Who would think that art – yes art – could affect out national identity? Think about it. Really. If art reflects what’s happening in society, how does society respond? We can either be positive or negative about it. But that depends on how we see ourselves prior to experiencing a piece of art. That brings me to a formula from the most notable Rex Nettleford; where he says that external conception with internal perception equates to identity.
And now…I’ve lost you. All that means is that what society sees you as and how you see yourself is developed into who you are individually.
Still lost? How about this: on the topic of race; if a black man sees himself as a hooligan that is uneducated and is always getting in trouble he will then look at himself, his terrible grades and feel as if he is the statistic from which he can never escape. But there are many black people in Jamaica so we will use instead an inner-city youth. He is poor and can’t afford school and is seen as someone that will amount to nothing. He then sees a play or independent film about an inner-city youth, much like himself, who manages to make it through the system and becomes a role model for those in his community. His perceptions about his race changes and so too will his impact on society’s view of him.
In the same way art can be positive, it can be negative and it can be a direct reflection of what is in society. The violent crime in Jamaica is one concern that many have. Those in the music industry either use their music to reach out and give hope; or use it to become the voice of the people. Those ‘voices’, instead of speaking on the behalf of their target audience, mimic the thoughts of the murderers and other criminals. Now this can become society’s wake-up call or a youth’s call to crime. He sees himself as a hopeless
youth with no other alternative but crime and society sees him as a statistic.
But in the art world, change is always sought. The depictions of death and destruction by the hand of a criminal are but a few ways an artist gets his perception out there. There is too, the reasoning behind the act; forcing people to think about how they treat each person they meet from a bad background. Yet the corporate world refuses to hire someone from a poorer lifestyle.
It’s starting to feel like an essay, isn’t it? Ok, let’s talk about culture, dance and how they relate to our national identity.
Now, anyone knowing about the slave trade knows that Jamaica is one of the many countries with an abundance of African settlers. In fact, it may be the most African-dominated islands in the Caribbean. All this means is that there is a rich African-ness among the people. Our natural instinct in dancing is to be close to our dance partner and engage in a grinding motion of some sort. It looks sexual, yes, but one must understand that dancing in Africa is more of a seduction ritual than mere entertainment. Still, it is our first instinctive gesture. Many learned persons, with high income and influential positions, argue that the dances done are vulgar and infect the mind with sexual thoughts. Now we could touch on the religious aspect of this disagreement, but that would be taking it too far. Still Jamaica is a Christian-dominated country and the people always aspire to be God-like. So the views will not be far off. Because we have been forced to believe a slower, more distant way of dancing is acceptable, we have become unconscious of the rhythms living in our hearts.
Art speaks to society. There is no person in the world that does not appreciate any form of art and every form of art is beautiful to someone. So how, then, does society speak to art?