Friday, August 08, 2003

On Further Visiting Emancipation Park

I did a bit of follow-up on the Emancipation Park over the past day or so, doing a further personal site visit, including interviews with some of the workers. I then did a web search in the Gleaner and Observer sites (clippings available on request).

My findings follow:

1] There was much talk of the park being a monument to the history of our liberation and aspirations for a future, e.g. the PM's 2002 remark at the opening of the facility: "it was a monument to the resilience of Jamaicans . . . We dare not forget the beginning of our journey that has taken us through self-government, Independence and the continuing quest for a productive and prosperous way forward - a quest in which we are engaged today." [ ]

2] Backing this up, the Developers [NHT] went on record: "The park is being developed on seven acres of land in the busy commercial/financial district to provide the capital with needed 'green' space, but the developers are also linking the facility to Jamaica's history." [ ]

3] However, in the announced plans, there was no mention of a museum/visitors' centre, or of specific historical monuments or displays [ ]:
* Centrepiece of the park is the fountain . . . The water jets soar 20 feet in the air when the timers activate them and are able to dance to Marley's 'Redemption Song' and the National Anthem . . .
* There are three stone buildings at the park. One houses administrative offices and control centre, the other houses male and female bathroom facilities and the third is for storage and equipment.
* Green areas are lit (lights to be brightened) and here children will be allowed light play. There is a 50-metre jogging trail open daily from 4:00 a.m.
* The park is protected by 24-hour armed security patrols who have permission to eject the homeless/street people, as well as solicitors. It is also permanently monitored by electronic surveillance.
* There is a raised platform that can be used as a performing stage.
* All events held in the park will be free to the public and a cultural calendar of events will be planned. "It will not be rented to anyone," Mr. Thomas stressed.
4] I confirmed this pattern during my visit: the signs mainly post park rules, there are some botanical signs next to plants, there are PV panels in the lawns, the buildings are as described. So, as was pointed out in an Aug 19 letter of complaint to the Gleaner, "After touring the park, I came to the conclusion that no historical planning went into the design. There are no murals, insignia, statues (No one was able to tell me what the nude statue couple represents) or inscription to tell a story of the journey to Emancipation. It was embarrassing that not even the date of Emancipation was written anywhere. It is obvious that the park is just a beautiful place, without any significance." [ ]

5] On the "controversial statue" issue, several things were apparent:

* The proposed "ancestral spirit" statues were presented in a Gleaner Article of Aug 11 2002 as a photo-like picture that did not reveal their heavily sexualised nature, but did show that they would be nude. (The breast shown is noticeably smaller in proportion than in the actual piece, and the posing is such that the male genitalia are not visible -- in the actual piece the male figure is rotated so that the exaggerated penis is visible from Oxford Road a major public thoroughfare.)

* When in the 1960s AD Scott commissioned the Mariott piece that was rejected by the populace at that time, then was placed at the new park for a year, and has recently been placed at the long intended harbour View Roundabout site, this too was proposed as a monument to the national spirit:
* "Fundamentalists" are being cast as the prudish villains of the piece -- in the words of today's Observer Editorial: "It is surprising that Ms Facey is being pilloried, not only by fundamentalists, or people who are naturally uneasy or uncomfortable with a public display of nudity, but by the self-appointed arbiters of Jamaican culture and art." [ ]

Clearly, the Emancipation Park as a whole -- and not just the heavily sexualised Ancestral Spirits statue/ icon -- is severely flawed.

For, it simply fails to address the heritage and history that was advertised, which could easily have been done through placing a set of "heritage Stations" around the jogging trail, culminating in a monument to the Nation and its key virtues and visions as enshrined in our Pledge, Anthem and Coat of Arms, perhaps at the entry to the Visitor's Centre. In that Centre, a mini museum could be housed, and a regular multimedia show on our history and heritage could be done. Heritage items, including books and CDs could then be on sale to those who come.

Thus, the first redemptive steps for the Park as a whole would be to use the jogging trail and the storage building for a more enduring purpose.

But we dare not stop at that: we need to probe why a Park dedicated to our heritage failed so dismally to address this, while embroiling itself in a predicatable and so unecessary controversy over grosslty sexualised statues.

The answer, sadly, is not pretty:

a] History and Heritage, just as much as concerns over what is appropriate to display in a public place and monument, are family- and children- oriented issues. The park planners obviously catered to the interests and needs of joggers, environmentalists, the arts and culture community, etc, but neglected the children who embody the future that Emancipation is all about. Note the underlying complaint: the Park is not family-friendly, especially through the themes that it has emphasised in its signature monument.

b] Further, there may well be an ideological reason why the specific history of Emancipation was suppressed: it would throw precisely the same "fundamentalists" who are now being derided as prudes into a far different light than this Politically Correct, neo-pagan age is comfortable with. For, it was the dissenting churchmen who first seriously evangelised the slaves who through the Spirit of Freedom that breathes in the gospel, became the moral protagonists of the slaves' liberation struggle -- here and in Britain.
So, we must now ask whether the history of emancipation has been censored out of Emancipation Park because the very ones who ask embarrassing questions about the propriety of the heavily sexualised Ancestral Spirits monument would otherwise have been lent credibility as the Spiritual Heirs of those who led the liberation struggle.

Further, we must call for the sins of omission as well as commission to be put right: the park must teach the history of emancipation, and must be made family-friendly.

Therefore, let us act:

1] Let us publicly present and call for Emancipation park to accurately and fairly reflect the missing facet of the History of Emancipation: the gospel-linked Spiritual struggle, especially in the run-up to National Heroes Day.

2] In so doing, we could suggest that the jogging trail become a heritage walk as well, and that the storage room become a visiotor's centre with a museum and multimedia theatre.

3] In speaking to the objectionable, heavily sexualised Ancestral Spirits monument, we need to point out the educational and nurturing function that such a public monument should facilitate, and ask pointedly how the existing monument contributes to such. (That is, the issue is NOT unbridled freedom of artistic expression, nor what semi-pagan rennaissance Italians did with their public monuments but what sort of monument is proper for a taxpayer-funded Emancipation Park in Jamaica.)

4] Perhaps, the monument is simply mis-located, and should be removed to the appropriate location in the National Gallery, with due notice that some may find its themes offensive. As an alternative, the suggestion that the dome at the base be topped off with a skirting wall some 2 ft high could suffice to address public concerns.

4] The Harbour View Monument should not be lost in the discussion -- for it is perhaps even more inappropriate in its own way. This, too, needs to be confronted: is this what we want Visitors to our island to see as their FIRST impression of Jamaica's Capital City? Does it really adress the themes of Jamaica's independence and hopes for the future, or is it not isnstead, simply a naked couple about to engage in foreplay [the penis is not yet erect]?

Thus, the issues stand revealed: what are the virtues, values and visions that should shape the future of our nation, and especially the children who literally embody that future.

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