Ngugi wa Thiong’o comes to TT

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Acclaimed Kenyan author to discuss role of art at Carifesta. A report by Rachael Espinet for T&T’s Newsday.

WHAT is the role of the artist in society?

That is the question acclaimed Kenyan author Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o will be grappling with as he and Professor Barbara Lalla hold a “spotlight conversation” at the Carifesta XIV Journey Round Myself Symposium on August 20.

The symposium is the academic arm of the Carifesta XIV celebrations.

Arts and culture researchers from all over the diaspora will gather at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine’s Department of Creative and Festival Arts to discuss the impact of the creative fields on society. Topics such as marijuana and sustainable livelihoods, indigenous traditions, reparations, national identities, post-colonial issues in arts management and interrogations of transnational behaviour will be discussed at the symposium, which will run from August 19-22.

Dr Suzanne Burke, lecturer in cultural studies at UWI and chairman of the sub-committee for the symposium, told Newsday yesterday that Thiong’o will be here to celebrate the work of his contemporary the late VS Naipaul, whose birthday was August 17, and to talk about the role of the artist in society, particularly a post-colonial society like TT.

Thiong’o is a novelist, playwright, essayist and teacher. A Grain of Wheat, A River Runs Between and Homecoming: Essays on African and Caribbean Literature, Culture, and Politics are among his works.

In 1977, his play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) was shut down by the Kenyan government. The controversial play had themes of class struggles, poverty, gender, culture and religion. Then Kenyan Vice-President Daniel arap Moi ordered Ngugi imprisoned for a year.

On his release, he fled to the US, where he taught at Yale and New York universities and the University of California, Irvine. He lives in Los Angeles.

Thiong’o is celebrated as a deeply insightful writer whose work challenges authority, interrogates the role of colonialism and highlights issues of class, culture, region and modern versus traditional values.

Burke said Thiong’o is coming to discuss how to get post-colonial people to imagine the limitless potential and possibilities of the future and strategise how to make it real and tangible.

“An artist is someone who allows you to see yourself in your fullest complexity, but you first have to accept who you are and gaze inward. Any of us would be moved by art, be it a book, play, dance performance – you know what it does to you.

The symposium will include multiple panels hosted simultaneously.

Communications manager Joanne Briggs will be discussing TT’s Carnival in Nigeria on the Transnationalism panel. Her presentation, Triniscapes in Africa, will look at Caribbean identity and how that culture is performed in a different space. Her work will take a look at how TT plays a role in globalisation.

UWI lecturer Angelique Nixon

UWI lecturer Dr Angelique Nixon will be presenting with Rondel Benjamin, from the Bois Academy of TT, on kalinda, the art of stickfighting. Their presentation is called Community Yard as Revolution and will discuss how the stickfighting community yard is a space for transformation, healing and a way to empower men to create a culture of gender equality.

Nixon said in her abstract, “We utilised kalinda as a pathway for community skills to offer empowerment and strategies for managing one’s emotions and stress. We also engaged creativity and healing throughout the training with a progression from taking care of self to community engagement. We focused on how men can be allies in stopping gender-based violence, including breaking down sexist behaviour, checking their own behaviour and relationships for signs of abuse, and calling out sexist behaviour among friends.”

The marijuana and sustainable livelihoods session will look at the marijuana industry in Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines. Jamaica’s Henry Lowe will discuss the patents of Jamaica’s cannabis plants. St Vincent and the Grenadines Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Saboto Caesar will discuss how the country decriminalised marijuana and are working to build the industry. TT’s cannabis expert, Marcus Ramkissoon will present on his work with marijuana legislation throughout the Caribbean.

Cannabis expert Marcus Ramkissoon

Journey Round Myself will also include masterclasses and workshops on topics such as aesthetics in classical East Indian dance, climate-proofing, proposal writing, the arts and entertainment business, the Caribbean music industry and the foundations of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica’s style.

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