I attended the Chale Wote Festival for the first time this past Saturday. I had an idealized image of how the Festival would transform Jamestown’s landscape, at least for that day. I envisioned a South Bronx, Soho and Brooklyn Park in the summer’scape. I wanted to see descendants of Jean-Michel Basquiat, spray panting the walls alive. I wanted to see the old slave fort communicate its history and legacy. I wanted to see a dialogue between the people, the artists and Jamestown. I’ve lead my undergrad students to Jamestown on several occasions and I’ve always been perplexed at the silence. Michel-Rolph Trouillot would have seen a clear example of the past not being silenced, but completely ignored in Jamestown. It’s more poignant to notice this “silence” in Jamestown because it’s a space so full of life and with people known for their candor.
I did not witness Basquiat’s descendants. But I did meet a few doing great work, although they were not on display or engaging us that day. I was introduced to Nii Narku, whose abstract creations are in a dialogue with Basquiat’s. His works were not at the Festival. I had to look him up online.
The streets were lined up with creative sorts, seeking attention and selling their products. The sidewalks were crammed with entrepreneurs, marketing their talents, not unlike other bazaars on Ghana’s economic landscape.
I was much more appreciative of Dr. Obadele Kambon’s capoeira team’s efforts (www.abibitumikasa.com). They put instruments directly into the hands of the children and vibed along with them. They didn’t go to be watched, they went to have the children perform. The children learned songs, how to play an instrument and capoeira techniques. It is clear that the children learned something from that engagement.
I expected the Festival to be more about the children of Jamestown. They are the future of society and impacting them makes all the difference. I wanted to see artists engage the children to help them create, build and ignite a fuse that would take years to burn out. I did not see that.
What I saw put a sour taste in my mouth. The section that was to cater for children’s activities was understaffed. The children were cramming around a few individuals making hats for them. The children were not even allowed to make their own paper hats. There were 3 adults to 50 children in the open area. There were no seats. The only creative activity witnessed had to do with a few children panting the walls of the community center. They were an elite few. The others stood around in frustration.
I later found an inside space, with another 50 children, waiting to watch a video. Some children worked on the floor while screaming for attention. A neighborhood male adult was entrusted to guard the door to protect against stampeding. But instead of protecting the children, he smacked, kicked and pushed children at whim. My sons witnessed him kick a little girl in the stomach to keep her from going inside the already stuffed room. There were no other adults to control him. He was obviously stressed with the responsibility and took out his frustrations on the children. We watched children cry with aggravation to partake in activities they knew little about.
Keeping the children engaged and active was noticeably not part of the initial planning. I hope that changes next year.