Day of Absence 2010: Introduction

Well, it's that time again.

What time? you may ask. Because it's not like this is a regular occurrence, a public holiday so to speak, or anything grand or exciting. But the new year is a-coming in, and February is nearing, and it's time for me to observe the Day of Absence once again.

Now for those of you who weren't around, who didn't get the memo, or who really weren't aware, the Day of Absence I'm talking about is a day set aside for us to remember and recognize the work of artists and cultural workers everywhere. Of course, I'm a Bahamian, and I live in The Bahamas, so it's a day to remember and recognize Bahamian artists and cultural workers, who go largely unsung, unnoticed and unremembered, and who are generally assumed not to exist in this nation. But it's not exclusively for Bahamians. It's for anyone who has ever taken art, the artistic and creative impulse, for granted.

The date is February 11. It's my date, and I chose it. Last year this time, when I announced the concept, I did so in a political fashion, and, borrowing the idea from Douglas Turner Ward's play of the same name, asked people to imagine a world without art, without artists.

And damn, the idea worked. It caught on far more broadly than expected. It seemed to spark something in people's imaginations, and especially in Bahamians' imaginations. It was accompanied by some buy-in from radio stations (one or two had a minute of silence at a specific point of the day in honour of the idea, and many had artists on to talk about their (our) place in the world). It seemed to begin conversations, some of which are continuing to this day, and transforming themselves into action. And it inspired a protest, a physical demonstration, that took place on COB's campus.

And it is still working, apparently, because it's generating some pretty solid critique. Over on Mental Slavery and on Bahama Pundit, Ward Minnis has taken apart the idea pretty thoroughly. In a nutshell the core of the critique is that (a) the concept is ill-founded and muddled, and the theory on which it rests is unsound; (b) Bahamian artists don't need more absence, they need presence; (c) it isn't the government's job to give artists their place in society--artists have to earn that place for themselves; (d) developing culture for the tourists is a bad goal to have; and (e) the choice of the date is unjustified and just plain wrong, gives undeserved honour and recognition to my father, and is an exercise in nepotism more than anything else.

Well. Dem's fightin' words, specially the last set. But I'm not going to engage them just now. Instead, I'm going to use the period between now and January 12th to respond to these areas in some measure (though not necessarily at length, because, well, the critique itself is evidence that Day of Absence 2009 did something of its job).

And in the meantime, consider yourselves invited. Ward and I are going to be sitting down in a public forum on January 12th at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas to discuss these ideas.

Though I'm not really sure what all I'm going to have to say, other than thanks to Ward for starting this year's discussion and spreading the idea of the Day of Absence further than it went last year.

Cheers. If you buy Ward's argument, no need to read any further. But if, like me, you don't, or if you're keeping an open mind, check back here over the next fortnight or so to read my responses to his three main points.

And consider the work and contribution of artists to the world. If you're Bahamian, go on and bring it home. Make a point of researching what Bahamian artists have done (there is a record, believe it or not, a thin trail that can be followed, if you're willing to put in the effort). Don't add deposits to our national bank of ignorance by making sweeping generalizations about who we are(n't) and what we're (not) doing. On February 11 (if you aren't offended by the fact that it's E. Clement Bethel's birthday) or on some other day (if you are) make it a point to learn something you didn't know about art, artists and culture in general, or about The Bahamas in particular.

As for me and my house, we'll be observing the Day on the 11th. 42 days and counting.