NEW EXHIBITION OPENING NOVEMBER 18 AT THE PENN MUSEUM
EXPLORES AFTERMATH OF STATE VIOLENCE IN A JAMAICAN NEIGHBORHOOD
"We knew the kind of danger that was coming. It wasn’t something where, it was not the first time that we had seen this sort of thing. It wasn’t the first time that we had seen it. The only thing is this time, this time, it’s more like they ripped out the peoples’ heart in Tivoli Gardens. Because a whole heap of innocent people died like that. Because I lost a brother in the War you know? I lost a little brother you know."
In May 2010, the “Tivoli Incursion,” a standoff between Jamaican security forces and a local drug trafficker and community leader wanted for extradition by the United States government, resulted in the death of at least 75 civilians in the Tivoli Gardens neighborhood of West Kingston on the island of Jamaica. For residents of the community where the “Incursion” took place, the memories of the four days of violence and trauma remain strong.
Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston, a new exhibition on view November 18, 2017 through July 15, 2018 at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, explores the aftermath of the violence that rocked a community in Jamaica. Part art installation, part memorial, and part call to action, this powerful new exhibition sheds light on the tragic events of May 24 through 27, 2010 and its aftereffects, through compelling video, photography, written biographies, and audio featuring accounts of 21 community residents directly impacted by the violence.
The exhibition, developed from a visual ethnography project carried out between 2013 and 2017, is co-curated by Dr. Deborah A. Thomas, the R. Jean Brownlee Term Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania; Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn of AV Productions; and Deanne M. Bell, Senior Lecturer, Psychology, University of East London. Large-scale portrait photography in the exhibition was taken by Varun Baker. Leniqueca Welcome and David Chavannes, current Ph.D. students at the University of Pennsylvania, and Osei Alleyne, a Penn postdoctoral fellow, were part of the curatorial team.
Four Days that Rocked a Community
A timeline of the Tivoli Incursion, with key moments in recent history leading up to the complex political and economic circumstances surrounding the 2010 Incursion, helps set the stage for the deeper exploration of community members actions and reactions.
During the week of May 24, 2010, members of the police force and the Jamaican Army entered the community of Tivoli Gardens to apprehend Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who had been ordered for extradition to stand trial in the United States on gun- and drug-running charges. Under pressure from Parliament and the U.S. government, the Prime Minister announced to the nation on television that he had authorized the Attorney General to sign the extradition order. This led to a standoff between the security forces that had to find Coke—“don” of the Tivoli Gardens community and popular benefactor as well as gang leader—and many of Coke’s supporters who wanted to protect him at any cost. At week’s end, Coke had not yet been found, while more than 75 civilians were officially recognized as having been killed; community members give a number closer to 200.
Beginning in 2013, the co-curators, along with five Penn students, armed with cameras and recording devices, shot community footage, recorded 30 oral histories from survivors of the Incursion, collected archival video and created a documentary, Four Days in May, portions of which are presented in the exhibition.
Striking portraits of 21 survivors, with short stories about them and their experiences, paint a vivid picture. Short audio clips from many of the survivors provide an opportunity to hear firsthand accounts. Among the survivors: then 44-year-old Andrea, who had a stall in the market, and whose entire family lived in Tivoli Gardens. At the time of the Incursion, her daughter was seven months pregnant, her two sons were taken from home by police and returned three days later, so altered she barely recognized them. Music-loving Orando, then 31-years-old, who ran a shop with his mother and screened movies in the community for the children. His little brother Dashan was killed, execution-style, in the arms of his stepfather. Claudette, age 44 at the time of the Incursion, who arrived in Tivoli Gardens as an orphan at age 13; like many, she spent the four days huddled under a table with others. Following the Incursion, everyone else from her family left the neighborhood.
Remembering and Reflecting
Set prominently in the exhibition space is a Feasting Table, an important part of Revival, a Jamaican spiritual tradition. One element of a ritual that is used for both celebrations, and memorials, the Feasting Table is a reminder of the community loss—and a window into understanding the spiritual practices that sustain Jamaican communities in good times and bad.
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Images: Photos of survivors and their family members featured in the exhibition. Varun Baker, photographer.