Reacting to Cargo

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By Neko Meicholas

Why does it always seem that everything I do starts with me not wanting to be bothered?

Have I gotten that old?

Have I become that miserable?

As usual, the evening started with me having promised to do something and no longer wanting to do it. Only two things kept me moving forward; I had made a promise to my niece to go and she had already spent her money. Too, I had wanted to support the efforts of another Bahamian artist…something I always try to do.

As I had missed the premier of the movie at Atlantis because of a total screwup in our scheduling I felt I was obligated to get my tired, overburdened tokhes (tuckus? Whatever!) up and go and support Kareem Mortimer’s latest effort and I’m glad I did.

Although Cargo has its weak points, like several dialogue/script issues, problems with Bahamian dialect use and a few unconvincing actors who really need to hone their skills, Kareem’s production held my attention. He told a story and told it beautifully. Would I ever watch this movie again? Hell no! By the end of the movie my heart was broken and I was so intensely depressed I could not bear to voluntarily put myself through that level of emotional devastation again. Quite frankly, Kareem was too successful at achieving his goal and telling his story, and telling it excellently.

WELL DONE KAREEM!

There were several powerful scenes in the movie delivered by the two stand-out actors: Berneice (played by Persia White) has a meltdown at the dinner table and Mona (played by Sky Nicole Grey), the Jamaican caretaker, finds herself trapped in a terrible situation as a result of Kevin (played by Warren Brown), the main character’s terribleness and descent into complete depravity. These two women actually play the most tragic characters in the movie.

After the movie ended and I had given it more thought, I realized that, in Cargo, Kareem had paid homage to the film American Beauty that stars the now sadly disgraced Kevin Spacey. I will leave you, the viewer, to discover those bits on your own.

In Cargo, I truly appreciated that Kareem had gone after art. The beautiful opening scene with the wooden necklace/rosary floating languidly in the blue water with the sunlight dancing around which heralds the only positive moment that comes later in the movie; the little broke-down crap-ass piece of boat chugging, forward in an endless sea of blue heading toward an uncertain destiny; the grot and ugliness of Celianne’s (played by Gessica Geneus) home and the moment when Kevin is forced to clean his mother’s shit from the walls of her room are a few.

And… for those more prurient viewers out there YES this movie has more than enough “T”, “A” and “D” to keep you happy. I mean quite frankly and quite humorously locked in my mind is Celianne’s dark, rigid skyward-pointing nipples contrasted against her suspiciously proud breasts and the blue water… I wonder how these aspects were negotiated in the actors’ contracts? (Insert wicked grin here).

Like the movie Lord of the Rings with its too many endings, I feel that Mortimer could have done without the multiple endings of Cargo, especially, the pointless scene between the grandson and grandmother.


Would I recommend going to see Cargo to anyone?

HELL YES!!!

Kareem does a great job of telling a story that needed to be told and does a beautiful job of doing it…never mind a few hiccups.

 

#cargo #Bahamas #film #kareemmortimer #review #migration #immigration #Nassau #illegal immigration #Haitian #Kevin Spacey #American Beauty #review #movie #Patricia Glinton-Meicholas #Kareem J. Mortimer #plight #refugee #folklore #folktale #goodreads #books

Kareem J Mortimers' Cargo: A Review

By Patricia Glinton-Meicholas © December 2017

I had longed for some time to see the Kareem Mortimer film Cargo. Just recently an opportunity presented and I seized it eagerly. A single opening credit would have justified the price of the ticket and the nearly two hours spent in viewing—the words “A film by Kareem J Mortimer”. What held me in the cinema, however, was the great sensitivity with which writer/director Kareem addresses a tragic and often controversial subject. He has invested the whole with a deep empathy, which should leave no conscious soul untouched by this quiet screening of humans’ age-old, and continuing inhumanity to other humans.

I am acquainted with Kareem. I met him some years ago, a shy, introspective, smiling, but seemingly nervous young Bahamian, who tended to avoid looking directly at you. When this evasion was itself circumvented, and our eyes met, what I saw was an internal fire and a determination that would push him up the steep, slippery, crevasse-pitted slopes of the Everest he had set as his professional goal—filmmaking. What I saw for myself of Cargo, not the hype surrounding it, told me that the obsession I caught sight of years ago was not illusory, but very real, and was powering a sure and steady climb to the apex of the target mountain.

If this seems overly enthusiastic, let me attempt to say why Cargo impressed a person who has read thousands of books, and seen many, many films, both genres in three languages running the gamut from the execrable to the ethereal. Cargo is successfully an omnibus of a film. It has faint lines of a docudrama, giving rise in my thoughts of the not-sufficiently-acknowledged aftermath of the predation of slavery and colonialism in the Caribbean and Latin America, which has left the inheritors of the region, a legacy of economic instability, political unrest and poverty. This tainted heritage drives many to flee northward to some envisioned Eldorado that often proves to be fool’s gold for many who arrive in The Bahamas, the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom.

Kareem’s work also has traces of a sociological treatise on culture clash, and on wounds opened by bigotry and egoism. It can be viewed as a restrained eschatology; that is, a religious piece, replete with the symbol of a rosary-like necklace, examining the soul of human beings—especially one. It is a story of things falling apart. What has been counted upon as a centre or anchor, i.e. the dreams of Kevin the central character, cannot hold.

Cargo is equally a story of sin, its painful wages, judgement and eventual death in various ways—death of hope, death of virtue, physical death. I’ll say at the outset that, despite some content slippages, this is a powerful exposé every adult Bahamian, as well as counterparts in other countries dealing with illegal migration of refugees seeking safe harbour from some form of persecution or want. Moreover, there is plenty here to stimulate people who enjoy looking beyond the surface, when seeking entertainment.

The first tranche of this multi-layered presentation opens on Kevin, a white Bahamian, who is attempting to make a living as a fisherman. Here to is where the art, which began with the rosary in the opening, continues. There is everything to suggest that Kevin’s venture rests on a shaky foundation. We are shown the decrepit nature of his boat. It is laughable to a Bahamian that he hauls up a lobster condo, especially as its catch is just a few, pitiful snappers. We discover that Kevin harbours an outsize dream that dwarfs his means. His pockets are near empty, he is lacking in skills, but ominously saddled with a vice—gambling.

Kevin has our sympathy in the beginning. It seems he can’t catch a break. We are shown that several nemeses, the inescapable agents of Kevin’s downfall, are hot on his trail. His son is in danger of losing his place at a $30,000 a year boarding school because his fees are deeply in arrears. Kevin is behind in his payments to the Development Bank, and he is as indebted to his bookie. Kevin’s wife, Berneice, is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, no less spectacular then that of the women of Almodóvar’s film of similar name. And, she has every right to be on the edge. He husband has let her down in many ways—even to causing her imprisonment for a crime he committed. When we meet her, she is suffering other forms of imprisonment. She is agoraphobic, won’t leave her house, and has the sole care of Kevin’s mother, who is lives deep in fetid waters of dementia, with habits that call for bleach, scrubbing and fortitude on the part of the caregiver, whose own hold on sanity is tenuous.

Along comes a proposal to Kevin that seems to be just the excavator to dig him out of the landfill of waste in which his bad decisions have buried him. Like a drowning man, he grabs for it. He becomes a human trafficker ferrying Haitians from New Providence to the Berry Islands, where his new employer says they will be picked up by a speedboat and taken to Florida, the paradise sought by these eternal refugees. Kevin quickly finds that the “solution” does not bring light but adds to the Stygian darkness of Kevin’s home front and life in general. I will say no more on the plot, so as not to spoil it for those who have not yet seen the Mortimer film.

The one of strongest points of the film is the Kevin character study, and Warren Brown, in the role, is to be congratulated. He manages to make his character’s dissolution credible and gripping. Kevin descends into hell in a poor man’s version of Dante’s Divine Comedy, with his friend Eddie (Omar J Dorsey) as his Virgil. In contrast to Dante’s hero, our man Kevin dives headlong into the greed, lust and fraud he sees about him. While Eddie remains faithful to the friendship and tries to steer him right, Kevin decides to descend to the lowest circle of hell—engaging in human smuggling, but, unlike journey’s end for Dante’s pilgrim, there will be no emergence into Easter Sunday for him.

Three of the female characters provide strong anchor points for the film. Gessica Geneus makes us believe in ‘Celianne’, flirting with genius in a portrayal that escapes artifice. She becomes Celianne. Geneus evokes effortlessly, with a mixture of pathos and dignity, her character’s tenuous hold on safety in a land that, at best, tolerates her compatriots, many fearing, not unreasonably, the transference of Haiti’s implosion. At worst, the Bahamian milieu rejects any commonalities between its people and Haitians, either in brainless bigotry, as does Celianne’s employer, or in sanctimonious repudiation of any proposal for the creation of a humane immigration policy that would benefit both sides; i.e. provide well-monitored, term contracts to give hope to Haitians seeking better, and a ready labour force for industries, such as agriculture, generally rejected by Bahamians engaged in what they consider upward mobility.

Persia White, as Berneice, though having fewer on-screen performances than Geneus, absolutely nails her character’s meltdown, a magisterial outpouring of invective against a husband who has taken her and the rest of the family to a dark place, literally shit-filled where none wished to go. Sky Nicole Grey’s role, as Jamaican Mona, the new caretaker of Kevin’s mother is little more than a cameo, but Grey makes capital of it. In her response to Kevin’s criminal treatment, her terror and complete unravelling is palpable.

Jamie Donnelly is believable as the demented mother; however, one of the principal slippages of the film emerges with the attempt to put the white Bahamian story of origins in that character’s mouth. It rings false, much the same as Kevin’s contorted utterance about keeping his family together by tearing them apart. While dementia patients do slip in an out of the dark web, the old woman’s moment of clarity is itself poorly conceived. It is much like the 6th grade essay of a conscientious student—stiff and rote. Overall, overt attempts at Bahamianizing are generally the weakest elements of Cargo, especially in larding the dialogue with Bahamian Creole and proverbs to be delivered by tongues patently unused to negotiating such language forms. Brown struggles with “Hungry dog eat raw corn”, and the character Sam Major becomes cartoonish. Here, the dialogue is simply cacophony, falling far below Berneice’s passionate toxicity. Kevin and Eddie sharing a bed in philosophical exchange doesn’t compute either. For dialogue success, the words, they must be consonant with the mouths into which they are put, and with the situation in which they are uttered. My humble recommendation for Kareem is an alliance with a professional truly expert in culture and expression, with a critical ear for rhythms.

Cargo also offers food for those who care little for soul-wrenching story and cinematic art. Mortimer has included some of Hollywood’s usual, coldly calculating tricks for attracting the mindless for whom introspection is no less chilling than a water bath to a cat. I speak of Brown’s flash of a contribution to the film world’s ever-increasing romance with full-frontal nudity. No less extraneous are Geneus’ floating globes.

Now, to the delight of talking about the art of the film. As someone immersed in the arts, literary and otherwise, this is my jam. Here lies the strength of my optimism for Kareem’s eventual summiting of his mountain. The choice of the name “Cargo”, I love. Although this commodification of people is not novel, but it fits well here—monosyllabic, impersonal, but ominously weighty.

Kareem’s tour de force lies in the acute parallel he draws between Kevin and Celianne, although, ostensibly there are poles apart in gender, race, ethnicity and social mobility. Yet their creator uses these character to show us that, at the most visceral level, human beings are much the same. The writer/director very cleverly makes the woman Kevin’s alter ego. Like him, she seeks a better life for an only son.  She too has enrolled her boy in a private school, the tuition for which her $150 a week wage cannot maintain. As in Kevin’s case, the school soon shuts the door to this road to emergence from the displaced Haitian’s subaltern status in The Bahamas.  Both are confronted by a catalytic experience that drives them to panicked action with tragic consequences. For Kevin it is his son’s imminent eviction from boarding school; for Celianne, it is the immigration officers raid of the shanty town where she lives and subsequent arrest of the inhabitants. She and her son narrowly escape capture, but if she remains, there will always be the chance that their time might come with the next rounding up and deportation.

More of this directorial sensitivity is evident in the atmospherics of Cargo. The entire film is wreathed in funereal shadows and foreshadowing, which appealed to me immediately. The process begins effectively at the opening—the inert bodies scattered, helter-skelter on the beach with the rosary necklace washing up towards them. There is the immediate and pithy suggestion that God has abandoned them. The overhead shots of Kevin’s boat are in the same vein. Its smallness is dominated by the vastness of a grey, cold ocean—a great foreshadowing of its inadequacy for the exploit which its owner will demand of it. In fact, nowhere is the famed, vacation-quality translucent blue waters and carefree sunlight of The Bahamas, nor is there the junkanoo scene that less-talented filmmakers consider de rigueur for evoking anything Bahamian. Thank you, Kareem.

The symbolism is subtle, but unmistakable throughout the film. Kevin’s efforts to scrub clean the walls his mother has smeared is such an element. It communicates his rude awakening to the to the oppressive reality, which he has steadfastly avoided but forced upon his wife. The messaging is reinforced when, in removing his gloves, Kevin’s hand gets dirtied—denial of the cesspool of his life is no longer an option.

The talismanic messaging of the wooden necklace is highly effective as a symbol of desertion and salvation. It is telling in the sex scene between Kevin and Celianne. He, who will become a devil to her and her people, is drawn to it, and touches it, assessing. She, enthralled by him, takes it off and tosses it aside to please him. For her, it is like a casting aside of her protective amulet and, by extension, side-lining one god to put her faith in another. Here is a strong hint to the viewer of the danger coming to Celianne, but she and her necklace will be reunited. At some point, her son also touches and questions its validity, all of which also points to the denouement of the film. Anything more about this film would be a spoiler. Overall, good job. Bravo, Kareem! Keep climbing; I’m rooting for you.


Bahamian Author Patricia Glinton-Meicholas Gifts Two New Works to the University of The Bahamas

Bahamian Author Patricia Glinton-Meicholas Gifts Two New Works to the University of The Bahamas

Shown in photograph (l to r) Bertha-Mae Walker, PhD, university librarian, University of The Bahamas; Neko Meicholas, publisher Guanima Press Ltd; Patricia Glinton-Meicholas and Linda Davis, PhD, provost, University of The Bahamas.

PATRICIA GLINTON-MEICHOLAS, GUANIMA PRESS LTD AND ITS SPONSORS GIFT MORE THAN 500 COPIES OF LUSCA AND OTHER FANTASTIC TALES TO THE STUDENTS OF AQUINAS COLLEGE

Presentation by Neko Meicholas
Guanima Press Ltd
to the Students of Aquinas College
Loyolla Hall
Gladstone Road, Nassau, Bahamas
November 15, 2017

With this book we have preserved a part of our Bahamian heritage that was being lost.

With my wife Patti’s words and my illustration and electronic graphics skills we have locked... in ink and paper... a small part of our rich and colourful folklore.

This book represents our hope for the positive reform of our people and our country.

I hope with all my heart that each and everyone of you will realize the importance of this gift and make an effort to read it.

Patti wrote this book for you.

The Guanima Press Books for Students project was born because we despaired at the BGCSE results we were seeing written about in the newspapers. 

We believe that young Bahamians no longer read as much or as widely as they need, and this is contributing to academic underachievement.

We wanted to do something to help by encouraging the reading of good books.

We wanted you to know the importance of reading. 

We wanted you to know how important it is to spend your whole life reading, learning, gathering information and knowledge from books and other sources.

We wanted to encourage you to use that information to craft yourself into the best version of you.

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We wanted you to know that you are brilliant.

We wanted to give you this book that was created about Bahamian lore… for Bahamians…by Bahamians.

We knew our small publishing company Guanima Press Ltd could not afford to do this alone, so we went into the community and asked for support—support that was readily given by wonderful and generous people.

 

We thank our wonderful sponsors.

We especially thank a very special woman—Barbara Thompson.

We thank Orry J. Sands, Earla Bethel of Danbrad Ltd, The Charitable Arts Foundation, The Cable Bahamas Cares Foundation, Sir Franklyn and Lady Wilson, Dawn Davies and those sponsors who have chosen to remain anonymous.

My dream of gifting thousands of Patti’s new book Lusca and Other Fantastic Tales to Bahamian students has become a reality because of our efforts and the support of this stellar group of people.

Today we are giving every single one of you, all 500 plus of you here a copy of this book for FREE.

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Please read LUSCA and Other Fantastic Tales.

Read lots of other books… Bahamian books, books from other countries.

Please just read copiously and experience the magic it will create in your school performance and your life.

Patricia Glinton-Meicholas Marks the Launch of Her New Book, Lusca and Other Fantastic Tales by Gifting 600 Copies to the Students of the Government High School

Linda Fisher, librarian, the Government High School; Siding Whyms; Daniella Dorsett; Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, author, Lusca and Other Fantastic Tales; Deonte Charles; Teresita Forbes, vice-principal, the Government High School; Ashlyn Sands and Benet Johnson.

Linda Fisher, librarian, the Government High School; Siding Whyms; Daniella Dorsett; Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, author, Lusca and Other Fantastic Tales; Deonte Charles; Teresita Forbes, vice-principal, the Government High School; Ashlyn Sands and Benet Johnson.

(L to r) Linda Fisher, librarian, The Government High School; Earla Bethel of DanBrad Ltd, first sponsor to the Guanima Press Ltd book-giveaway project and Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, author, Lusca and Other Fantastic Tales.

(L to r) Linda Fisher, librarian, The Government High School; Earla Bethel of DanBrad Ltd, first sponsor to the Guanima Press Ltd book-giveaway project and Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, author, Lusca and Other Fantastic Tales.

In support of a book-giveaway project launched by Guanima Press Ltd, Patricia Glinton-Meicholas marked the publication of her new collection of original short stories, Lusca and Other Fantastic Tales, by gifting 600 copies to the students of her alma mater—The Government High School.

Glinton-Meicholas (right) is shown with (l to r) Linda Fisher, librarian at the Government High School and Earla Bethel of DanBrad Ltd. Also a graduate of The Government High School, Bethel was the first sponsor of the Guanima Press project, which aims to put copies of the book into the hands of thousands of young Bahamians to encourage them to read more.

The project has also received the support of B.T., Orry J. Sands, The Charitable Arts Foundation, The Cable Bahamas Cares Foundation, Sir Franklyn and Lady Wilson, Dawn Davies and others.

“For some time now, I have had a deep concern for the widespread underperformance in educational achievement, when I know that Bahamians are brilliant. I believe that low achievement in reading and the spurning of reading widely contribute significantly to the problem. Guanima Press has always given away lots of books, but with the launch of Patricia’s new book, I decided to do it in a really big way, giving away thousands of books in the hope that it would encourage more reading” said Neko Meicholas, owner of Guanima Press Ltd, which published the new work.

Recognized nationally and internationally for her writing ability and cultural knowledge, Patricia Glinton-Meicholas has created, in Lusca and Other Fantastic Tales, yet another means of preserving several of the unique, legendary, but mostly forgotten creatures of Bahamian folklore including Lusca, the Hag, and Chickcharnie. With her fertile imagination at play, she has also created a number of otherworldly characters, who demonstrate powers that are sure to have readers looking over their shoulders at unusual sounds.

Lusca and Other Fantastic Tales continues what Patricia’s first book An Evening in Guanima started, the preservation of a wonderful aspect of our Bahamian heritage—its rich folklore.

Antonius Roberts' Newest Sacred Space at the Cove, Atlantis, Paradise Island

By Neko Meicholas

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I am not interested in writing fancy, big-worded, pretentious, pleonastic art reviews—in short no bafflegab for me. I have neither the inclination, nor the desire and I would prefer to write about my gut reaction to an artist’s work.

I have just returned from an awesome experience. Everything seemed to align to make it wonderful. And to think, I had been tempted not to bother to attend, simply because I could barely muster the energy to stuff myself into stiff clothing. I’m so happy that I ignored my cave-dwelling, hermit’s personality and made the effort. I put on the clothes, got into the truck, drove over the bridge, etc, etc.

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We arrived early. We had half an hour before we were to be met. As we were at the Cove on Paradise Island, waiting in their beautiful surroundings would be absolutely no problem. What is more, today was the first day of Bahamian winter which meant that the temperature was simply perfect—not too hot, not too cold. So we sat in their breezeway and we spent the time watching…the carp? Koi? Fish!

By the time our greeter, who had walked past us twice, finally realized that we had arrived early and cautiously approached asking who we were, we had been waiting for nearly forty minutes. I had seen her both times and had a more than 1,000% correct inkling that she was the one meeting us, but I wanted to take some photos and I wanted to watch the fish and so I played truant, looking for an excuse to avoid being shut in by ceremony. No harm done…cheerfully, our greeter finally escorted us through the many walkways of the Cove, onto the waiting buggy and then out onto the beach at the wondrous Cove Point.

We were already perfectly calm from our visit with the fish but—the ocean, the setting sun, the Junkanoo drummers playing in front of the fire and the view, in the distance, of the sculptures in Antonius Roberts’ newest Sacred Space simply made for perfect tranquility.

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(L to R) Annette & Antonius Roberts with Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

(L to R) Annette & Antonius Roberts with Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

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We were in an extraordinary space. A foretaste of heaven maybe?

The big G’s natural resplendence, and the man-made glory He doubtless inspired was reaching out to touch our tired, slightly discouraged, and definitely overburdened souls. As we walked along the sand and finally stood in the centre of Antonius' seven praying women I took a deep breath and simply reveled in the moment, the art surrounding me and the perfection of my surroundings. Everything had worked together in perfect harmony.

The carved wooden women with their copper headdresses stood in still adoration and in contrast against a darkening sky, lending to its own mauve-tinged glory. The event introducing the bevy of sculptures to the group was brief. It opened with Jack and B’er Debbil—a fun session of storytelling by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas; a few words from the COO of Atlantis, Audrey Oswell and then the artist, Antonius Roberts paid a tribute to women—especially those who have contributed to his formation.

Cameras dangling, I stood on the side clicking away and simply standing quietly in and enjoying the moment. Was anyone else feeling what I was feeling?

As with all good things they end far too quickly. Personally, I would have happily spent another few hours in that glorious space that was filling me with such a wonderful sense of much needed peace.

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"Demolish the Chains, Demythologize, Detribalize, Broach the Divide for True Self-Determination"

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Presented at the University of The Bahamas Convocation
29 September 2017
© 2017 Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

I dedicate this talk to the honour and glory of God, and to Larry Smith, Telcine Turner-Rolle, P. Anthony White, and to all dedicated writers, whose monuments rise in the music of their words.

A convocation is, or should be, a thrilling time in the lives of those of you who have just matriculated into the University of The Bahamas. It is to you freshmen that I address my initial comments. No doubt there is more than a little apprehension as there tends to be at all beginnings. No doubt your career here will be marked by many and varied events, and will place greater demands than ever before on your intellect, time and fortitude. With the right frame of mind, your years of study can be a source of growth and joy.

If you feel any fear or hesitation, know that you are a branch of a people who have always dared where history and bigotry stood ready to repel their boldness. Let me share a little history. In 1818 Bahamian Robert Chrystie Ambrister fought with the Creek Indians to help them retain their tribal lands in Florida, when the forty-two-year old United States strove to dispossess them. [1] Twenty-eight-year old George Watkins left his job as a waiter at the Royal Victoria Hotel to join the 26th US Coloured Troops to support the Union cause in the American Civil War.

Bahamians white and black were the pioneers of South Florida and the Keys, especially Key West, which became known as the “Conch Republic” for its Bahamian connection. About one third of the signers of the incorporation documents of the City of Miami were Bahamians. Florida’s first millionaire was William Curry, a native of Green Turtle Cay who settled in Key West in the mid-1800s. Real estate developer Ebenezer W. F. Sturrup migrated from Harbour Island to Florida in 1888, and became Dade County’s first black millionaire.

You should know too that Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns, MRCS, LRCP, born in Inagua, was the first black man to become a mayor in Britain, when he was elected to that rank in Thetford, Norfolk in 1904.

One of this country’s greatest sons was Joseph Robert Love, physician, medical missionary, teacher, Episcopalian priest, social and political activist. Love was noted for his contribution to the field of human rights in Jamaica. In 1880, he became the first Bahamian, and first African-descended person to receive a medical degree from the University of Buffalo.

In 1933 Bahamian-born Dr Albert E. Forsythe, and his flying partner C. Alfred (Al) Anderson were the first non-white pilots to make a round-trip transcontinental flight. The pair were the first black pilots to cross an international border, when they flew from the United States to Montreal, Canada. They also made a flight round the Caribbean, landing on New Providence on the way. Dr Forsythe was featured in “Black Wings”, the 1982 Smithsonian Institution exhibition paying tribute to aviators of African descent who made aviation history.

I invite all students to think of your time at UB as an exciting voyage of discovery, possibly leading to your own extraordinary achievements. See UB as an opportunity to develop a six-pack of intellectual muscles, and as an open field where your creativity can fly free. Your university career can be a peerless interval in which to build friendships of a lifetime, and to turn your castles in the air into concrete reality. If you work to this end, your emergence from these hallowed precincts will be glorious. I use the word ‘hallowed’ expressly. I believe that the ability to learn, and all occasions to engage learning, are gifts from the Almighty, and so should be considered precious, and held as sacrosanct.

Mark you well—This new beginning is equally a time for sober reflection. You are actively engaged in designing your future life, engaging what could be a period of unrivalled achievement and self-determination. Protect your right to decide how you will use what valuable learnings and skills you acquire in these halls.

I beg you to read, read, read. Read widely, read the classics, read across disciplines, read Bahamian books. Read truer accounts of your Bahamian heritage. Someone once said you don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.

Books can be the vehicle by which you cross the vast stretches of recorded time, permitting you access to the wisdom of the ages. What you learn from them can give depth to your understanding, and lend wings to your imagination. Wide reading is an unassailable route to world-class scholarship and mastery. Make reading a lifelong commitment. It is a necessary adjunct to lifelong learning, which, in turn, is essential for continued relevance.

I laud the University of the Bahamas for launching its Common Read programme today, and thank the Provost and her committee who lead the project for choosing my book An Evening in Guanima as first text. I celebrate all the new reading progammes that are springing up in response to the troubling under achievement in this area.

I laud my husband, Neko Meicholas, also for conceiving of his Guanima Press initiative aimed to place copies of my new book Lusca in the hands of thousands of students for free. My thanks to the corporate entities and individuals, especially one extraordinary Barbara, who have shown remarkable generosity. In support of the Common Read project Neko has made An Evening in Guanima available as an e-book in the major online bookstores for $2.99.

Students, as you read, study, and hopefully absorb, your mind will be freed of the chains of prejudice and myth. You will discover, as the poet John Donne did, that

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

This is an enlightenment to be desired, to earnestly pursue. In refining your capacity for introspection and circumspection, you will come to see yourself as an indelible part of your family, of your community, of our country, of our region, of our world, and as kin to all humankind. You are a vital cog in all these wheels. If your actions and reactions in these interconnections are less than optimal, their functioning, their dynamism will be that much less. You will be the less, however imperceptible the gaps may be.

There is no question of dropping out or opting out. You matter; you have a role to play. Know too that you can only play your part with excellence, if you begin your journey of development and emotional, spiritual and social growth with your mind wide open to truth.

Today, there is a truth that should be apparent, and of deep consequence to all gathered here. The burning truth today is that our families, our neighbourhoods, our country, and, consequently, our ability to soar to glorious heights are hobbled by manacles of cultivated and celebrated ignorance, myth, tribalism, selfishness, greed and increasing violence.

One might say that “the measuring line of chaos, and the plumb line of desolation,”[2] have been dropped on our country, with particularly destructive effect on our capital, where the nation’s population is lethally concentrated.

We are enslaved by a system of miseducation, where true education is dissed, missed, seldom hitting necessary targets. In 2012 the then Minister of Education revealed that more than half of all government school students are awarded a leaving certificate, as opposed to the desirable high school diploma.[3]

In 2017 6,692 students sat the Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education. Of that number, only 521 examinees received at least a ‘C’ grade in the core subjects of English, mathematics and science.[4]

The results from the Bahamas Junior Certificate Examinations (BJC) are even more concerning. In 2017 12,120 young Bahamians were examined, but only 1,326 rang the bell in achieving a ‘C’ grade or better in the core subjects. [5]

These results tell us a fearsome tale—6,171 young Bahamians graduating from high school and 10,794 junior high school students—have failed to reach a standard, which would allow them to progress to higher education or, without favoritism, become the first choice of the more progressive employers.

The Chief School Attendance Officer has opined on two possible sources of the problem. “Social media has its pros and cons,” he said, “but one of them, we feel, is taking away from constructive learning." [6] He spoke also of the 59 percent of senior high school males were absent on a regular basis, with females presenting absentee problems at 41 percent. At the primary school level, the absenteeism rate was 52 percent for males and 48 percent for females. Unless this trend is arrested, it seems likely that the country’s future, dependent on the quality of the upcoming generation, could well be severely impacted.

Do I hear silent cries for bringing back street-prowling truant officers? Unfortunately, such officers would probably get shot in these times. When attacking intractable problems, such as poor attendance and scholastic achievement, it is necessary to strike not at the branches or symptoms, but at the roots, among which are toxic environments and toxic parenting fed heavily by ignorance, and the corrupt models offered by many who claim, or aspire to leadership.

Toxic homes tend to give rise to toxic offspring. Consequently, life in our urban areas has become an allegory for bondage, mayhem and palpable fear—Witness the daily mad race by many to get off the streets after dark to homes that appear to be extensions of the Department of Corrections with their iron grills, alarm systems and barbed fences.

In this year of our Lord 2017, Bahamians are hemmed in by graduates of the academies of vice and crime that Nassau’s impoverished quarters and our prison system have become. These are schools where the core subjects and areas of highest achievement are murder, rape, robbery and sundry and senseless violence.

A striking scriptural metaphor describes vividly our calamity, and equally our self-deception in the face of the attendant perils.

We have entered into a covenant with death, with the realm of the dead we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place. [7]

Given the upward spiral of murders and healthcare system iniquities, I think it’s clear that death has reneged, and trashed the deal. The weekly news bid fair to become a running obituary. What are crime-ridden neighbourhoods but a form of bondage for those imprisoned there for lack of the motivation and means to escape?

We all are further disenfranchised by a noxious socio-political milieu, which incubates, fertilizes and propagates prejudice, divisiveness, and arbitrary class distinctions and privileges. Partisan politics feed never-ending electioneering, while all too many religionists daily empanel God’s justice tribunal without the sanction of heaven, or the mitigating influence of love. They and the many disgruntled pundits without portfolio have done much to impede our ability to achieve consensus on critical national issues and humane ways to address them. Hypocrisy is rife, but shame is in short supply.

Many in The Bahamas have developed a twisted mythology of worthiness for acceptance to Bahamian status, or to be accorded basic human rights, which a true democracy should enshrine for all. The criteria mainly seek to exclude a group I call the “WHHO?”—Women, Bahamas-born persons of Haitian descent, homosexuals and others—the aged, the disabled and the incarcerated. Apparently, these are the creations of lesser, deaf gods of gumelemi and stone, unable to hear or requite their children’s cries for a place in the sun.

We demean and seek to discard compatriots who may have much to contribute to national development, but lack the credentials of our flawed system of assigning importance. In devastating contradiction, we construct worthiness based upon political affiliation, successful piracy, family name, and no less on owning I-Phones, name-brand clothing, expensive handbags and sports shoes, artfully torn jeans and Remi hair. It seems that we care more about how we decorate our bodies, than what we put in our heads. The combination of wealth and the ability to give patronage trumps all, however, and is supposed to pardon all sins in this deplorable hierarchy of value—no need for laudable content of character.

This increasingly narrow radius of identification has spawned an upsurge in insularity, and a concomitant shrinking of compassion, and a growing repudiation of the obligations of our common humanity. I was appalled at the outpouring of criticism in some quarters for our prime minister’s offer of help to our sister Dominica in her current, woeful plight. Is it that we have grown so arrogant and selfish that we have discarded our humanity or lostour ability to empathize with suffering?

How short have Bahamian memories become. Let me remind you. On October 12, 2016, in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, Roosevelt Skerrit, prime minister of Dominica, arrived in Nassau. He came to say that his country had donated $100,000 to The Bahamas relief efforts, and the money had already been transferred to our government’s account. Dominica had done the same for Haiti.

Now, our sister nation has fallen to her knees. Dominicans need all the help they can get. Sadly, in a pathetic attempt to make political capital, many have forgotten that gift. Matthew took no lives in The Bahamas; Dominica is grieving for the deaths of loved ones, and anguished over the numbers missing. Imagine the pain at the sight of utter devastation, and the fears for a future of severe privation. In 2016, the GDP of Dominica was 525.4 million, that of The Bahamas was 9,047 billion. I cry shame on those Bahamians who are demanding that we turn our backs. Ask yourselves—Why do we decry senseless crime, when we devote so little to cultivating reasoning, emotional maturity and kindness in our people?

More and more, not only are we losing that which distinguishes us from wild beasts, who know only the law of fang and claw, we are disregarding, selling off or throwing away the things that validate us a unique and supposedly Christian people. We have largely devalued our land, our history, our heritage, our culture. I have only to mention wild land giveaways, and the millions squandered on a Trinidad & Tobago-style carnival. Think how those millions could have advanced the university’s research and development—research into the quality of our water supplies, sustainable urban development, the health of our conch and grouper fisheries.

Abaconian John Hedden summed up several of our national identity cancers with pithy accuracy: "Our history is thrown away. Our culture is discarded. Our architecture is allowed to rot. Our intellect is on a flight to Miami. Our resourcefulness is all about scheming to bring it in cost-free." [8]

Furthermore, our potential for economic growth is significantly curtailed by a pathological and deeply ingrained impulse to spend money we do not have, and a taste for fraud and embezzlement.

If we are attacked by an uncomfortable flare-up of conscience, we calm it with the antacid of self-deception. Whether it be the purse-snatching street thug, or the decorous office worker stealing paper or cooking the employer’s books for overtime pay, or the public servant defrauding the public treasury, in indignant self-righteousness the wayward adopt the stance of victim. Then, there are the bold who claim theft and breaches of the public trust as the special privileges and courtesies divinely ordained for parliamentarians and others highly placed.

The Bahamian “big daddy” myth is an important adjunct to these poisonous philosophies. Adherents live their lives without restraint, making no effort to learn or acquire skills and certifications. Such men and women construct manhood and womanhood on sexual prowess, and having more children than they can afford, refusing any kind of fiscal discipline or self-help. Why? Because the myth decrees that ‘big daddy’, that is government, and the kind-hearted Bahamians, are obliged to and will pick of the tab.

There are even Bahamians who still believe in a fairy godmother. Could this have been the myth that has sanctioned wall-to-wall gaming houses, where the jobless and poor now spend hours waiting for the magic and their real lives to begin? By what social or economic metrics did our erstwhile leaders decide that it was reasonable to allow 12 to 14 web shops to spring up in Long Island with a population of just 3000?

Progress is yet further restrained by single-track thinking. A case in point is the outpouring of commentary on actions to be taken in the wake of the destruction Hurricane Irma rained upon Ragged Island and Acklins. Circulating is the potentially dangerous view that government should corral the people of the south into a single community per island, while islands like Ragged should be abandoned altogether. [9]  Let me warn those who subscribe to this position; nature abhors a vacuum. There are hordes of tired, hungry masses waiting and willing to jump in to fill the void.

Year after year, this country continues to insist on putting all our economic eggs in the basket of a tourism industry created in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and shaped to appeal to the tastes of that war-weary era. Consequently, tourism marketing focused on and continues to tout the myth of a carefree paradise, long on partying and short of principles. We ignore the fact that today’s long stay tourists want to see beyond the myth, unearthing nuggets of authenticity. In the absence of any serious effort to teach Bahamian history, culture and civics in our schools, the myth has been absorbed as our reality. I laud the Minister of Education for his declared intent to correct this deficiency.

We cry for economic diversification, but steadfastly ignore any coherent, consistent promotion of the creative industries, to date paying little more than lip service in signing related international conventions without bringing them into force. What are the creative industries? They are 'those industries which have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property.' [10]

Touted in recent times as the ‘Orange Economy’, the creative industries embrace advertising, architecture, art, crafts, design, fashion, film, music, performing arts, publishing, research & development, software, toys and games, TV and radio broadcasting, and video games. The Orange Economy was forecast to be worth $4.3 trillion by 2011. In that year alone, exports of creative goods and services reached $646 billion.[11] Bahamians have a wealth of creative talent; should we not be actively promoting such economic endeavours that are likely to include more Bahamians as business owners and managers? If we are to engage the creative industries, it is essential that we strengthen and enforce copyright laws, which Bahamians breach with impunity.

Clearly, Bahamians at the zenith of mythmaking narcotize, bowdlerise, and exercise amazing feats of mental and physical prowess to sweep the inconvenient truths of our individual and corporate sins under a now bulging rug of invention. We jump frequently to convenient, but erroneous conclusions, jump on high horses, put foot in mouth, talk through two sides of our mouths, skirt difficult questions, and throw our arms wide open to receive the false promises of modern carpetbaggers, thus inheriting the many concrete white elephants that clutter landscapes throughout our chain of islands.  And, if none of this vigorous exercise fails, we resort to blowing smoke up our fellow Bahamians nether regions. In short, we call things that are not, as if they were—not in faith, but in an attempt to cover realities, which prove unappetizing.

Unless all Bahamians of goodwill make commitments to real change, rather than to crafty public relations campaigns, our international credit rating will always be in danger of downgrade. More critical still—Without intelligent and innovative input, our communities, our archipelago, our nation will continue to decline.

The death of an eight-year old boy killed at home by a stray bullet should draw the line in the sand for everyone of conscience.[12] I deeply mourn his death, and that of an infant a short time before. These children have been cast into a sullen earth unready to receive bodies unseasoned by years of sin, grief and regret. I decry the violent, miscreant hands that flung them indiscriminately into early graves. Let us mourn not only with tears and recrimination, but with decisive, reparative action, extending the hope of salvation even to the perpetrators. Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war on murder, hatred and injustice. All of us—not just the police, not the courts and not the penal system.

It is imperative that students, academics, professionals across the economic spectrum and all Bahamians begin to confront and treat the defects born of our long history of bondage, mythmaking and cultivated dependency. Be warned—we must not seek remedies from self-interested physicians. All too often their cures come with absolute contraindications, where the risks are deadly and benefits few. When we surrender the fish nurseries and coastal protection that mangroves represent in exchange for a foreign-owned resort, that could be open today and shut down next week, is it a trade of equality? True self-determination, true freedom and independence require collaboration, not division, honest self-examination, not self-exoneration, self-reparation, not demanding that someone else pick up the tab for our foolishness.

Smash the chains.

Dare to pulverize the dictum that says we are too small a nation to make ground-breaking change. Repudiate the belief that we are a bargain-basement people, that we are a dependant people of minor intelligence, people who were left out of the Creator’s donation of genius.

Know that there is still an abundant potential to rise, founded upon a reinvigoration led by Bahamians who still believe in challenging the seemingly impossible. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis proposed that, with government and Ragged Islanders in partnership, Ragged Island could be made a green island offering a new brand of tourism. That’s possibility thinking.

Someone commenting under the pseudonym “ThisIsOurs” agreed, noting:

This island could be rebuilt in conjunction with the community to be self-sustaining and an economic contributor. It could be laid out beautifully and designed to maintain the rural island feel. They "could", if they're willing to listen, generate a new style tourism product the likes of which is nowhere else in the Bahamas, while at the same time servicing the needs of the community and providing safety in the face of future storms. [13]

This too is possibility thinking.

There is still hope. In every generation there have emerged Bahamians of genius, possessing daring and powers of invention in face of great odds. Consider the men and women who defied three centuries of exclusionary oligarchy. Consider the Bahamian suffragettes. I challenge you to model your ambitions, work ethic and creative on the Bahamians who have dared, time after time, to demolish the myths that hold us back from our upward climb.

In this context I cannot fail to mention the superb Bahamian visual artists, whose works are to be found in significant collections internationally, and the writers, who are award winners and published at home and abroad, as well as the growing band of creative entrepreneurs.

Significant is the number of Bahamian-born talents, or those of Bahamian descent who have graced international stages. If I name three, they have to be the great vaudevillian Egbert “Bert” Williams, Sidney Poitier first Bahamian and first African-American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, and superstar Beyoncé, who has sold over 100 million records as a solo performer.

In impressive numbers are the long line of outstanding Bahamian sportsmen and athletes. I need not single them out. Their names and fame have become common currency in this country and internationally. In contrast, how much do we know or care to know about Bahamians who have broken the mould in thought, in math, science and engineering, and have gained significant recognition beyond home shores? I invite you to be inspired by this new generation of Bahamian stars shining brightly in the international intellectual firmament. I give you a small sample:

Alexander Cartwright, new chancellor for the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus and former provost and executive vice chancellor at the State University of New York (SUNY), a 64-campus system.

Aisha Bowe, aerospace engineer, is the first Bahamian woman to work at NASA, as well as the Co-Founder and CEO of STEMBoard.

Desiree Cox, Christian Campbell and Myron Rolle, our three Bahamian Rhodes Scholars. Dr Cox has been honoured by Oxford University as a thought leader in global health and education.

Robin Glinton, Vice President, Data Science Applications at Salesforce in San Francisco, the Fortune 500 company that is the world’s # 1 CRM platform, whose cloud-based applications for sales, service, and marketing power some of the world’s largest enterprises.

Stefan Moss, whose research on the freshwater turtles of the Tennessee River will be published in Chemosphere, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, published since 1972 by Elsevier of The Netherlands.

James J. Murray, astrophysicist and founder of BOOSTER Space Industries in 2006.

Kristie Powell, Senior Technical Account Manager at Google, Inc. in the New York area. Google, as you must know is a multinational technology company, which has revolutionized online search and advertising technologies.

And lastly, but certainly not least, Herbert Hugh Thompson, an Adjunct Professor in the Computer Science Department at Columbia University, and Chief Technology Officer at Symantec Inc., the world’s largest security software company.

I assure you, there are many more gifted Bahamians to be identified, celebrated and brought into the vanguard of The Bahamas’ fight against its growing disgrace. Note well that behind the high achievement in all such cases, there is a history of hard work, a relentless push to surpass one level of achievement after another, and learning every new development in the relevant field. Emulate this dedication.

Isn’t it time for these mental Olympians to be brought out of the shadows of our defective meritocracy, and into the sun of the nation’s praise? It is good news that the prime minister has set about identifying these valuable expatriates.

When will the steadfast, productive educators, historians, writers, researchers and scientists merit as much of our praise and reward as sports and entertainment stars? Where are the ministerial embraces, the generous gifts of money and land for those who help the world to realize that our intellect is world class? When will we celebrate the men and women who demonstrate that our culture is more than Junkanoo Carnival and ‘winin’ down’? Where are the hurrahs for our documentarians who record Bahamian history and life as more than partisan politics and an aristocracy built on wealth and chicanery? Isn’t it time we adjust to a more praiseworthy and inclusive value system and meritocracy?

I call on students, university faculty and administration, all thoughtful Bahamians and residents to join in demolishing the chains, discarding the destructive mythologies, bridging the societal divides, and turning back the present insidious red tide infecting the precious coral of Bahamian life. We have the ability, but the revolution demands no less than our best selves, and a drive that relentlessly targets mastery and excellence in all we do. In so striving, none will have any need to take recourse to the bluster and lies that are often raised to mask incompetence and failure.

I call on each student to become the newest Bahamians whom the world will laud. Refuse to continue diseased traditions, which infect the Bahamian socioeconomic climate. Disenthrall yourselves from any expressed views or actions that impinge on the basic rights of humanity—including the now well-entrenched Web practices of cyberbullying and doxing.

Strive for brother and sisterhood, and coalescence in worthy common causes. Let’s create a team of fearless architects dedicated to constructing a new Bahamas, one that engenders and cherishes a more harmonious relationship with nature, a country that holds inviolable the rights of all human beings, regardless of ethnicity, race, colour, creed, sexual orientation or disability.

Who among you students and professors will rise to the challenge? You should be though leaders, leaders in excellence and probity.

Who among you will seek the lofty heights of statesmen and women purposed to eradicate want, rather than following the time-honoured route of egomania as frequently demonstrated in our august parliament? Will you formulate new ways of teaching math, English and science to lift Bahamian students out of the doldrums of achievement in those subject areas? Are you satisfied with just buying Smartphones and making them a fifth limb, or will you invent an outstanding advance in telecommunications? Can we hope that you will devise social programmes to reduce the rates of recidivism in our crime statistics? Will any of you grace the research team that eradicates cancer, diabetes, sickle cell or HIV/AIDS? Will your names shine among Nobel laureates, or will you be added to the rosters of the contemptible bands, who fill our world with infamy and terror? I implore you all—let it be the former. I mourn the loss of potential that is short-circuited, imprisoned, and sent yearly to the grave.

Each of us has divinely implanted seeds of talent and genius. Will our portion lie ungerminated, or will we wake them up with your unrelenting labour in weeding, watering, fertilizing and pruning, undaunted by the brutal sun of disappointment, harsh and undeserved criticism or the malfeasance of others? Let us work hard, and make the necessary sacrifices! Henry Ford, the American inventor who revolutionized transportation, said it well--You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do. I say just do it! At times you may fail, but you should never accept defeat, never stop reaching for the prize of a higher calling.

 As Shakespeare’s Brutus enjoins Cassius in the play Julius Caesar:

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures. [14]

Now is the time, my people. Today, let’s agree to provision a voyage to greatness.

I close now with words that are engraved on a Washington, D.C. sculpture honouring Mary McLeod Bethune, African American civil rights administrator and educator:

I leave you love.
I leave you hope.
I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another.
I leave you a thirst for education.
I leave you a respect for the use of power.
I leave you faith.
I leave you racial dignity.
I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men...”

 

[1] The United States vs Robert Chrystie Ambrister. Trial Fort St Marks, Fla, 28 April 1818.

[2] Is 34:11

[3] Virgil, Khrisna. “Silence Over Grade Average”, The Tribune, Wednesday, 8 August 2012.

[4] Jones, Royston Jr. “Exam Results Get Worse: Fewer C grades in math, English and science”, The Nassau Guardian Friday, 1 September 2017.

[5] Russell, Krishna. “Results expose failing schools”, The Tribune, 31 August 2017.

[6] Moss, Shavaughn. “Sobering Absenteeism Figures, The Nassau Guardian 11/09/17

[7] NIV Is. 28:15

[8] Smith, Larry. “Andrews University Publishes Proposal to Address Development Pressures on Abaco”, 12 January 2009. http://www.bahamapundit.com/2009/01/a-proposal-to-address-development-pressures-on-abaco.html. Accessed 25 September 2017.

[9] “Small Family Island Model ‘Unsustainable’”, The Tribune, Tuesday, September 12, 2017

[10] www.davidparrish.com/creative-industries/. Accessed 25 September 2017.

[11] Buitrago Restrepo, Pedro Felipe; Duque Márquez, Iván. 2013 The Orange Economy: An Infinite Opportunity, Publications IADB.org.

[12] Rolle, Rashad. “Eight-Year-Old Killed Doing Homework As Man Shot Dead”, The Tribune, 26 September 2017.

[13] Op. cit “Small Family Island Model ‘Unsustainable’”.

[14] Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

 


A Glorious Entry…

The Story of a Glorious Entry to Bahamian Art:
Neko Meicholas’ Grand Triptych Graces old St Francis Xavier Cathedral

 

By Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

 

Bahamian artist Neko Meicholas has created a grand triptych which adorns the older structure of the Roman Catholic St Francis Xavier Cathedral. The West Street church stands high on Nassau’s central ridge overlooking the capital’s harbour. Since the rededication, The Catholic faithful have had the opportunity to savour the work’s obvious merits.

The Meicholas canvases have joined an artistic phenomenon. The Bahamas has been volcanic in its production of art since the 1990s, a pyroclastic eruption, which has continued to flow and gain recognition and acclaim beyond our archipelago in the years 2000. Since 1992 I believe I have contributed in some small way to putting Bahamian art on the world map. I have written extensively on art for a quarter century—exhibition catalogue pieces, newspaper features and entries on Bahamian art for such major international publications as the Grove Dictionary of Art (formerly Macmillan).  I have extolled the works of many who are accorded the honorific “Master Artist”, and have written to encourage newcomers.

In contrast, I have written little about the art of my husband Neko Meicholas. I will deal with the reasons right up front. Neko has been occupied primarily with his Guanima Press, his labour of love, which is dedicated to growing a praiseworthy Bahamian literature. He designs all the books, he publishes and has done photography and wonderful covers for this output. A great example is the book on the Years of Favour: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Creation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nassau. It is true he has not publicly shown his paintings much, but has made private sales over the years.

I have done little to change that picture, feeling certain that there would be those pundits of art standing ready to cast doubt on the validity of my commentary with a “That’s her husband—What do you expect her to say?” Besides, don’t we know that the shoemaker’s family are always the last to get shoes? No matter. I will now try to correct an unfortunate omission, leaning on the history of my integrity in speaking and writing.

There is now a compelling reason to write about the art of Neko Meicholas. As evidence of a talent that deserves acknowledgement, three large, intimately related canvases now hang high on the wall at the back of the altar space in the exquisite setting of the chapel of the old St Francis Xavier. It is a fitting setting, as this structure is part of a phoenix-rising-from-ashes tale given physical reality.

The story began on 25 September 2009. Owing to an electrical fault, fire engulfed the rafters of the then 124-year-old church causing extensive damage. In what many have called a miracle (including this writer), the tabernacle was spared and the Eucharist inside was untouched. It was, perhaps, symbolic of what was to come. Archbishop Patrick Pinder, CMG, STD vowed immediately to restore that sacred space. Known to be meticulous in his dealings, Archbishop Pinder took his time assembling the builders, artisans and artists, who would contribute to the restoration and embellishment of the historic structure. Worthy of mention here is carpenter/cabinetmaker Dolph Sands of Eleuthera, whose beautiful woodwork can be seen gracing the facility.

Neko Meicholas, a “cradle” Catholic, was chosen for two very special tasks: 1) create a Christ Pantocrator painting that would serve as the altarpiece, and 2) painstaking restore the 14 Stations of the Cross, which had been extensively impacted by corrosive smoke. Meicholas had wet his feet extensively with the design and production of 50-plus pieces of ceramic art, which beautify the new Holy Family Catholic Church in the Marathon area of New Providence. He knew, however, that this new commission would represent a deep submersion into Christian iconography. The Archbishop specified that the painting was to feature the traditional elements of all Christ Pantocrator imaging.

The central constituent parts of the image are specified by the Pantocrator’s long and deeply imbedded history in the Church’s iconography. Christ, his head encircled by a halo is pictured half-length from the waist up, holding the Gospels in his left hand with his right hand making a gesture of teaching or of blessing. The book, held close to his body, is prominently marked by the Cross. Often, the name of Christ is written as IC XC, divided into two blocks by the figure.

His Grace could have chosen the easy route of factory-manufactured, decorative art, which lacks the personal engagement and spirit of the artist, but to an art lover’s gratitude, he didn’t.

With great trepidation, Neko Meicholas accepted the charge. Could he deliver work that was worthy of being permanently displayed behind the altar of St Francis Xavier? Without alerting his patron, Meicholas decided that he would need to create three paintings, if the emplacement was to have a dynamic visual impact. The two additional paintings would be Neko’s gift to the Church.

The emergent paintings are each 36”x 48” acrylic on linen covering the entire wall on which they are mounted. Beyond fulfilling the mandates of tradition as regards figuration, it can be seen immediately that the artist was very much spiritually engaged, in the manner of a Jacob wrestling with the angel, recognizing the supernatural, but determined to do so on his own terms. Those who leave behind their prejudices, and truly engage the triptych will see a personal iconography emerging from a surfeit of metaphor.

The Christ who is the central figure of the Meicholas rendition is not the polished, boardroom CEO, blue-eyed with golden hair flowing and coiffed who, for so long, dominated Christian art.  Here are the rough locks of a Middle-Eastern village carpenter. Here is a brown man, browner to reflect the Bahamian majority. Christ’s face is not one that will attract Hollywood contracts, but appropriately reflects the suffering appropriate to a “man of sorrows”, acquainted with grief and existential pain.

Bordering the side canvases are faces of believers turned towards Christ in adoration. Their expressions are reflective of the suffering endured by those who would keep faith in a world that tries to rebury a revolutionary whose Gospels are subversive of joys that rest stubbornly in the secular, egocentric and immediate. And, as truthful a depiction are the male and female figures in cameo, who turn away in rejection.

Nevertheless, though deeply immersed in Catholic doctrine, the triptych is not a long-faced revival meeting, but possessing all the fullness and sensuousness of colour, line and movement required by those who would rather not spend too much time in dark reflection. Meicholas has created canvases of incredible beauty, offering a Byzantine palette of golds, ochres, umber, a mixture redolent of a rich, aged red wine, but permitting Bahamian blues to break through.

Neko’s paintings took inspiration from the likes of the Austrian Gustav Klimt, and Bahamians Brent Malone and John Beadle, of whom Meicholas is an avowed admirer. We see the arabesques of lines and the richness of geometrics. The artist’s departures begin with Christ Pantocrator. Without contravening the basics of the traditional iconography, Meicholas imposes his own stamp, especially in the left turn from Christ manicured to one whose not-quite-white robe hints of an under-wash of the blood of his ultimate sacrifice.

Klimt, the symbolist, expressed his artistic credo when he said, "Whoever wants to know something about me - as an artist which alone is significant - they should look attentively at my pictures and there seek to recognize what I am and what I want." For Neko Meicholas, the same holds true. It is on the two bracket paintings that he plays hide and seek. Here is a cornucopia of metaphor, taking the serious viewer on an intense journey of exploration to winkle them out. His angels hover in robes that reflect the ethereality to be expected of heavenly messengers, and take on living dynamism. It is through the endless superimposed swirls and the opaque white, porcelain birds that dive across the spaces that Meicholas renders the Holy Spirit, as if he himself wishes to imbibe its hallucinogenic, addictive vigour. What more I see, I will keep to myself. I know intimately the profound depths from which this triptych springs. Just know that it is a gift of great beauty, and I praise the giver for risking self-revelation, the acclaim or disparagement of those who will see the works, in order to endow us with this spiritual experience in a world that feels safer with superficiality.


I am never satisfied…

LUSCA ON MY DESK © 2017 NEKO MEICHOLAS.jpg

I wonder if it is the curse of many artists to never be satisfied with anything you have done? I will draw and redraw and redraw and am still hardly ever satisfied with the end product.

And…

Why does it always seem to take forever to get anything completed when you are working with deadlines.

I have been working on the illustrations for LUSCA and Other Fantastic Tales for a very very very long time. Partly because I lacked the discipline and the focus to simply sit down and complete the task and then as crunch time approached I was redrawing everything because this fin did not look right or I needed more tentacle to show. As usual I have scrapped more drawings than actually ended up in the new book.

It puts a lot of pressure on you when you are trying to preserve the creatures of Bahamian folklore. It is no longer just about creating a drawing. It becomes a mission to preserve as accurately as possible a part of your heritage that is rapidly disappearing… Here’s to hoping that I have succeeded, in some small way, in saving a small bit of our heritage for generations to come.

ABOUT LUSCA
LUSCA is a creature from Bahamian folklore. Out of the depths of the sea, it has the head of a shark and the body of an octopus. In Patricia Glinton-Meicholas' story she is given the role of a protector/avenger. And although you are not supposed to play favourites LUSCA is one of mine…