WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?
Decade 2 / Century 21
The Andy Palacio Lecture
By Yasser Musa
Bliss Centre for the Performing Arts, Belize City, Belize
Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 10:00am
Good morning welcome to the first Andy Palacio lecture.
Why the Andy Palacio lecture?
We are living in the ‘glocal.’ Here at the end of 2009, on the birthday of an artist who dared to become relevant, we must be grateful, thankful and never forgetful.
The Andy Palacio Lecture is a platform for the expression of new ideas in culture says the press release. I wrote that line, so I feel responsible to clarify what it means.
Andy dreamed big, stayed serious and transformed into a captivating and inspirational human being. Today I want to zoom in on what I believe is Andy’s greatest contribution to Belize. As an artist Andy spent most of his life in the “acceptable” formula of the Punta Rock art form. Then he entered a period of real collaboration, exploration, experimentation and ultimately re-definition. He ejected from the stereotype of his own identity, leaping into a soul searching mode, pulled the plug on his art and started new. With Wátina Andy led a team of people into unknown territory to a place where the world stage was never too big for the boy from Barranco.
Wátina is not just a music album, but an awakening. In the 1990’s KREM radio, then a fresh, new and emerging media had a slogan “Play Big Bouy.” That was a national call to action, a provocative chant to awaken the expression of the Belizean people. Wátina is the greatest manifestation of the Play Big mantra, so brilliant, bold and beautiful.
Artist speak – finding mentors
I am going to be as frank as possible. Many times I’ve spoken with masked words, but now that I am becoming comfortable in my political after life and having drunk enough green tea to develop a new immunity, I stand here with some pressing thoughts, and the hope of a new generation in front of me.
In the next ten years artists will have to fight for themselves. Nothing new, yes, but the fight must reach beyond the scale of their art process and venture into the social, the political, and the educational. We can’t hide behind the work. In August 2008 at the landings 9 forum the artists of Central America and the Caribbean declared in unity that we must become warriors.
Artists must spend more time reading, learning about the world of science, technology and art, leaping across their media, collaborating and integrating with each other developing the new systems of tomorrow. While watching 60 minutes this past weekend I learned that life can exist without the sun, or the energy of the sun. An underwater explorer Robert Ballard, known for finding the Titanic, recently discovered life forms beyond the reach of light many thousands of feet below the ocean floor. Science is hard work, so is art.
Artists must find mentors. People they can rely on. Talk to. Bounce the truth, back and forth, like ping pong. Mentors are like living libraries, sponges of experience where you can go to calibrate your ideas and concepts. Artists must become thinkers who can act.
Artists should wake up early in the morning. Wake up with the fishermen, the garbage collectors and folks heading to market. At this time of the day the air feels like a thousand kisses deep.
Some random quotes to warm up
“we live in constant delusion. Not illusion.” – Katie Usher, facebook updater
“Computers make wasting time more easy.” – Andy Rooney, 60 Minutes, 29 Nov.09
“The internet is more revolutionary than originally thought.” - Bill Gates, Meet The Press, NBC, Sunday November 29, 2009
“Low expectations are the new racism.” – Rev. Al Sharpton, Meet the Press, Sun Nov 8/2009
The WORK of artists
Today, feeling Andy’s spirit and his call, “Watina” I turn to my fellow artists to offer some ideas about the course we could take over the next ten years. I have a personal stake in this too. By the end of the next ten years I will be 50 years old and as the poet Federico Garcia Lorca said:
All Clocks deceive us.
Time at last has horizons…
In Belize cultural development is in crisis because of a multiplicity of forces that distort our national aspirations and desires. This crisis did not begin yesterday, but has been marinating and maturing over decades. If we are to create change we must accept that we are people that “like to fool ourselves.”
I love the MEDIA!
For over two decades we’ve blamed the media, the government and cultural leaders for our social and cultural dysfunction. Ok blame them, but realize that the media, the government and the cultural leaders are themselves caught in the process of transformation trying to see where they will land.
The media is not just a mechanical monster that controls us, but something that we consciously embrace, accept and propagate.
Face it. We need new reference points. When helicopters land on the top of hospitals they are guided by a circle marking the spot, the point of reference. We need to make a new circle, a target and aim to hit it. I am still thinking about this idea of new reference points, but it has to do with a better space, electronic or physical, from where we would create, distribute and consume cultural activity.
“The internet is the new template of our time.”
Unfortunately, in Belize, the state and enterprise control the access and use of the internet. They push a pornographic concept of data and information unto our nervous systems. Our High School, Junior College and University students are prisoners to the “text” mafia, the instant messaging drama and the double and triple up syndrome. Like crack heads they anxiously wait for the day when they can get more bundles of “text”. But all this texting is not making them into anything useful. Are they writing better sentences in their English classes because of all their Smart practice? NO. Don’t panic, “things will work themselves out.” These are just the beginning seconds of a transformative moment.
Access to the internet must become a right. Once we accept it as a right we won’t be kowtowing to telecommunication providers to bless us with access to “their” system. The state must regulate the internet, and organize access to it in terms of essential services like vaccines, school books…etc. The internet is the contemporary backbone of our need for knowledge and information.
The Ministry of Digital Defense
We will soon need a super Ministry of digital defense. This Ministry will have to protect its citizens from the toxins of hyper pornography, invasion of personal privacy and distortion of real data by the likes of Wikipedia, to name one glaring example.
The real job of the new Ministry of Digital Defense will be to properly plan and organize the nation’s records – births, deaths, social security numbers, land titles, health data, education statistics, agricultural production….
Notice I make no mention of economic records. The old way of measuring a nation’s economic health via GDP and GNP is a joke. The new measurements must include how many students are moving from primary to secondary school, how many children die from poor health care, how many farmers went bankrupt because of deviant banking practices, and the pain of collapsing mortgages.
Art and Cultural Education are now within our orbit
One of the greatest failures of the cultural bureaucracy since Independence is that too many citizens have been locked out of the production, and participation in the arts.
How can we expect our children to develop creatively, and think creatively if they have no contact to art and cultural activity?
It is within this generation’s grasp to include the arts as a forceful part of the program of learning in our schools. We continue to make excuses that we don’t have time or resources.
The truth is that all it takes is a pencil and some pieces of paper. The greatest resource is the imagination of our children. If we just let them write, draw, sing, dance, dramatize, and think we would see a new generation of citizens bold, confident and caring about community and society.
In the 2nd decade of the 21century emphasis must be placed on social studies, cultural studies and history as a merger to a meaningful understanding of self, society and civility.
We continue to insult the population with lies and myths about the past. We show apathy, apprehension and even indifference toward the teaching of African and Maya History. I call on the next generation to search your souls and come to clarity of thought about what we should be learning and thinking in terms of history.
Lessons from landings
From 2004 to 2008 I participated with over 70 artists from the Caribbean and Central America on a set of exhibits from Havana to Taipei, Washington to Cokal, Mexico. This has been the greatest experience of my artistic education because in a real way I connected with like minded individuals who are aspiring/strugging/working at being/becoming artists.
I quickly learned that:
1) To borrow a line, “The global art world is run by a system that has nothing to do with us.” For those younger artists reading this, let me save you some years. The issue is about Belize and your courage to make it better, not about the flicker of Face Book and YouTube.
2) That we should not be satisfied with the “left over crumbs of the old empires.” I feel now with more time to reflect on those landings years that we were able to resist comodification and enter a new space, a vision larger that ourselves.
3) We were able to work through some generational conflict, coming to terms sometimes with astonishment that we are responsible for the path we take. That in this age of vampirism, we must resist the deteriorating pressure on our creative state. That shaping identity is constant, changing and still possible, even if we are under the wet blanket of indifference, laziness and apathy.
A few cultural concepts for the next 10 years
1. Create projects involving new media – cell phone video competitions, text messaging poetry contests, arts retreats for young people, new art and music festivals..
2. Develop a contemporary art space, a small area for new and innovative art projects
3. Focus on books and e-books. Encourage writing and performing contests
4. Place new emphasis on the dramatic arts
Establish a skills centre for craft making and economic arts manufacturing. Collaborate with Mexico in this area. They are one of the world leaders in craft making and connecting this practice to a modern tourist industry.
5. “Content Management is the biggest issue in culture going forward. What is content? Face book profiles, YouTube videos, cell phone videos, flip camera videos, nano videos digital picshas, blogs, vlogs... get to some kind of unified harmonized digital content creation and dissemination platform, promoting a real time living history log requiring access to greater bandwidth, server farms, unitary interchange platforms and protocols to float Shit that is blue-toothable, uploadable, hyper-textable, because at the end of the aughts the greatest shift in the past decade has been the ability to instantaneously create and disseminate content and that has to be harnessed as a kinda ontogenic survey from the clarion to today, prelapsarian to proto-post.”
A call for more discussions centered on cultural action
Within the next ten years we need to sit together and discuss the following topics and more and make a simple map of where we want to go
1. On music
2. On art education
3. On culture policy
4. On the museum of the future
5. Online cultural activity
6. On reading and writing
7. On video, photography and other visual arts
Some references used to develop text:
· Lorca, Federico Garcia Suites, originally published by Sun & Moon Press in 1988
· Mehmedinovic, Semezdin Nine Alexandrias, translated from Bosnian by Ammiel Alcalay, Pocket Poets Press, 2003
· Re: Delay, email from Joan Duran, Thursday November 26, 2009 6:11pm
· No Subject, email from Jules Vasquez, Wednesday November 25, 2009 6:41am
· Eriksen, Thomas Tyrany of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age, Pluto Press, 2001
· Conversation with Kate Perez, at the Image Factory, Belize City, November 27, 2009 9:30am
· Conversation, with Ivan Duran, at the Image Factory, Belize City Friday, November 27, 2009 1:40pm
· Conversation with Gilvano Swasey, at the Image Factory, Belize City Friday, November 27, 2009 , various times
· Younger Than Jesus, The Generation Book, New Museum, New York, Steidl, 2009
· An Author Without Borders: William T. Vollmann by Charles McGrath, article, The New York Times, Wednesday July 29, 2009
· 20 Years of Parkett, The Encounter With Reality, page 109, No. 70, 2004
· Economist, The Life and views of Ayn Rand, Capitalism’s Martyred Hero, page 95, October 24, 2009
· Klein, Naomi NO LOGO, Knopfm 2000
· Robert Ballar, underwater explorer on 60 Minutes report by Lara Logan, November 29, 2009
· Dixon, Anklin The House on the Cliff, The Hardy Boys # 2, Grossett and Dunlap, 1987