“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.” Toni Morrison
August is a special time for me and as I write from the beautiful and culturally diverse borough of Brooklyn, or maybe better understood as, what DC is to Ethiopians – Brooklyn is to Jamaicans; I am thankful. My B-earthday is on the 15th of August and NY was my home after moving from Jamaica, August 1971 to 1991. All that said because New York City is just a great place to visit in the summer time; friends and family gather at the home of my Healer Sister Cuchy and Jah B, the city is bursting with art, music, food, drumming, dancing and more. But amidst this joy, the New York summer had a bitter moment with the passing of renowned writer, Toni Morrison, the first black woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature.
Born in Ohio, the transplanted New Yorker, lived in SoHo, the artsy part of Manhattan and passed in the Bronx, uptown part of NYC, on August 5th with reportedly complications from pneumonia. Morrison penned books that spoke to and for the black experience in America and particularly black women, exploring identity, relationships and racism from slavery to the 21st century. One of her best known books, Beloved was adapted by Oprah Winfrey in a movie about a slave mother haunted by the memory of the child she murdered, judging life as a slave was worst than death. As a writer, what I am most appreciative was Toni Morrison’s stance, “I am writing for Black People, I don’t have to apologize…”. Yet according to the New York Times she “…brought a freight of news about black life in America to millions of readers across the globe.” My lesson from this prodigy of the pen was to never compromise for political correctness or to people please, just make the words count. She will be missed by the black arts community and the world in general however she has left us with a rich body of works that will be read for generations to come.
On an up note for art for this month in the USA, in Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love” just a couple hours drive from NYC, a five foot four inch tall bronze sculpture has been erected in the city known for having the most public art in America, about 1,500 pieces. The statue titled, MVP, was unveiled at the Smith Playground and Recreation Center, depicting a 12 year old, an aspiring basketball player. What a great motivation for young girls. Subtle hint to Addis Abeba Municipality…ok maybe not so subtle but public art matters. Yes, I will keep saying it and writing about it as I want the best from my beautiful city, Addis Abeba, and I would love us to be lauded for erecting the most public art in Africa as we have no shortage of artists, themes and spaces. Moving on, I really wanted to tie this all together in the beautiful basket of African Women’s Month, commemorated in South Africa for the over 20,000 women who marched to the Union Buildings in the then apartheid governed nation on August 9th, 1956. They were protesting the extension of Pass Laws to women, chanting, “You strike a woman, you strike a rock…” amongst other profound declarations, still relevant today for All African Women. Cheers!
I close with an excerpt from Sula, by Toni Morrison shared by the Nobel Library of the Swedish Academy; food for thought and to encourage reading of her works by Ethiopians and the entire continent.
“Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Event their footsteps left a smell of smoke. It was in that summer, the summer of the tweltfth year, the summer of beautiful black boys that they became skittish, frightened and bold – all at the same time.” And in Ms. Toni’s own words of advise, “If there is a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” And “At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.” Toni Morrison is one of the beautiful creations that was enough.
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.