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Forum firmly against Redemption Song
published: Tuesday | October 28, 2003

By Mel Cooke, Freelance Writer


THERE WAS overwhelming dissent to 'Redemption Song', the monument at Emancipation Park, at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona, St. Andrew on Friday evening.

In fact, the overwhelming mood inside the Inter-Faculty Lecture Theatre was downright hostile, so much that if the figures at the corner of Knutsford Boulevard and Oxford Road in New Kingston could hear, they would probably have added tears to the water at their base.

The event was hosted by the Reggae Studies Unit of the UWI.

Selected presenters were allowed to expand on their viewpoints, after which the floor was opened to those who wished to speak. And there were many.

Of the main presenters, David Boxer of the selection committee for the monument, Leachim Semaj and Kingsley Stewart were the voices to offer Redemption Song any comfort, while Petrina Dacres gave a highly-informative and illustrated presentation on the history and development of monuments in Jamaica.

On the other side of the debate were various persons, including moderator Carolyn Cooper, who said at one point during the open floor segment that "My quarrel is not with the artist, it is with the judges."

Former head of the University of Technology Alfred Sangsters position was best summarised in a statement he made, during the open microphone section, when he said "There are many elements of those statues that many of us are uncomfortable with."

"Where is the representation of Emancipation?" Mutabaruka demanded. "It is not representing the essence of black people emancipation in Jamaica," the poet and radio show host said.

"If we are looking at Emancipation, we should look at the Africans in their glory before slavery.... Before dem was stripped of dem clothes," Mutabaruka said.

"Something is wrong with it if it is supposed to represent 1838," Cecil Gutzmore said vehemently. Taking exception especially to the water at the statue's base, he did not like the idea that "black people need to be cleansed in water."


"The people who need to be cleansed in water are the white people...," he said.

"Great works of art do not need props. This one does," he said, referring to the quotation at the base. And, he pointed out, "They are not looking up in the sky. They have no eyes!"

"What does it matter if an alleged majority of the people are happy with it?" he asked, in apparent reference to the polls taken on the issue of whether it should stay or not.

"It may stay there, but because we are supine," he concluded.

David Boxer found himself explaining the selection process during the open floor session, saying that "16 people put up their concepts. Nine of them were totally abstract. Others were stereotypical.... We wanted something that was structurally excellent."

Leachim Semaj maintained the position he took in a letter to the editor, in which he wrote: "As I listen to the discussion I am hearing people project their problems, fears and even inadequacies on to the artwork. What this piece of art has served to do is to demonstrate that it was aptly titled. The mental slavery of our people is indeed more deep-seated than was imagined. The fact that they choose to see so much evil and undesirable traits in the artwork speaks volumes, neither about the artist nor the artwork, but instead about the viewers."

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