October 27, 2013
Early Thursday morning on October 10, I started my journey with the Landings books, 2 boxes plus 1 at the main terminal in Belize City. I boarded the bus with the boxes, digital camera, a small duffle bag and a list of libraries to visit. I wasn’t daunted by the miles and task ahead, only the time. On the bus, I watched the
two boxes with hawk-like surveillance. Once in Belmopan, I took a taxi to the
Institute of Social and Cultural Research. Ms. Selene Solis accepted the book and was very impressed with the presentation and content of the Landings book. From there I strolled down the Culvert Road to the National Heritage Library.
Mrs. Felene Swaso was more than happy to receive her copies of the widely spoken about art book. While I charged the camera and tried to mentally chart out the logistics of the rest of the trip, Felene graciously
gave me phone numbers for taxi drivers in Belmopan and Dangriga. She also suggested that I call the librarians at both libraries in Dangriga before hand. A detail I’d overlooked in the rush of the trip.
With the camera charged up, arranged meetings for both libraries in Dangriga, I thanked the staff at the National Library Service for all their assistance and set off. The taxi driver came and I loaded up and we were en route to the Belize Archives Department.
I’d never been to the Archives Department before, as a child I would pass it on my way to school, or sometimes on the way to the park, for me it was always a sign and a closed door. A high school friend works there now, she was the Ms. Mary Alpuche the receptionist had transferred me to. Now I pressed the buzzer and there she was dressed professionally as a Public Servant but with all the warmth of an old familiar
friend. She could not believe that the Image Factory would have the books hand-delivered. She liked the human touch and profusely complimented the sleek, modern, beautiful book. We laughed about liking the “new book smell.”
One box down, one to go. Now that the load was lighter I rested easy on the bus. Felene had given specific instructions that I stop at the Southern Regional Hospital before proceeding into town. I stopped there with my box and duffle bag and looked for the first taxi. She had insisted that the distance between the hospital and the library was very short, still, there was no way I would walk to the Allan Arthurs Library with the box full of books in the unforgiving afternoon heat.
Ms. Susan Nicholas greeted me and called her assistant librarian to come and help with taking the pictures. The assistant came in a little later with a little one on her hip. They wanted to know about the book and the Image Factory. They said that they must have been living under a rock, because they hadn’t heard about it
before. They were both very jovial and wondered why I had come all this way alone. ‘I would have
been scared to go to the city alone’ remarked the library assistant. I smiled, to me Dangriga is way safer than the city. I probably would be daunted at the idea of going there alone as well had I not come to live in Belize City at age 11. They looked through the book with me and promised to put it in a bright spot
where all the visitors could see it, but away from the window, where it might get ruined. After thanks and goodbyes, the taxi arrived and off I went to the Pen Cayetano Studio and Art Gallery.
The studio was cozy and full of works by Pen, Ingrid, Mali and Ibo. It resonated the energy which productive
spaces do. Here, work was done all the time. Through the window, just above one of Ingrid works, which she admits is new but old too, because she had started it many years ago, I could see a stage. Ingrid told me that Pen was in the backyard working. Just as I was wondering how to take the shot, the taxi driver eagerly offered to help. ‘Let me help you,’ he said, in a excited Nigerian accent. ‘He even took off his shades to take the second photo’ Ingrid said smiling. She gave me some of Mali’s postcards and a gallery brochure, tokens of gratitude, and told me that Mali’s new book Wanaragua would arrive that same day, if all went well. Back in the taxi, I ticked off the places I’d visited that day on my list. The day was turning out well.
The taxi driver asked me what I was doing? where I worked? was I Creole? in rapid fire style as we drove toward the Ignacia Cacho Library. This library is downtown facing the sea but featured all the opened windows (offering fresh breeze) as its sister library in New Site. Ms. Romy Sabal was alone in the airy
white box. As she removed the shrink wrap seal and browsed the images, I snapped some candids. Two girls came in shortly after to do some research. Ms. Sabal paused from her browsing and handed them an Encyclopedia Britannica which they took to a nearby table. She asked me my details for the logbook, and I was off to the terminal.
I waited there, picked up my copy of Love in the Time of Cholera and later had lunch as I waited for the James Bus to Punta Gorda. Now I had only three books left and an entire seat to myself. So I propped the box on the seat, put my duffel bag on top and continued to read, and occasionally closed the book and my eyes and slept. The journey would be long and the sun was setting on a full day. I arrived in Punta Gorda at minutes to eight, as it was preparing to fall asleep, all the lights were dimming, the doors were mostly closed. I would find a place to eat, shower and sleep. All the other deliveries would have to be done
At eight the next morning, I strolled over to the Punta Gorda library where I met Ms. Elzena Labriel. Their library had objects with labels in Garifuna and English. All around the books and shelves were Halloween
decorations. She posed with the book then said jokingly ‘that she would ensure people’s hands were
clean before they handled it.’ I asked how to get to the San Antonio and Barranco Community libraries; she said that it would be tricky but arranged for me to tag along with the Library Service as they toured the South.
I rushed to meet them where they had just finished breakfast, with the two remaining books and my duffel bag. They drove to the San Pedro Columbia Community Library where Ms. Henrietta Ical was trying to rearrange her shelves and books in the Community Center after a pageant. She happily received the book
I presented while pictures were taken with the Library Service’s iPad and the IF camera. We were invited to
lunch at Ms. Ical’s home, which was just down the hill from the football field.
The meal was a sincere and simple stew, served piping hot at their family table with warm hand-made tortillas. I had not yet eaten so I really appreciated the kind gesture. The air was warm and fresh, hogs grazed and ran around in the yard nearby. Now full and drowsy, we drove away Independence-bound and with the last of the eleven books I had brought on this journey.
At our last stop, Independence Library in Independence village, Ms. Rene Lozano received the white block. She mused on how heavy and well-packaged and fancy it was. She insisted that her co-workers and myself only take flattering pictures. The library is nice, situated on a corner in the space of two large yards.
Inside, it is filled with books and computers and in the children’s section, cute fraction style tables. Lots of
room for endless possibilities I thought.
I felt a sense of completion. The books had all been hand-delivered and I felt that I was part of a bigger project. A diffuser of knowledge. Injecting into new orbits a hurricane preparedness manual. A what-to-do guide for the consumption and creation of culture in the intangible and vast virtual space. In the barren
cultural environment which our Noh Mul pulverizing government is perpetrating, a seed, similar to the one Wall-E fought to save, not a forest, but a tiny plant: hope.
October 26, 2013
On September 23, 2013 myself, Briheda Haylock, and her dad loaded two boxes of Landings books in the taxi and began the journey of dispensing the big white book in schools and libraries in Belize City.
Nostalgia struck as we entered the Leo Bradley Library, where I had researched the human body, metamorphosis, and Belizean patriots when I attended St. Ignatius Primary School. The library building was the same, but there were more books, more foamy wall hangings and a more child friendly environment. Now with the landings book, I entered unchartered library territory, the administrative office. The librarians were friendly, the welcomed the donation from the Image Factory and five-o-one productions with happy smiles. They asked administrative questions of course: what was the cost of this book? how was the publishing process? and finally where was the table of contents?
We left the library and proceeded to Belize High School, were the youths were a little dubious about our unannounced visit and book presentation. After the photo with Mrs. Jamie Usher and her class, we went into their clean airy classroom, where I rattled off the languages and landings exhibit sites. Jin, the class president, perked up when she heard the words “also in Mandarin” and “Taipei.” The book was placed on a desk in between 4 young boys and carefully opened. The students absorbed the images. They didn’t worry about the multilingual texts. They understood, far better than I, that the images needed no translation, the visual is universal.
At Edward P. Yorke High School, Briheda’s alma mater. She pointed out to me and her dad that the school had new, nicer additions. She directed us to Principal’s office. He gladly accepted the book. I asked him if we could present it in the library or the art room. He told us that the library was under construction and the art program had been reduced. Mr. Cardinez, the principal, promised to share it with the students and asked Briheda if she was still doing art. She laughingly said yes and we left.
Off we drove to the Lake Independence Public Library. It is a small space with lots of books and an eager and friendly librarian Ms. Avril Reyes. She told us that a lot of young people visit the library in the evenings and especially on the weekends. With this tidbit, we leave and go to the Port Loyola Library. This two storey structure is in a wide open yard. Coincidentally , their feature presentation on the ground floor, the children’s section, is a hurricane display. Apt, I thought. We meet the head librarian sprucing up the counters, and for this reason she turned down the photo opportunity. While she and the photographer Briheda exchange reasons why she shouldn’t and why she should. I look around at the books, the charts on the wall and the information of the Hurricane display. It’s good to know the flag colours, I tell the librarian. Can Mr. Kevin Domingo take the picture? I ask. She agrees and later we leave.
At Wesley College we are directed to the library, which our guide, the office assistant, sheepishly tell us is all the way in the back. Their library is nice, they have the view of the seashore, sea birds and the horizon. Ms. Denise Bevans is happy to receive us in her library. She even encourages one of her regulars to pose for a picture. The student is poised, she gracefully and carefully leafs through the images, quietly, smiling occasionally. After thanking everyone, we jumped back into the taxi and drove to the neighbouring high school Anglican Cathedral College. It felt strange to be back at ACC, the last time I was there I was swamped with test and quiz papers, now I bore the big book of knowledge.
Mr. Ismael Requena accepted gracefully and said that Mr. David Anderson and the students would really appreciate it.
At Saint Catherine Academy, the girls and teachers had gone home after Mass. The library was open, where years ago my friends and I would read vampire novels and look through old yearbooks, had been elevated to the second floor. The librarian Mrs. Patricia Vasquez said she would review the book with the English department and then share it with the students. There was one student in the library reading a book, eager to pore into the beacon which came shrinkwrapped. She would have to wait for her chance later.
Our Belize City tour ended at the Turton Library, located only steps away from the Image Factory. Mrs. Priscilla Thomas decked in her high heels and her starched uniform greeted and thanked us for the donation and asked us if we had already visited the headquarters. Satisfied that we’d visited the Leo Bradley library
first, she posed for our picture with the Landings book which she admitted she had been waiting for since she heard about the launch at the SJC gymnasium.
Three hours later, we were back at the Factory with emptied boxes, images and recalibrated library experiences.
The new show at the Image Factory may have some us spooked especially with the current situation at the KHMH. Contagious, quite unlike the tragedy at Belize’s national referral hospital, features colourful and playful paintings by Belizean Taiwanese artist Julian Veronin Kuo.
Check out his website: http://julianveroninart.weebly.com/.
Kuo explores various media and techniques to create his images, which, in my opinion are sharp, pristine and bursting with Caribbean colours.
Earlier in the week, as Julian assisted with setting up his exhibit, I asked him a few questions about his show and his art. “Painting makes my life happy and this joy is contagious. With this show, I'd like to contaminate viewers with joy when they enter my art world” he affirmed. Contagious will only feature Kuo’s paintings, but he is also an avid photographer. In explaining what captures his interest photographically, he explained, “When I go out, I must have my camera with me, I like to record some moments of life, every picture has its own story. It is an intuitive reaction for me.”
It is clear that Julian’s use of vibrant colours is contagious. I asked him to elaborate on his experience or relationship with colour and how it affects his work: “When I was 3, I started to interact with art. The walls of my room were my canvas. I painted and drew on the walls. I try a variety of art styles, while creating my own view of art. I was the winner of the BTL directory cover design. I am the Milky Way Cafe’s photographer and I also design the posters and menus for the Cafe. Designing the Belize High School yearbook gave me a lot of experience. The colour of art is just like a language for me; an international language because of the many stories I have created in my works. When people see my works, they will describe it from their point of view.”
In this new techie era, where social media made interaction virtual, and music, books and movies stream online, I ask the young artist what he thought about the very traditional and tactile medium painting. Is painting new enough for our young tech-savvy artists? Veronin Kuo says “Painting is always new, because painting is diversification.”
Contagious will premieres Friday June 14 at 7 p.m. and will be on display for two weeks.
"Imagine all the people living life in peace" ~ John Lennon
There is a new art initiative in Belize City. Several young emerging artists have joined forces to show us Belize as seen through their lens and viewpoints. Arrrt Team and Youth Voices have collaborated efforts to showcase Imagine Nation at the Image Factory Art Gallery. The exhibit is sponsored by Reach, Research, Education and Advocacy for Social Change.
I got a sneak peak of some the works which will be exhibited in the Image Factory Art Gallery. I will admit, unabashedly, that these young artists have inspired me to reconsider and fortify my conceptual and graphic discourse. Confronted with the current crime wave that has washed the Belizean shores and continued inland, destroying and compromising every peaceful corner, like a tsunami, I was hardly inspired to make art, consume art or even discuss art.
These young artists have instead used the scarred, parched and violent wasteland as the materia prima to create some of the most powerful images and comics that I have seen this year. This is one show that each Belizean woman, man and child deserves to see. See and digest with ready eyes and ears.
Though we have verbalized our discontent with the violence in Belize, we have failed to address the greatest of all violences. We have allowed our youths’ education to become clouded by the fog of preoccupation for their general safety. We have allowed our nation to transform into one where their dreams have been replaced by nightmares, in which they dodge bullets. Education is still not free, though more and more Belizeans are faced with unemployment and their children's hope of higher education is dashed to the wind.
In the face of this dim reality which is a Belize City riddled with bullet holes, desperation and limited opportunities, it is beyond refreshing to see Belizean youth create art with powerful discourse- a peacefully imagined nation of sorts.
Imagine Nation opens Friday May 31, 2013 at 7pm and features a poetry performance by Youth Voices. The exhibit will run for one month.