One of the focuses on my research project was to look at ways that artists are using their work to respond to and to challenge violence. With a specific focus on my home country of Jamaica, along with South Africa and Brazil, I have been interested in exploring the ways that musicians, painters, writers, photographers and videographers try to capture, represent and dismantle violent oppression. For my IdeaFest presentation I introduced the work of three visual artists from Jamaica who have completed projects on the Tivoli Incursion, an event that saw to the police killing over 70 people in the small community of Tivoli. For my CapStone project I turned my focus to videographers and musicians and the ways that they have used their art as a space for political contestation.
To do so, I put together a film series featuring 4 films that have had some impact on my research, and that I believed opened up a conversation about institutional violence and how we all aid in its in cessation. The following films were featured: (i) Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, on South Africa; (ii) Favela Rising on Brazil; (iii) Trench Town: The Forgotten Land on Jamaica; (iv) The Battle of Algiers on The French-Algerian War. The films were presented over a one-week span, with each showing being followed by a discussion. The attendees were generally UVIC students who had been accompanied by friends or colleagues but there were a few attendees who had come from the Victoria community to see a film based in their home country.
These documentaries were selected because they were not only geographically appropriate but the struggles being represented were stories that needed to be told. Much of the responses to violent repression captured throughout the film show how music and art can be spaces of escape and empowerment. The imagery and the stories in all these films were jarring, like watching high school students in Trench Town talk about not being able to leave home for fear of being murdered on their way to school or listening to stories about the Meadowlands in South Africa. As much as these images and stories are upsetting, the most troubling part is that much of what is discussed continues to this day.
Art can be such an important medium for resistance and these film show that. None of the films in this series shows that more than Battle of Algiers. It shows the toll of war and the destructiveness of imperial oppression and this film is visual reminder of what unchecked power is truly capable of. This art form is an expression of lived experiences of those most affected by violence and who are using this medium to tell their own stories and I was so grateful to be able to share that with everyone through my CapStone Project.
Finding spaces of optimism in my research can be difficult. My research focuses on violence, unchecked power and targeted violations, which can mean my spending months combing through cases that are emotionally exhausting. I keep at it though, hoping that one day my work will help those most affected, but the process is draining. I had never noticed the toll it had been taking until this year. Focusing entirely on completing my research project has meant, committing fully to studying cases of institutional violence. The stories are heartbreaking and staying present and grateful for the opportunity to hear those stories is far from easy. But my ultimate goal is to do justice to the people who have shared their experiences; it is my job to stayed plugged in so that I respect the access I have been given.
Gratitude and optimism are not the same thing though. Being grateful for the chance to do research and for the chance to do some good, does not necessarily translate into my feeling any kind of real hope for change. I think it is nonetheless important that I make it a priority to find those spaces of optimism wherever and whenever I do work. One such space is finding real joy and hope for the people affected by institutional violence. As much as systems may be broken, not irretrievably though, people prove to be far more resilient than we give them credit.
I have found spaces of optimism in my research and I will continue to find others. Seeing protests in support of social justice and the protection of others gives me hope. Watching young minds critically engage with questions of privilege and accountability gives me hope. And watching the great work community members and colleagues and friends do, makes me feel such profound optimism for the work that I am engaged in. The stories I hear are ugly because the world can be an ugly place. Being able to see beauty and potential, though, is how I honor those who have to face these ugly spaces. Giving up is not an option and believing that all is lost is even less so, so I keep trying to find the possibilities in each case that I come across.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to do research. I never want to take the chances I have been given for granted. I recognize my privilege in being able to choose to study at the University of Victoria and being able to choose the project I am now working on. I hope that I have done good so far and that going forward I can keep helping where I can.
My current research is on violence and the ways that it can often dehumanize those who are already vulnerable. I am preoccupied with exploring how certain groups are targeted and the legacies such violations leave on the collective consciousness of a community. I am interested in the case of Jamaica specifically, because I was born and raised there but I am also interested in comparing Jamaica against other countries known for similar levels of state violence. Growing up in Jamaica I saw police violence first hand and I saw it often. The fact that the “Tivoli Incursion” has stayed with me 7 years after taking place, speaks volumes about the kind of mark it left on all of us Jamaicans, especially those who were home at the time. In the narrative to come, I talk a bit about Tivoli, about violence generally and how all us Jamaicans are implicated each time a baton is swung.
“Even though the captive flesh/body has been ‘liberated’… the ruling episteme that releases the dynamics of naming and valuation, remains grounded in the originating metaphors of captivity and mutilation so that it as if neither time nor history, nor historiography and its topics, shows movement, as the human subject is “murdered” over and over again” (Spillers, 1994: 459).
The bodies in Tivoli were disposable long before the siege. The people were poor and black, which, in Jamaica like so many other former colonies, translates into a kind of prolonged invisibility. The people of Tivoli were mired in a kind of poverty that saps your optimism but they persisted.
The community of Tivoli, in 2010 was controlled by the Shower Posse, which was run by the area Don, Christopher “Dudus” Coke. An international drug and gun runner, Dudus, helped to keep Tivoli afloat. The man is an enigma, who wasn’t only a criminal but in many ways was a lifeline for many in his community. When the U.S. government demanded that he be extradited, the Jamaican people held their breath. One of two things would happen, they would either come for him or we would give him up. I prayed they would come; have them do the work themselves. Our police and our politicians had been getting bloody on their behalf for decades and there is something about taking a beating at the hands of your own. It leaves collective scars that just will not heal. Instead, we rounded up teams, strapped with automatic weapons and sent them into people’s homes and their schools and their churches. When the guns were laid down, Dudus was not found and 70 bodies were hauled off to the morgue. What we saw here was the dynamics of naming and valuation unfolding. The people here had no value, no voice and their lost lives have become nothing more than a footnote in our bloody history.
The Tivoli Incursion of May 2010 left at least 70 dead at the hands of the police and the military. Tivoli was left battered after the siege. It hasn’t yet recovered with no sign that it will. But how we do we remember those that have been lost when much of the narrative about the Tivoli Incursion was that the right kinds of people were done away with? This is the kind of rationale that emboldens the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defense Force (JDF). We are Tivoli and Tivoli is us. What happens when the uniformed and armed come for the rest of us? Who decides which communities and which people are disposable? Who decides which kinds of folk are worth our grief or our demands for justice? We decide. We are implicated.
They were and moments later they were no more, and they were altogether forgotten before they were even buried. They are in death, as they were in life, an afterthought in our collective consciousness. And our failing to remember them and grieve for them implicates us in their deaths.
I am in a constant state of agitation. I am fatigued. I started the year enthused about its possibilities but reality has a way of undermining expectations at every turn. I am not without hope or agency or drive, but helplessness is a feeling that finds its way inside those moments, muting my perception of the outcomes. But, I continue to push forward, to try to make change where I can, all the while recognizing my limitations. I try to remind myself that limitations aren’t automatic failures, but tests that require you prove your mettle. I am just asking that the universe test me a little less for the next few weeks.
One of my most frustrating experiences has been working with immigrants who are trying to remain in Canada. Most of these people are graduates from Canadian colleges and universities, who want to take advantage of the express entry system so that they can obtain permanent residency. I had initially thought that it would be a simple matter of helping applicants complete their paperwork, but I soon realized reducing individuals to a score resulted in solid candidates not receiving an invitation to apply. One of these applicants, has been living and working in Canada for over decade and got her associates degree from Camosun. In helping her with her express entry application, we soon realized she was a mere 40 points short to qualify for the invitation to apply. The number of years she’d lived and worked in Canada was only marginally valuable. The fact that she is bilingual (English and Spanish) didn’t count because only French and English are assigned scores. The fact that she is over 30 and unmarried worked against her. She described her experience as that of a frog in lukewarm water, where the heat was slowly being increased. The frog, unaware of the change in temperature because of its gradual increase, eventually boils to death. She said she felt like the frog. Slowly and calmly being lulled by her life here without feeling the urgency of its upcoming end.
As I consider the “human capital factors” that the Canadian government considers valuable I worry about the process of reducing people to numbers. I recognize the value of an objective system but subjectivity has to have a place here as well. It makes me sad to see the frustration, fatigue and helplessness so many people experience because a number is not high enough. I feel helpless as well. But more than that I feel useless because I can’t do much of anything. I have called all the offices I can and sent all the letters I can but I am stuck (if anyone has any suggestions please reach out).
It feels as though all of us immigrants are mere numbers and it seems like there is no way around that right now. So I continue to show up and I continue to try to find better ways to apologize but the fatigue keeps building and I am not sure how to rid myself of it.
Hi, I am Jeanique and I am one of CAPI’s new incoming scholars. In this podcast I say a little about myself and my background, as well as about my research. Hope you enjoy!