Below please find session abstracts followed by discussion questions.
Transcending boundaries: Kwame Dawes’s Digital Collaborations
Lamia Zaibi (University of Manouba, Tunisia)
In this new digital era, marked by the proliferation of social networking and advanced media tools such as Youtube videos, forums and many online platforms, writers have found themselves bound to engage with technology in order to access wider audiences. Aesthetic works of art are shaped by new techniques and mechanisms which have a clear impact on the presence of artists at a global level. The Ghanian- born Jamaican award-winning poet and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner Kwame Dawes is representative of Caribbean artists who use technological tools to engage in the debate about important issues such as HIV/AIDS in Jamaica and Haiti and hence contribute to social change. This paper attempts to examine how advances in digital technology have allowed Kwame Dawes to go beyond physical boundaries and tell the stories of Jamaican people suffering from HIV/ AIDS and of the Haitian experience of earthquake from a new perspective using multimedia tools. It hence explores how Kwame Dawes uses poetry for documentary and journalistic purposes and yields a new vision of society in relation to issues as sensitive as HIV/AIDS. By focusing on major online projects such as “Ashes”, “Live Hope Love”, “Voices of Haiti”, “Wisteria”, and “HIV AIDS and the Jamaican Church”, this paper seeks to show how technology has offered Kwame Dawes the possibility to collaborate with people from different fields- musicians, artists, journalists and media entities- and create new and innovative work, highlighting the impact of digital-based collaborations on the way his work is shaped and designed.
Double Exposures: Eyeballing, Framing the Archives, & Thomas Edison’s Caribbean Films
Terri Francis (Indiana University)
The Edison Manufacturing Company produced newsreels that were first copyrighted on paper and later preserved digitally by the Library of Congress, the de facto national library of the United States. Edison’s crews filmed in Caribbean locations producing titles such as: Native Woman Washing Negro Baby (1903, Nassau, Bahamas), West Indian Native Dance, Railroad Panorama Near Spanish Town, Jamaica (Edison, April, 1903), and Native Women Coaling a Ship at D. W. I. (1903). Are Edison’s digitized actualities Caribbean films? What could or should this Caribbean platform for film history and theorization look like? What is cinema, now, in the digital age? And what is cinema in the Caribbean – but also, in the age of the digital, is the rubric of the Caribbean an excess of belongings or too few? And what of the images themselves, how might the nonlinear temporality invited by the digital free up or mislead our interpretations? I recognize that the Edison works picture familiar asymmetries between the presumed dominant white gaze and the subjugated looked-upon black female object/subject, and I am careful about idealizing the loosening of context the unanchored digital invites. What makes me curious then are the brief but disruptive ways the women “eyeball” the camera, calling attention to those normatively unseen, and re-framing the act of filming an Other as a two-way exchange. Do my eyes deceive me? When we find a neglected object, such recovery, along with the partnerships that made it possible, is the true starting point of an extended, necessary, and animated investigation of where the object belongs, how it should be catalogued and what it means to us today.
Un|Fixed Homeland: Guyanese Artists Countering the ‘Picturing Paradise’ Motif
Grace Aneiza Ali (New York University)
This year, Guyana marks its 50th year of independence from the British. In tandem, the 2016 exhibition, ‘Un|Fixed Homeland,’ at Aljira: Center for Contemporary Art in Newark, brought together photographers and photo-based artists living and working in Guyana and three major diasporic points in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada to examine the artists’ complicated relationship to homeland. Using a curatorial framework, curator Grace Aneiza Ali discusses the work of selected artists using digital photography to challenge and re-imagine the global public’s view of Guyana. The canon of contemporary Guyanese artists remains unknown on the world stage. Meanwhile, what the global public sees of the visual culture and artistic production of Guyana center on the exotic, tropical, and touristic. However, a new cadre of photographers from Guyana and its diaspora are making imaginative use of the digital photographic medium—contemporary photography on present-day Guyana, self-portraiture, studio portraiture, painted photographs, passport photos, selfies, photography in video installations, and the documentary format, among others. In doing so, the artists aim to counter an historic malpractice by challenging, disrupting, manipulating, and, at times intentionally exploiting, the ‘picturing paradise’ motif often associated with the region, offering new modes of viewing Guyana.
Questions for reflection
Tzarina T. Prater (Bentley University)
How do technological innovations challenge and/or transform the “curatorial project” which, in and of itself, is a form of epistemic violence?
In our contemporary moment, when then legibility of black pain is often obscured by and in dominant media, does this affective and creative labor on digital platforms generate new forms of expression? If, for example, there is a difference between the diasporic elegy and the digital diasporic elegy, then what is it, beyond the question of technological delivery?
How do digital projects, like those you analyze and create respectively, speak back to, return and disrupt the gaze of, and/or remediate violences produced by the dominant?
Does the effectiveness of these digital forms of expression depend on a kind of “super-reader,” a particular kind of spectator or participant, to be truly effective? How do these projects change or rather require a modification of reading practices?
As “academics” and creators, how do you navigate the intersecting networks of platform, policy, and “nation” in your own labor?