Ganga, Ganja and collective action

Ganga, Ganja and collective action

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Composite Image showing extracts from three different exhibitions in Georgetown, Guyana during 17th to 22 April, 2017

by Vidyaratha Kissoon

“You are not a regular Guyanese Indian, you must be from India..” the man said. He was smiling.

We were in the art gallery in Castellani House.

He thought I was one of the artists in the exhibition. We started talking about art in Guyana. The man lived overseas for most of his life.

We were surrounded by the exhibition ‘Ganga Ship 1917 : The long journey”.

The artists are descendants of the indentured immigrants from India.

“No, no, I have been here for generations.. “ I told the man, feeling a slight despair as I am constantly told I look foreign.

“Ah.. well maybe your family did not intermarry… maybe there was no mixing“ the man said.

He told me he was mixed with East Indian, Black and Amerindian.

Bernadette Persaud has a painting in the exhibition called Shiva, Kali and Che.

Che .. Cuban, mixed up in Guyana.

She has another installation about the closure of Wales Estate – a lamentation.

There are clothes and utensils on the floor below the painting. There is an arrangement. It is easy to imagine a body lying there, below the painting of Wales Estate.

There are other paintings about sugar and sugar cane.

Many of the descendants of the Indian immigrants are not connected to sugar any more. Some of the descendants use sugar as a political weapon.

There are other works about the Hindu religion.

There is a display of rangoli which adorns works by Betsy Karim.

Rangoli, made from rice. Rice is also in trouble like sugar.

There are no paintings about rum. Rum makes the news in Guyana in terms of how much Guyana is defined by rum.

Descendants of the immigrants from India and others make the news after consuming liquor and killing and attacking others.

The other narcotic which makes the news is marijuana. Marijuana makes the news because of the people, mostly poor people , who are sent to jail for using it or having possession of it.

There is never any news about anybody smoking marijuana (alone) and killing or maiming anyone.

Ganja seeds were apparently among the seeds in the ‘jahajibandal’ which some of the Indians brought on the ship.

There are no paintings about Ganja in the exhibition.

Did anyone bring Ganja on the Ganga ship?

420 at Cuffy square

The Square of the Revolution is across the road from room where the lamentation for Wales Estate is displayed.

Ganja was celebrated on Thursday 20th April and Friday 21st April at the Square of the Revolution.

Thursday apparently was for the herb and the intoxication from the herb. This was the Guyana “420” celebration.

There are no reports of police or other state interventions. The US Embassy did not issue any statementsl. Cannabis has been being legalised in different ways in states of the USA.

Friday it seems was about the usefulness of Hemp in other ways. The event was organised by the Guyana Hemp Society and others who are looking for ways , apart from oil, to seek prosperity in a green economy.

Hemp instead of sugar? Were there other seeds in that jahajibandal which could help?

The 1763 Monument is poised high above the Square of the Revolution across the road from Castellani House. The monument was designed by Phillip Moore. He did not want Cuffy to be so high and remote from the people.

My fear of Cuffy was alleviated by imagining different things from looking at Cuffy’s profile and what he has in his hands. (Go and see for yourself.. ) My fear of Cuffy was also alleviated by listening to Phillip Moore talk about his work and the intentions behind his work.

I learned from Phillip Moore when he talked about his work. He had deep spiritual beliefs. He also acknowledged the spiritual beliefs of all of the people in Guyana.

What would Phillip Moore think of the 1763 monument clouded in the smoke from the herb?


There is a pile of stones arranged in a circle in the gallery of the Museum of African Heritage. Inukshuk is the title. Inukchuk is from the indigenous/Amerindian/First Nation tradition of placing stones as markers.

Keith Agard, the artist, explained that his exhibition about human transformation uses Inukshuk to show the markings on a journey of spiritual transformation.

Keith Agard’s spirituality is inspired by Nicheren Buddhism. Each painting in the transformation series is associated with a text on a human value. The texts describe nice values which are aligned with peace.

Buddhism originated in India, but unlike the ganja seeds, did not come to the Caribbean with the Indian indentured immigrants or immigrants from other places where Buddhism is practices.

There is a portrait of President David Granger which overlooks the exhibition.

President Granger might appreciate the peaceful values at this time.

The President has to deal with Attorney General who feels that he does not have to apologise to Justice Holder. Justice Holder seems a reasonable man. He had asked for an apology, instead of charging the AG for contempt of court.

One of the real life Inukchuk in Guyana’s transformation would be the unreserved apology from Minister Basil Williams.

But the pile of stones it seems will only be in the Museum and in the dreams of the artist.

Artists in action: the making of collective paintings”

The Federation of Visual Artists of Suriname held an Art Expo in the Umana Yana. The artists represented the African, Indian, Chinese, and Javanese people. I might have missed other influences. On a hot Thursday afternoon, I walked in to see a Black woman, a Hindustani man, a woman of Chinese origins working on one painting.

Each artist probably had their own work in the exhibition. Each artist has their own style

Large benabs are meeting places in Amerindian villages in Guyana. The collective painting was a nice symbol, a nice inukchuk of what could be possible where individual action and collective action could co-exist.

Musicians also create across differences. Indus Voices did a musical rendition of Martin Carter’s ‘This is a dark time my love” .

It seems easy, practical, necessary for artists and musicians to move to collective action from time to time.

When will the rest of us engage in creative collective action which would realise the benefits of hemp and the find solutions to recover from the loss of sugar ?

How could we get to collective trans formative action which could make it a beautiful human thing for the Attorney General to apologise to Justice Holder?

Human transformation and the graphic resonance of creative form‘ by Keith Agard continues until Friday 28 April, 2017 at the Museum of African Heritage, Barima Avenue, Bel Air Park, Georgetown

Ganga Ship 1917 : the long journey” continues at Castellani House, Vlissengen Road, until Tuesday 9 May, 2017 (also open on Saturdays from 2pm to 6pm )


Update 24 April, 2017 : The Government of Guyana is not placing a high priority on industrial hemp according to the Minister of State. They remain concerned about the Narco-state reputation.


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