Fri | Nov 16, 2018

Annie Paul | Redemption of the land

Published:Wednesday | January 17, 2018 | 12:00 AM

"There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number - living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which You formed to frolic there. These all look to You to give them their food at the proper time. When You give it to them, they gather it up; when You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When You hide Your face, they are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When You send Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the earth." Psalms 104: 25-30

The new year has dawned like a tsunami, rearing high up in the air and threatening to overwhelm us with its ferocity. As it sweeps us along, it spins and twirls us about, and the trick is to stay afloat somehow, anyhow. The coldest winter up north, the wettest December in these parts - climate change seems to be ushering us along with a firm but clammy hand.

The message is clear: We have to stop our clueless meddling with the environment we inhabit. The redemption of the land is something the Bible talks about quite a bit. Yet for a country proud to proclaim its Christianity far and wide, Jamaica has not distinguished itself through its environmental policies or its relationship with the sea.

On the weekend, I attended a powwow in Portland about the redemption of the ocean, another crucial element of our ecosystem. Organised by Francesca von Habsburg's Alligator Head Foundation, the meeting brought together a range of skill sets to think about the problem of ocean conservation and how to make it more of a priority in local agendas.




Von Habsburg's intention is to create a space where solutions can be found and thinking changed about our stewardship of the ocean. Her internationally renowned TBA21 Academy, run by Markus Reymann and once devoted to ambitious and daring visual arts projects, is now offering its substantial resources towards creative solutions to regenerating and nursing the oceans back to health.

Mere ocean literacy and consciousness is no longer the goal as young people are aware of the need to shepherd natural resources. What is needed are avenues to transform that consciousness into change. Art is still central to the programme, but as a lens through which to view environmental issues and a powerful tool to produce socially and politically conscious works.

The TBA21 Academy has already spearheaded three voyages in the Pacific Ocean, twinning artists with scientists to come up with insights into ocean conservation and care. Portland and Jamaica have a central place in the scheme of things because of von Habsburg's lifelong links to the country. Alligator Head was where she learnt to swim on summer holidays with her father, Baron Thyssen.

Around the coast near Alligator Head, von Habsburg has created the East Portland Fish Sanctuary, now headed by Dane Buddoo, formerly of the University of the West Indies.

According to von Habsburg: "Science provides the knowledge and art creates empathy, so this is the first bridge we are trying to create. The second one is bringing a wide range of people with different skill sets together to create a new ecology of thinking. From a very young age, young people are taught that they have to specialise. If you don't specialise, you won't have a career, they're told, but we want to break down those walls." What has been added to the mix is entrepreneurship, and finding entrepreneurial solutions that are creative.

Finding solutions to such vast problems requires collective thinking, von Habsburg believes, so there are three pillars to the project. The first is science as manifested in the creation of the fish sanctuary and its labs; the second is culinary, creating a restaurant on the property that will feature healthy food, using local produce from farmers in the area and also exploring options from the sea - edible seaweed and other algae.

The third option is art programming. "Artists are the antennae of the world today. They are the ones who see many topics that maybe fly by the radar of journalists. We are so saturated under media, and the role of media seems to be to keep us all in a permanent state of shock and horror. If we don't read about some horrible 's***hole' comment that Trump's made, it's something else," says von Habsburg.

Well, as Ezekiel 34:2-4 says, "Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured."

It's time to learn from the shepherds and grasp this opportunity to use the resources offered by TBA21 and the Alligator Head Foundation.

- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice ( Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.comor tweet @anniepaul.