FOUR DAYS IN WEST KINGSTON

Deborah Thomas and Junior Wedderburn

Four Days in West Kingston is an audio-visual essay that uses the 2010 state of emergency in West Kingston, Jamaica – popularly known as the “Tivoli Incursion” – to raise a number of questions:  What does it mean to be human in the wake of the plantation?  How do people confront the pressures of colonialism and slavery, nationalism and state formation?  What forms of community and expectation are produced in and through violence?  In what ways can we meaningfully bear witness to these processes?

The audio-visual essay here is a shorter and more abstract version of a longer experimental documentary that features narratives from West Kingston community members who experienced the 2010 state of emergency.  Our aim in this project has been to juxtapose visual, oral historical, and narrative archives of state violence in order to get at something about the relationships among the psychic, material, prophetic, and political dimensions of sovereignty – past and present.  We have sought to bear witness to these relationships, and to explore the ways particular pairings of sound and image produce affective responses.  We have hoped that these responses might generate new kinds of recognition, and might produce meaningful forms of repair.

Repair, for us, is practice-oriented and quotidian; it is non-eventful, and deeply historical and relational.  Like its nominal counterpart, repair urges us to interrogate the multiple scales of entanglement that have led us to where we are now.  But where reparation seeks justice through the naming of names, the exposure of public secrets, and the articulation of chains of causality, repair also looks for something else.  It demands an active listening, a mutual recognizing, an acknowledging of complicity at all levels.  It requires a daily practice of recognition and love to destabilize the boundaries between self and other, knowing and feeling, complicity and accountability.  Can you feel it?

 


Deborah A. Thomas is the R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology, and the Director of the Center for Experimental Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania.  She is the author of Exceptional Violence:  Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica and Modern Blackness:  Nationalism, Globalization, and The Politics of Culture in Jamaica, and is co-editor of the volume Globalization and Race:  Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness.  Her new book, Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation, is forthcoming from Duke University Press. Thomas also directed and produced the documentary films Bad Friday: Rastafari after Coral Gardens, and Four Days in May, and she is the co-curator of a multi-media installation titled Bearing Witness:  Four Days in West Kingston, which opened at the Penn Museum in November 2017.  Prior to her life as an academic, Thomas was a professional dancer with the New York-based Urban Bush Women.  She is also the Editor-in-Chief of American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association.

Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn, Producer and Co-Director, Music Director.  Wedderburn is an accomplished percussionist who has performed and recorded with a variety of well-known reggae artistes, and who has also composed percussive scores for dance.  His own percussion group, Ancient Vibrations, presents traditional Afro-Jamaican rhythms and chants, the roots of reggae music.  Wedderburn has played with The Lion King on Broadway since it began development in 1997.  He is also currently at work on a project he is calling “Bush Music,” which seeks to preserve the traditional musical practices associated with Afro-Jamaican rituals, such as Kumina, Nyabinghi, and Coromantee. 

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