|Pat Bishop: In Memoriam, Digital Illustration, 2011|
As one of my lecturers at UWI almost a decade ago, Ms. Bishop's classes, were the most dreaded but in hindsight, the most appreciated and significant. I tried to recall better memories but my battered memory falters. Saying that, Pat's memory was insanely acute. I marveled at her ability to recite entire passages of classic literature. She loved her Shakespeare and history. I swore at one point she knew everything. We braced ourselves for her classes because there was so much history, so many notes to take, and if you didn't do your homework, too bad. It wasn't the marks, and it wasn't the fact that you didn't do it, but how it would affect you personally. The guilt was enough to do the work, at least for me. We did skits. I felt like 12 again, but at least we got to dress up. We groaned with abundance for all the talk - plenty, plenty talk. We wrote hand-written exam essays, because if she couldn't understand your chicken scratch, you'd fail in a blaze of Pat fury. Half the pressure at exam time was making sure your penmanship was good enough. Her looks of disapproval were wonderful (read: instilled fear among the bravest of souls) and it was actually quite satisfying to see some poor sod beaten down because of an offside remark.
In our first class, I believe she asked how many people could name (howmanyever) local artists. At the time, I had trouble myself. Shameful! Needless to say she was most aghast at our lack of education of our own culture, and for good reason. My primary and secondary school education didn't focus on the significant aspects of our culture, of Carnival, of art and artists - what severe cultural/educational system transgressions. I can't speak for now, but I live with hope that there have been changes in the past decade.
Pat Bishop talks about Carnival, multiculturalism, and commerce at the UWI, St Augustine, Centre for Language Learning Auditorium on February 11, 2011, at a TH?NK forum organised by the Department for Creative & Festival Arts.
She left us doing what she loved, passionately fighting tooth and nail for our culture, for our rights to art and expression, for the ability to do what we do. She reminds us to look at where we come from; how this affects us, our culture, our lives, our creativity. We are not to mourn, but to celebrate a wonderful person, a full life and to recognise her landmark contributions to this country. We should perhaps take this as an opportunity to start examining ourselves even closer, to see what we are doing, why we are doing it and approach our 'hows' in new ways. Historically, our cultural icons like Pat, have been beaten down, then lauded, and at the end of the day, terribly ignored again. We, as practitioners and supporters may continue to be the underdogs, but what else can we do? There's nothing heroic in shrinking and giving up. Saving our artistic heritage and culture in order to save ourselves from a seemingly crumbling cultural space is of great importance. In our relatively small efforts we must continue to be a part of a forward movement.
I have used 'we' quite a lot, and for a specific reason. It's us, it's we, it's our thing. It does not have to be a fight but just positive steps forward, trudging, plodding and pausing, but ever onward. Do yuh homework is something possibly that she said, or not. I can't really remember but I can hear her saying it, and it represents something so simple - keep learning. This is not secondary school. I will always carry that with me. Independent thinking, critical thinking and hard work and learning were some of the things she encouraged us to do. Her interview with Christopher Laird covers just a wee smattering of her contributions to our country's heritage. It's good to remind ourselves of our place, our situation, see what has been done, dream of what can be done, and use it as fuel to move forward. Ms. Bishop, may your spirit stay with us as we try to carry your torch.