Let me start off by saying that I am a HUGE fan of Jallim. I think he is a brilliant sculptor. I have had the pleasure to discuss national development, social behavior, environmental management, and the future of our Saint Lucian and Caribbean societies with Jallim and I am fascinated by the depth of his intellect and the trajectory of his thinking. His brilliance is not restricted to his skills as an artist.
When I got to see a picture of the monument that would be unveiled at the Conway Roundabout, prior to the unveiling, my first reaction was “ouch”, this will cause some controversy. I saw four black figures rowing a boat and I immediately thought of slavery and the middle passage. However, when I read the interpretation of Jallim's original wood piece “Koudmen Les Peche/Boat of Dreams”, I understood where Jallim derived his inspiration for the sculpture. This was the product of Jallim Eudovic's trademark depth of thought. I spoke to Jallim two days before the unveiling and advised him to prepare for some backlash. I told him that many would have my initial reaction and may even view the piece as inappropriate. I recommended that in his speech at the unveiling he explain clearly what the monument represented. The monument does represent collaboration and koudmen, but it is also four bronze figures rowing a boat, and that has its own historical symbolism for Caribbean people of African descent. As a work of art, it does what it is supposed to do, it provokes thought, it invites multiple interpretations and it causes us to reflect on our own understandings and beliefs. As a work of art, it is brilliant and frankly I expected no less of Jallim Eudovic. However, what caused this to be included in my list of things that caused me to sigh last week were some of the reactions and the events that surrounded the unveiling of the piece.
First of all, the decision by the government to unveil this magnificent work on a Thursday on a date that holds absolutely no significance to us is baffling. When you consider that four days later, we would have a Thanksgiving Holiday, when there would have been no traffic congestion or inconvenience associated with the unveiling, makes the decision for a Thursday unveiling mind-numbing. If, as is suggested, Thursday was chosen because the Prime Minister had to depart the country one or two days later for Taiwan, then the decision becomes one of gross stupidity and callous disregard.
Secondly, naming this monument “All In” in my opinion is inappropriate. I understand that it was commissioned for our Fortieth Independence Anniversary, which had as its theme “All In”, but frankly, the phrase “All In” means nothing to us Saint Lucians. The original title of the wooden sculpture “Koudmen Les Peche” could have been shortened and the monument entitled “Koudmen”. Koudmen is a Kwéyòl name for the coming together of a community to achieve a task on behalf of one of the members or the entire community, with the participants in the activity volunteering their services and their time to the collective effort. In other words, before there was “All In”, there was koudmen. Koudmen means something to Saint Lucians, regardless of age, political affiliation, or district of birth. Naming the monument “All In” invited criticism and in our highly politically polarized society, this is precisely what happened.
Thirdly, piling criticism on Jallim Eudovic for the manner in which the government commissioned and used this piece is unfair and inappropriate. The artist has done nothing wrong here. We should applaud the decision to celebrate the work of our artists. The display of art in public spaces is a great thing and the government should be commended for embarking on this initiative, in spite of its clumsy and very incompetent handling of the unveiling. Jallim’s work is excellent and he does not deserve any of the criticism that has been leveled at him.
Finally, I do not understand how some of us have decided to label unpatriotic and unreasonable those who have complained about the priority of the government to spend money on commissioning and unveiling a monument when our health care system is in a mess and when there are schools in a state of disrepair. The people who are complaining about these things and the lack of attention being given to them are not being unreasonable and unpatriotic, they are right! The state of our health care and our education system matter. The horror stories we hear from the families who have loved ones at Victoria Hospital or the George Odlum Stadium are heart-wrenching and should never be acceptable in our country. Yet, they have become our new norm. So, the citizens who choose to complain that instead of unveiling monuments the government should be focusing on improving our health services and the conditions of our schools are well within their right to complain. What is sad is that for inexplicable reasons we cannot have access to the excellent facilities at the OK-EU Hospital, a rebuilt St Jude’s Hospital, functional school facilities, and a brilliant monument designed by one of the most gifted artists of his generation at the same time.
A final word of caution for those who want to see this as an attack on the United Workers Party or an endorsement of the St Lucia Labour Party, let me disabuse your mind – it is neither. It is a plea for good, sensible and efficient governance in Saint Lucia by whichever party and group of men and women are entrusted with that responsibility by the people of Saint Lucia.