The BBC is currently running a feature on Spain, one of the first two countries to lay claim to the New World, see the Treaty of Tordesillas. I heard a preacher say recently that if prayer brought you money Bill Gates would be the world’s most prayerful, the point being that religious dedication and rectitude does not redound to success, work does. Having said that, I now say that Spain’s colonial conquests and consequent relative success are no reflection of anything to do with God being a Spaniard.
The feature on BBC International looks at the art of Spain and great art it is, I do admit my ideas on what makes good art stems from Europe’s domination of aesthetics and critique of same. Among the images in the montage advertising the feature are those of Great churches and of course, Christ. The passion, the epic narrative and the races of the stories of the Savior of the World say a lot. I have heard it said that just as God created man in his image and likeness, so too man creates God in his image and likeness. The Chinese government, in relaxing laws banning Christianity, has said that all images of Jesus must be rendered with him having Chinese features. That’s a bold move that has gone unmentioned by the likes of the European based and UK tax-payer funded BBC.
Looking at the art of the day in my Trinidad and Tobago and by art I mean Soca and by day I mean this Carnival season, I wonder about the representations and their lasting power to shape how we see ourselves and interpret ourselves. The artists, song writers, producers, performers all live here, they all create for us and they all like the Spanish aim to stake a claim of the wider world.
Spain is portrayed in the feature as having been shaped by the Moors and the Christians, from what I gather the Moors were Muslims and control of the land was taken from them by the Christians. I can imagine that more blood was shed in those negotiations than have been on these shores in the years that have passed since 1962: a bloody history it is. Yet the values of the very Spanish now being lauded as great artists would have robbed the image of Christ of any Jewish/ Middle Eastern features and seem to have captured a world in heaven that is not populated by anyone that looks like me or my friend Shiva.
The colonization of the region has led us to believe that we need someone else to tell us what is right, what is good and what is beautiful. I can’t ignore Chucky Gordon who sings Bear with Me in his winning 50th Anniversary Independence Calypso Monarch song, a young nation he says that is still catching its feet. I agree, it even echoes statements I have made about the region which struggles to measure itself against the behemoths of the world, countries with centuries old histories of hegemony and greatness.
Part of the conundrum is that we political beasts in the Caribbean start our history with Independence. In celebrating it we discard all else that came before and so it is again through a European prism that we value ourselves given that unlike Cuba we in the main negotiated polite and acceptable releases from the reins of the WIndsors. All well and good but it leaves us without a silent moment to define ourselves. This becomes even more dire when our artists chose to express themselves in ways they know we like and are then judged for promoting immorality and irresponsibility. I wonder is it not the most heinous of crimes to have not taken up the challenge of defining for ourselves who we are, treasuring it in museums and academia so that one day we too can see ourselves as great even if our art offends the rest of the world?