Blackened Figures is the final article reviewed. Here he discusses the work of Trinidadian painter Carlisle Harris in the twentieth century.
Harris uses the human body in an abstract form to represent the self as an ever changing, ever improving figure. He makes full use of the African dancing male as “a symbol of the triumphant return to humanity in a land abused by colonialism. His experience with the American Civil Rights movement leads to him being a symbol in representing “the powerful forces of African history and culture in the Caribbean” (101). He reiterates an idea stated by Jacobs found in the technique of Harris’ paintings which he uses to show to the opposite is true; blackness is associated with the corrupt and even evil .
Harris’ paintings are also filled with motion especially dancing that truly represents the rhythm of Caribbean people. Dance is a part of everyone’s routine; whether one takes it as dancing to one’s own tune or another’s. Considering that I am not a student of history per se, I would say that this journal was very informative. It was not written in a such a way as to make its reading tedious and thus held my interest. I have been introduced to concepts that certainly bear contemplation, as it was not considered before. However, I would have liked to have read more about women’s contribution to the movement.