Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial: That statue of Miss Lou

Published:Monday | October 26, 2015 | 10:00 AM

Last Monday, Jamaica concluded the annual week of activities aimed at having people reflect on the country's heritage and the people who engineered the island from British colony to independent country and still emerging post-colonial society. It's a pity that Miss Lou - Louise Bennett-Coverley - couldn't have been here this year.

It would have been intriguing to hear her take on the reparations debate, especially in the wake of the controversial pre-Heritage Week response to the issue by the visiting British Prime Minister, David Cameron. She might have recited her irreverent, ironic and tongue-in-cheek reference to British colonialism, Colonisation in Reverse.

Unfortunately, Mrs Bennett-Coverley died nine years ago. Yet, Miss Lou remains, and will be in perpetuity, an influential and critical figure in the country's culture. As a folklorist and poet, with an understated, but wicked humour, she was a pioneer in writing in, and giving legitimacy to, Jamaican dialect. In verse, she helped Jamaicans, in unselfconscious fashion, connect the dots between their past and existing circumstance and, how possibly, they might shape the future.

David Cameron apart, the image of Miss Lou was recently evoked in a column in this newspaper by Anthony Gambrill, in the form of a letter to his late wife, Linda, about their efforts - still unfulfilled - since 2012 to have a statue of Mrs Bennett-Coverley erected at Emancipation Park in New Kingston. Mrs Gambrill died in July 2012.

 

choice of venue

 

Gambrill's initial choice of venue was Hope Gardens, but that proved logistically, and in the near term, aesthetically unsuitable. The next choice was Emancipation Park, which is managed by the National Housing Trust (NHT), with one of whose top managers the matter was broached more than a year and half ago.

When nothing happened Mr Gambrill approached "the minister" (for culture, Lisa Hanna), who was able to initiate action, including a meeting of the Institute of Jamaica's Monument Committee to discuss the proposal. Miss Lou is a recipient of the Institute's Gold Musgrave Medal. By now, hopefully, they have arrived at a decision about which they have informed "the minister", notwithstanding their five-month delay, up to late September, in telling Mr Gambrill about it.

Commissioning the proposed statue of Miss Lou would not be a substantial, if any charge on the public purse, given, as Mr Gambrill wrote, "your family's commitment to securing the finances". Further, the project has the endorsement of the executors of Miss Lou's estate as well as the backing of important figures in Jamaican art and culture, including Miss Lou's biographer and the Poet Laureate, Mervyn Morris. Respected sculptor Valerie Bloomfield-Ambrose was committed to do the full-bronze figure, while architect Patrick Stanigar has produced drawings for its base.

We feel that a statue of Miss Lou would be appropriate, and appropriate for Emancipation Park - "a popular place' where, Linda Gambrill, according to her husband, dreamed "performances of her poetry and narratives could be enjoyed". We believe that the vast majority of Jamaicans would agree.

Perhaps Minister Hanna might publicly declare the status of the project and maybe Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, in whose portfolio the NHT resides, should let her voice be heard.