Wednesday, Jan 22, 2020
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Creative Time Summit X: Speaking truth to power

The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas (NAGB), for the second year, hosted the Creative Time Summit November 14-16, 2019. This year’s theme, “Speaking Truth|Summit X”, reminds me of the possibility for healing set up in works by N. Scott Momaday, an American master writer of Indigenous or Native ethnicity. He writes of erasure and belonging, or belonging and erasure, that space where Robert Redford asks if we are developing the planet to death. “We must honour the land,” notes Momaday, a fabulous writer and poet, storyteller and painter. I have read few writers with his ability to evoke story, space and emotion through his voice and his writing, a universal story that is being washed and developed away. In “The Death of Beauty, composed while completely wet”, he notes, “she died of beauty… her other beauties of dispute”: N. Scott Momaday’s “Speaking words to bear” PBS special that aired on Tuesday, November 18, fits in smoothly with the act of speaking truth. 

Why storytelling when we talk about speaking truth to power?  Often stories are all that we have in the face of colonialism’s erasure under the weight of history’s hegemonic narration over all other voices. Creative Time streams their Summit, allowing us to enjoy their programming as well as to create our own: programming that complements the themes and presentations of the event held in New York this year. 

The NAGB held sessions that punctuated those in New York. I found two particularly stimulating, perhaps because one worked on an area I have been researching and using my artistic praxis to explore, and the other connects to my work with young people who seem stunted in their imaging of their potential futures. The latter is section four, “Futures and Fictions” and the former, ‘Economics and Sovereignty”, which speaks about land, law and colonialism. The Creative Time Summit organizers challenged speakers and the audience to “discuss the

importance of addressing heritage and colonial trauma through innovative storytelling in cultural practices. If you are not part of the rise against colonizing systems of power, how do you become an ally?” In the face of Dorian’s wrath this is extremely important as we undergo the remapping of radical disaster capitalism. How do we inhabit spaces that are under a desirous gaze? These discussions were extended through breakout sessions on Saturday, which were well attended and exciting. 

On the NAGB front, Dr. Jacinta Higgs talked on “40 acres and a mule” that was about ownership and its extreme importance to belonging in a place, specifically in this place.  However, as neoliberalism continues its globalized stretch through small and medium-sized countries, how do those who inhabit “marginal” spaces compete with the global north to live in fellowship with their ancestral home spaces and places? The competition is fierce! Ironically, as one is rooted to place through belonging, one is equally dislocated from it through deracination and/or erasure. Dr. Higgs underscored the significance of owning a piece of the rock to belong. 

This was sparked through a visual rendering of fictions all brought together under an idea of futurity.

The film “The Was” by Soda_Jerk & The Avalanche was a trippy journey through much of my adolescence and youth, seeing films and having those moments of disconnected identification and existential belonging that film, Hollywood and the narration of fictions can offer. There were overlapping moments of creating an identity through self-identification and through self-disidentification from those beyond the American Dream. The American Dream anchors and often, in this time of deeply fictionalized truths and fake news, holds us in place; it is our ability to imagine something different that allows us to transcend this. This process is liberatory.  Much as the stories Momaday told and his poetry link to ancestral knowledge and spatial identification with self, being and universality, because land does not belong to one person. Communal identities are what keep narratives and creativity alive. The film created a kaleidoscope of images from significant fictions that had somehow become almost cultural truths. As we lose our cultural truth through being told that we should be grateful for what we have and how we can live – though we find it hard to survive in the face of mounting adversity – we understand the violence inherent in depoliticized displacement. 

Creativity allows voices to be heard through filmic fictions, storytelling, photo lending and legal re-imaginings of how we can pass through colonialism and not get stuck in its legal swamp.  If we drain the swamp, we are left with a putrid space of stench. If we try to build through the swamp, understanding that our stories are resilient and overcome power asymmetries through speaking truth to power and to overcoming the creative erasure of neoliberal violence, we can start to emerge on the other side. 

If we look at the violence of erasure and silence we see stories of Native Americans dispossessed and displaced, diseased through contamination and infected by unheard ailments that they were unprepared for and so unable to combat. The communal story is important to how Native peoples show us through their creativity and lifeways how to pass through the trauma of the encounter, the land taking and the imposition of colonial laws on native spaces and places. 

Without land, where are we? Without land who are we? The loss of our “40 acres” may not seem significant to the consumerist, late-postmodern society of capitalist advertising and greed, but we will soon wake up and find ourselves drifting on an empty sea of despair. The lots are gone and with them the stories that are rooted under the trees; they provide our straw and thatch for traditional works and homes. Without these, how do we survive?

The Creative Time Summit encourages us to imagine differently, create truthfully and to speak truth to power and by so doing, liberate our minds from mental slavery. Power is not a coward, but it can be managed and brought down a peg or two by insisting on voice in the face of silence, creativity in the face of automatism and empathy and community in the space of violence and erasure.

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