Day of Absence '10: 11 February 2010

If you're a follower of this blog, you'll know that about a month and a half ago there was considerable activity here online about the Day of Absence concept. For those who don't know or don't remember, here's a short refresher, both about the original idea and the critique that it sparked.

Thirty-six years after independence and forty-one years after majority rule, creative workers in our country are unable to find work in the areas in which God has gifted them. There are virtually no avenues in The Bahamas to enable creative people to develop and hone their talents, or to enable them to make use of them when they are developed. Our greatest brain drain is arguably in the area of the arts; like Sidney Poitier over sixty years ago, Bahamians who want to exercise their talents in the cultural industries are faced with the choice of pursuing their callings as hobbies at home, or of leaving home to make a living by their gifts elsewhere. And we are all the poorer for it.

Nicolette Bethel, "Day of Absence: 11 February", Blogworld, January 30 2009

The idea behind the day of observance was to sensitize people -- Bahamians primarily, but anyone, really, who regards the arts and cultural activity as luxuries, upper-class frivolities that have no place in the real life of adults -- to the centrality of the arts. In a nutshell, it asks people to imagine a day without art. To imagine life without music, design, decoration, colour, rhyme, story, or dance. To imagine worship without these things; to imagine working or living or moving from place to place without them; to believe the lie that art is a luxury.

And then to consider according art and artists the respect that they deserve.

The critique interrogates that very idea of respect. Articulated by Ward Minnis just in time for the new year, it questions the call to respect artists, particularly in The Bahamas, when artists themselves appear not to respect their craft as they should. It also questions the idea of absence, suggesting that good art, conscious art, art that challenges rather than anaesthetizes is already absent enough in our nation, and calling for a Day of Presence. And it queries the political resonance of the title of the day, resisting the parallel with the place of African-Americans in the pre-civil rights era. Here's just a taste of it (but to fully comprehend it, you must go and read the whole thing on his blog Mental Slavery):

The metaphor of absence is in error. We do not need any more absence. We need to make our presence felt. The dissonance at the centre of the proposal leads to more explaining than is necessary, and the point gets lost. Most important, the metaphor misses the problem that we, as an artistic community, have. Ours is not simply an issue of being taken for granted; the roots go far deeper than that. A day of hand-holding isn’t going to get us where we need to go.

Ward Minnis, "Trying to Make a Dollar out of Fifty Cents", Mental Slavery, December 31, 2009

The debate began, and sparked responses from me on this blog, here:

Day of Absence 2010: First Response – ClarityDay of Absence 2010: Second Response – QualityDay of Absence 2010: Third Response – InvestmentThis post is to pick up where we left off (you'll notice that the last response also happened to be the same date as the Haiti earthquake) and for me to say, in full certainty, that once again, on February 11, 2010, I'll be observing the Day of Absence.Watch this space. There's more to say. And feel free to come and join the discussion if you feel so moved.