Express it! Popular Culture in the Arts: The Collections in the Main Library of the UWI Cave Hill Campus, Barbados (2012)
Panel 14, June 18, 2012, 1:30 pm-3:30 pm
Moderator: Angela M. Carreño (New York University)
Presenters: Barbara Chase (The University of the West Indies, Barbados); Valerie Clarke (The University of the West Indies, Barbados) presented by Elizabeth Watson, Campus Librarian; Ann Marie White and Jessica Lewis (The University of the West Indies, Barbados); Rapporteur: Jeffrey Staiger (University of Oregon)
Angela Carreño welcomed everyone and introduced the speakers.
First to give her presentation, "Representations of Love and Erotica in Caribbean Writings," was Barbara Chase, Head of Book Acquisitions at the University of West Indies, Barbados, who focused on the example of Barbadian novelists. Chase proposed that it was a sign of these writers’ growing confidence that they had begun to lay claim to genre fiction, which she characterized as popular fiction written for mainstream consumption, with a less complex style, and fewer metaphors and similes, than its literary counterpart. Focusing particularly on the genres of romance and erotica, she enumerated a number of representative works: The Healing Tree by Margaret Knight; Song of Night and Fire in the Canes by Glenville Lovell; A Death in Panama by Robert Williams; Joy Cometh in the Morning by Herbert Reifer; Someone to Watch Over Me by Nailah Folami Imoja; and One Gentle Night by Ben Jordan. While these novels resemble the works of genre fiction from other nations – the speaker cited the precedent of Barbara Cartland – she stressed that these authors included elements that lent the novels in question a Caribbean flavor, such as the use of the plantation as setting, the theme of race, and the issue of beach and tourism culture. One of the distinctive features of genre feature, she stressed at the end of her talk, was that, unlike literary fiction, it always ended with a resolution of the plot.
The second presentation, "Echoes of the Caribbean: Documentation of Tradition and Identity in the Audio Visual Collection" was presented by Elizabeth Watson, Campus Librarian at the University of the West Indies, Barbados on behalf of Valerie Clarke. She related that the Learning Resource Center in her library harbored, in addition to a digital postcard collection documenting Caribbean life and culture, about 1,500 artifacts, realia, segments of oral history, and other items covering such regional topics as sports, women, and calypso music. Observing that audiovisual materials capture nuances of the historical record unavailable in text, and that they facilitate different kinds of learning about the region’s culture, the presenter particularly focused on the themes of women at work and political expression as represented in the collection. Addressing women’s roles in Caribbean culture, the speaker noted that 60% of Barbadian women are involved in the fishing industry. She played an audio clip consisting of women’s cries advertising their various fish as they competed for business in the market place. The speaker went on to observe that music was at the core of the enslaved society, and that the drum in particular was used to send messages in the period before emancipation. She played recent audio clips to illustrate how singers used calypso songs to make political points indirectly, noting that in Barbados, songs have been banned because they expressed political views contrary to powerful interests, but that some candidates have also used Calypso for campaigning purposes. In conclusion, the speaker noted that the audiovisual collections add diversity and depth to static print collections.
The final presentation, "Art, Space and the Caribbean Academic Library," was given jointly by Jessica Lewis and Ann Marie White from the University of the West Indies, Barbados. They discussed the use of fine art in the library on the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies. The present building, expanded in 1996 and again in 2012, currently holds approximately 70 pieces of fine art, pieces selected both to create a welcoming ambiance in the library and to foster culture awareness. The selections of art pieces were made according to a variety of factors, including theme, proposed placement, medium, size, artistic execution, and relevance to the Caribbean experience. They showed slides representing various examples of the pieces in the collection; some of these reflected the African heritage of the Caribbean people, others, such as a triptych painting by Cathrine Chee-A-Tow of brightly garbed men, illustrated, in the speaker’s words, “the bright atmosphere of the Caribbean.” They noted that fine art can also be used to highlight special collections. The response of library patrons to the integration of fine art into the space of the building has been quite positive. Summing up, the speakers maintained that the investment in fine art in the library was valuable for a number of reasons: it casts the library as a custodian of local culture; it supports the university’s creative arts program; it assists the development of the wider arts community and “last but not least, fine art, unlike other assets, appreciates in value.”