SILENT FANTASY: AT THE WORKSHOP FOR THE DEAF
FOCUS ON ART
By Bernadette I. Persaud
In the city’s marketplace a young woman vendor was ‘jooked’ to death, with a long ‘ice-pick’, by another woman. The nearby vendors had described, in coarse, brutal language, how a male accomplice had inserted himself so that everyone in that busy place had become blind, deaf and dumb to that cruel happening.
In the same city - a day later – on the pleasant, insulated lawns of Herdmanston Lodge, where the Workshop for the Deaf was in progress (26th -30th September) it seemed a very different world existed – far from the madding, indifferent crowd milling around the young vendor.
During the course of the Workshop, 17-year-old Odinga James narrated in halting sign language, his difficulties and frustrations in the classroom, to an attentive audience of parents, children, Special Education teachers and concerned individuals. The graceful hands of the signers/interpreters dipped and danced eloquently – a captivating language, it seemed, capable of expressing the most profound concepts and nuances of thought and feeling… Then Odinga related how his teacher had, in a fit of temper, pelted him with a ball of paper, during the lesson. Under the watchful eyes of Father Malcolm Rodrigues, Chairman of the Session, no one in the audience laughed.
It was much later in the day after intense testimonies and discussion, we were able to view the artworks of Odinga and other creative individuals, on display. And then we saw in Odinga’s ‘fantasies’ on paper, what ultimately everyone really wanted for the disabled/deaf – parents, organizers of the workshop, teachers, friends, and families alike. In fact, it was also what ‘every’ normal person longed for: an ordered universe, where the sun shines brightly in a blue sky, where the trees and flowers blossom profusely and where the birds and butterflies sing.
In Odinga’s “Phantasy” we see a sensitively drawn hand (Odinga’s) reaching/grasping a flower in full blossom. The sun shines brilliantly in a lively blue sky. Flower- trees are carefully arranged at the base of the composition along with a neat little house. ‘Where I live at Sophia’ shows a highly ordered world. The trees which are lined up in a row, have their own distinctive individuality. The sun is shining and birds fill the sky.
The designs which are featured here, were created for ‘tee-shirts’ by Jeremiah Williams. Most of them are floral motifs. Jeremiah, like Odinga, is 17 years old – trying bravely to market his designs.
The work of Maurice Millington, a shoemaker from the town of Linden, demonstrates the considerable talent and potential of the deaf. His pen and ink illustrations and watercolours reveal a more mature approach in his techniques and a fascination with historical themes i.e. ‘Slavery’, a dramatic illustration in pen and ink. ‘Old Lamaha Train’ and ‘Making of Bauxite working class in 1932’. This latter watercolour painting captures the bustle characteristic of the mining town in that period: tall alumina plants spewing dust and smoke dominate the picture space; the bauxite workers in the foreground are effectively rendered in impressionistic strokes.
Millington’s pieces reveal a lively, pragmatic intelligence at work. The range of his subject matter speaks to his keen awareness of himself as a political, historical and cultural being. Certainly, he has crossed over from that silent half-world of the deaf to the land where the sun shines brightly and sometimes too fiercely in a blue sky.
The Editor of THE ARTS FORUM Column, Ameena Gafoor, can be reached by E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by Telephone: 592 227 6825
The Art Editor of THE ARTS FORUM COLUMN, Bernadette Persaud, can be reached by E-mail: email@example.com or by Telephone: 592 220 3337.
THE ARTS JOURNAL VOLUME 6 is in press.