Bushwhacked when pressure drop

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Bushwhacked by Omari Ra. Photo courtesy of K. Khalfani Ra.

Talk about “pressure drop”! This huge work is a part of the Kingston Biennial and is crafted by Omari Ra, who some may argue is the country’s leading painter presently. Unlike much on show, it is entirely apropos to the exhibition’s theme which is Pressure. He has titled the work, Bushwhacked from the 1962 Lone Ranger comic book, issues #s 2016-2025, 2019-2021. The painting features two figures, one clearly a White man and the other clearly mixed. We know he’s mixed because the colours of the mask he’s wearing tells us he’s a proud “Jamaican”. It is also immediately indicative of the pathology beseeching his personhood or rather lack thereof.

The work is related to his painting shown in the last Biennial way back in 2017, partially titled Wrestlers and, likewise, exposes the existence of an enormous existential struggle. Interestingly, the painting brings to mind the biblical quote at the beginning of the latest Jordan Peele film Nope (2022), “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile and make you a spectacle”! declared Old Testament prophet Nahum cursing who he perceived to be enemies of God. There seems to be an uncanny relationship between the two, especially since another phrase came to mind on seeing the painting for the first time, “One nation under God”, which seems wholly appropriate given the exact resemblance of the antagonist in the painting to the Jamaican God who is white. Of course, only some, albeit the vast majority, in the Jamaican nation are “blessed” with the particular personal and social relationship with God as illustrated in the painting. As many will know, the phrase is from the American pledge of allegiance for more recent immigrants, since all, except the native peoples, are immigrants in the USA. In Jamaica there are no more natives today and the majority, of Negro decent, especially in more recent times, seem to have made a pledge with the same wording, yet, if the metaphorical narrative illustrated in Omari’s painting holds true, then they are about to get more than they bargained for!

Still another phrase brought to mind by this blockbuster of a painting is the line from the character nicknamed “Pile” in Stanley Kubrick’s famous and infamous film and war classic, Full Metal Jacket, “I live in a world of shit”, right before he blew his brains out while seated on the toilet, a dire analogy by extrapolation, ardently unheeded by the local descendant multitude. They are, now, like never before, as regards the political zeitgeist, living in a world of shit or almost, as per the painting. Perhaps the protracted pathological political apathy or cowardice, self-induced civic lethargy, and insistence on willful ignorance being practised by the local descendant Negroes en masse, irrespective of ‘class’ or social status, is a kind of suicide, psychologically, culturally, morally, a self-inflicted “social death” as the “abominable filth” is about to be cast. The panic sets in (brilliantly rendered even with half the face masked) as, “he who is without race and sees no colour” realizes there is no escaping this iron grip of destiny, finally recognizing, too late, that he actually is in a fight, no holds barred at that!

So using the biblical curse of Nahum as our lens…..is Omari saying the Jamaican Negro has become an enemy of God?  With ever new depths of political corruption and rampant antisocial behaviour, unchecked internecine wanton wickedness always directed towards the mirrored despised ‘other’ and collaborators from academia and elsewhere supporting and promoting a popular culture that reinforces the rot, the notion is certainly not farfetched. Which also brings to mind the very famous and relevant Langston Hughes poem, “Harlem”, better known as “A Dream Deferred” (even the Google keyboard knows it). In the Jamaican case the last word in the short poem would be best changed from explode to implode.

K. Khalfani Ra is a creative artiste.

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