Mon | Mar 27, 2023

A contention on former plantation - Production also grounded in changing Irvine Hall's cultural heritage

Published:Thursday | March 15, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke/Gleaner Writer


The page on the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus's website inviting persons to 'Explore UWI' presents striking images of a number of the campus's physical landmarks. The old aqueduct appears more than once, the pictures' captions invariably making a reference to the aqueduct being used to distribute water across the Hope Estate, the former working plantation a section of which the campus rests on.

In Bone of Contention, his work which is currently playing at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, Michael Holgate does take strides through time on the campus, though not as wide as its beginning almost seven decades ago to present. One of the major bones UWI Mona students had to pick at was the treatment of Dr Walter Rodney by the Jamaican state in the 1960s, but what Bone of Contention does is to contextualise, not merely recount.

And part of that context is the UWI, Mona's physical roots. Holgate pointing out the 'dramatic irony' of an institution of higher learning being sited in such a space. However, he points out that Bone of Contention "is not a heavy show. It is topical but not heavy."

So as the production moves through time to look at contention in the past and the issues in the present, history does not weigh heavily on the Irvine Hall students who combine with persons Colgate brought in to assist in composing the cast. Still, some education was required after Bone of Contention was prompted by the request of Irvine Hall's student services development manager Simone Williams as the students did not know about things like the Rodney Riots as the student protest that led to marches off the campus and forceful police interventions became known.

Passing on knowledge was rewarding, Holgate speaking about how the students performing in Bone of Contention lit up when they understood more of the campus's history.

There is also the matter of Irvine Hall's history, one which Holgate was involved in as while he was a commuting undergraduate student, he was assigned to that hall of residence. He pointed out that Irvine hosted Culturama and what became the campus's steelpan band, the UWI Panoridim Steel Orchestra. But Bone of Contention comes in changed times for Irvine, which has been extensively and permanently changed in the university's physical restructuring. "The students are in a new space," Holgate said, a connection to roots in that context also required.