Patria-Kaye Aarons | What’s in a face?
I've come to learn that Shakespeare's expression "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" does not apply to all the senses. Especially not sight. No louder has this message been shouted than with the two statues unveiled over the past month in honour of two great Jamaican men. The artistic expressions, intended to canonise these giants, were both subjects of unexpected controversy and complaints which overshadowed the occasions for which they were intended.
The first was the bust of Jamaica's first national hero, Marcus Garvey unveiled at the University of the West Indies. According to the critics, the face bore no resemblance to the Garvey they had come to love and respect. Greatest of the offences, the face of should-be-Garvey was thin. Very thin. So incensed were those who opposed it, they wrote letters to the editor, incessantly called in to talk shows and even started a petition to have it taken down.
The second work of art was a figure representing Usain Bolt to be installed at Independence Park. The image was leaked on the occasion of his final competitive run on Jamaican soil, but was not received by social media with applause. It, too, was criticised as being a misrepresentation of the man, and minus the iconic to the world pose. Truth is, you could hardly make out the sprint king.
I'm not sure who should be more offended. Should it be the artists, whose technical abilities have been crushed to nothingness in the court of public opinion. These creatives who set out to capture the images of legends, who would have laboured late nights and long hours, only to have their finished masterpieces rejected loudly by members of society. Or should it be the great men and their families who should feel insulted. Usain portrayed with a faster-than-bolt receding hairline, should he be upset? Should Garvey turn in his grave at the sight of Mawga Marcus?
Truth is, it's been a time immemorial issue.
Right now, take out a Jamaican $50 bill. Look at the Sam Sharpe portrayed on it. Now look at the Sam Sharpe they always draw on primary school walls. Those two men don't even look like brothers. One has a funny eye and a prominent Negro nose, while the other seems to have been watered down. His nose got straighter, his hairline grew in, all of a sudden the right eye not lazy anymore. Two different men. Which am I to believe is the real Sam Sharpe?
Take Paul Bogle. Still raging is a debate about whether or not the image that we have come to know as Paul Bogle is really that of our hero, or one of Thomas Jennings, an African-American abolitionist dry cleaner from New York. The story goes that either our forefathers stole the picture of him to represent Paul Bogle ... to give us an image to believe in. Or that our neighbours up north stole Paul's image to give black American's a Negro hero with a face to inspire them. Point is, at least one set of people got lied to.
Many history buffs are sceptic about the portrait of Nanny we have come to accept. Others go as far as to question whether she ever did even exist, suggesting we needed a token black woman to round out the heroes, so they just made one up. And attached a fantastic tale to go along with it, complete with a bullet-catching bottom.
The point is, certainly in the past, how we captured the images of our great men and women has been suspect. But that was in the past. Today, we have no excuse. We have pictures, videos, cameras that can zoom into images 100 times over so you can mapper every detail. We really should get it right, out of respect for the men and women we seek to honour.
If someone draws a caricature of me and it looks off, I'm offended. I ask them to change it. My own opinion is that there's a lot in a face, and it shouldn't just be left to the artist's interpretation. How people look isn't abstract art. Neither should the last say be that of the person paying for or commissioning the work. They perhaps aren't close enough to the subject. Someone should sign off on it. Someone close to Usain and Marcus. Not sure you can get faces right, sculpt the Black Star Liner. Usain's sneakers. But don't mess up the people's faces.
In all fairness, the statues I saw really don't look like the people they were intended to immortalise. And if they aren't doing that, they just aren't telling the story right.