Joaquin Phoenix’s best actor Oscar win for his portrayal of Todd Phillips’ take on the nihilistic villain, Joker, was a podium for him to address tyranny. He remarked, that the distressing issues that confront us collectively appear to be discrete concerns, but injustice gives them coherence. He surmised that despite the variety of personal causes we may each chose to champion, we are all voicing concerns, “about the fight against the belief that one nation, one people, one race, one gender or one species has the right to dominate, control and use and exploit another with impunity.”
Leszek Kolakowski at All Souls, Oxford, wrote that, “We learn about the past, to know how to recognise around us, those faces touched by its worst legacy.” A mosaic of digital images of Aleppo nowadays thrown in with old photographs of Warsaw in ruins stirs into wakefulness the German and Austrian Jews who eluded Hitler’s forced labour camps and were detained as enemy aliens on Nelson island. Paradoxically, they were housed in buildings constructed by skilled Africans craftsmen who were known as the King’s Slaves.
The Güterwagen freight boxcars fitted with a bucket latrine and a small barred window providing irregular ventilation used to transport Jews to industrial, agricultural and mining slave labour camps have a manifest semblance of stench to the caravels crowded with duped Indian labourers and pealing galleons of enslaved humans chained with tinkling leg irons trafficked across the Atlantic.
Poland’s Gdańsk Museum is an unconventional tribute to World War II. The focus is on the global context of the war. It shines a searchlight in the dark corners of Poland’s collective past. The main exhibition took eight years to curate and the present director has altered the exhibit. Some see the changes as a rewrite of Polish history.
Instead of turning to universities, academies, and libraries, a court of law will now adjudicate on the narrative of Poland’s past. What will be helpful to us is a surrendering of resentment, not a new storyline. The honest study of history is not about casing the unbearable and promoting an airbrushed silhouette of the evidence.
From this angle, a re-considered Sugar Museum can penetrate the complexities of Capitalism and Slavery, bonded labour in coffee, cocoa and sugar and an incredible Cedula. Such a museum may become the platform to futureproof the workforce, debate the ideas of Lewis and Best and be a fulcrum of thought enabling the entrepreneurial state to build a knowledge economy.
At the top of Fredrick Street, a splendid cenotaph of Portland stone and bronze set upon four granite plinths stands in the centre of a tranquil square. On the four corners around the base of the column a carved stone frieze is embellished with belligerent lion’s heads. The pillar is surmounted by a winged angel of “Victory”, cast in bronze standing on a globe commemorative of wars in distant domains and bearing in one outstretched hand a wreath of sacrifice and in the other the victor’s palm.
“Courage”, is signified by the forlorn figure of a soldier defending a fallen companion at his feet. Side groups sit on the prows of ships emblematic of the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine. A pensive female figure reads the scroll of Fame, and a nurse bearing a laurel wreath is emblematic of compassion for the ill and the captive. At the rear of the base is a group of trophies.
Where can we find an equal tribute to the tragedy of slavery, the trickery of indentureship, the annihilation of the First Peoples and the disparity and shame created by the Cedula. We who built this country from nothing- Where is our angel holding a wreath of sacrifice and a palm of victory over a gate of triumph?
Once we deified the woodcutter and the fumes of poppies in distant domains, the elm and the oak in the poetry of Keats, waiting for Walcott to bless the fisherman, the breadfruit and to make hallow the dasheen. Waiting for Walcott to paint a sky burning above Laventille pink as a woman’s night gown sleeping beneath the nail holes of stars in the sky roof. Waiting for Le Roy to capsize Turner’s Slave Ship.
Hasn’t the time come to build a monument or a museum for those who have struggled to build this economy? A time to repair the breaches of trust and to approach a new beginning. It is time to properly address our past and disrupt every structure that has prevented us from moving beyond the themes that have preoccupied us since we first arrived in the New World. Our coming together in the first instance makes us a New People. What are we doing with that? How are we expressing that? How are we remaking the world from that perspective?
Phoenix believes that we are “at our best, when we support each other, not when we cancel each other out for past mistakes, but when we help each other to grow, when we educate each other, when we guide each other toward redemption. That is the best of humanity.”