We Stand Firm
A few years ago, a group of young Black artists got together and mounted a string of exhibitions under the title of ‘The Pan-African Connection.’ Their work, they claimed, was an attempt to illustrate the belief that the struggles of Black people throughout the world were inter-related and interdependent; that Africans at home and those abroad were fundamentally ‘connected’. Unfortunately, since the demise of the said group, no Black artists have unequivocally propagated and sustained the view that our art can be and indeed must be an integral component of Pan-Africanism. Of course, we’ve recently had the ridiculous and half-baked notion of ‘From Two Worlds’, but that exhibition hardly presented itself as a candidate for the attentions of Black people.
However, half an hour spent in conversation with Dominican artist Kelo Royer, convinced me that this exhibition of work by himself and five fellow Dominican artists, was a fine and worthy example of Pan-Africanism in action. Here we have one Dominican artist on a working visit to England (who feels duty bound to bring with him work by four other Dominican artists), exhibiting alongside Tam Joseph, a Dominican who who settled in Britain some 31 years ago. It is this coming together, this mutual support, that exemplifies Pan-Africanism. What is important here is the fact that these artists relate to each other. Not only on their own initiative, but also on their own terms. Black artists who participate in ‘selected’ survey-type shows could never relate to each other the way that these Dominican artists do. In Britain, our artists have grown accustomed to being passive respondents to white initiatives, who only really come together at ‘Private Views’ and other bourgeois functions. The coming together of these Dominican artists on the other hand, is a political necessity, born out of the legacy of collective political and economic struggles of Caribbean Africans. These six artists relate to each other because they have to. They realise that in the harsh economic and social climate of working-class Dominica, to work in isolation is to deny one’s heritage and to turn one’s back on progress.
The fact that Kelo Royer has flown from Dominica entirely at his own expense is not insignificant. This exhibition is definitely not the initiative of some middle-class white art administrator who, having received a directive stating that 1986 had been designated ‘Caribbean Focus Year’, then goes on to mount a slapdash exhibition which clearly betrays the fact that s/he not only barely knows where the Caribbean is, but is totally ignorant of the politics of the region. As a self-financed artist, Kelo Royer’s stability and pragmatism is a fitting tribute to the Caribbean legacy of resistance and rebellion. And by ‘Caribbean’ I’m not referring to the imperialist lackeys who pass themselves off as leaders. I’m referring to the ordinary people of the region. Those who have no choice but to struggle…
…A cursory, yet less blinkered look at the Caribbean clearly shows that the region is a melting pot of an infinite number of contradictory and diverse elements. In turn, a random selection of these elements reveals the Caribbean to be Toussaint L’Ouverture, Maurice Bishop and Edward Seaga. The Caribbean is Cuba, communism in action, the Bay of Pigs, the CIA. The Caribbean is Paul Bogle, Chris Blackwell, and George Padmore. The Caribbean is Kwame Toure, American tourists, and American marines. It’s ganga, bauxite and bananas. It’s St James, St Anne’s, St Catherine. It’s the most brutal forms of slavery that we as Africans have endured and survived. It’s tribal Africa, the Middle Passage, and 1950s immigration into Britain. It’s Mighty Sparrow, Eugenia Charles and Marcus Garvey. The Caribbean is also Brixton, April 1981. It’s Steel Pulse, Fidel Castro, and revolutionary upheaval that rocked Trinidad in 1919. And so on and so on.
The above extracts are from “Foreword” by Eddie Chambers, in the catalogue for Nous Toujou DuBout |We Stand Firm: An exhibition of paintings and sculpture by artists of Dominican and Jamaican background, Yaa Asantewa Arts Centre, London, 24 January - 30 January 1987.