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Who are the greatest West Indians of them all?
The Caribbean Artists Movement
At a Conference of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) held at the University of Kent in 1969, C. L. R. James spoke with typical energy of his experience of growing up in Trinidad.
"I didn’t get literature from the mango-tree, or bathing on the shore and getting the sun of the colonial countries; I set out to master the literature, philosophy and ideas of Western civilization. This is where I have come from, and I would not pretend to be anything else. And I am able to speak of the underdeveloped countries infinitely better than I would otherwise have been able to do.1"
On the same occasion Edward (now Kamau) Brathwaite, as a founder member of CAM, spoke in a very different way about his attitude to growing up in a society dominated by Western culture.
"The point I am making here is that my education and background, though nominally middle class, is, on examination, not of this nature at all. I had spent most of my boyhood on the beach and in the sea with ‘beach-boys’, or in the country, at my grandfather’s with country boys and girls. I was not therefore in a position to make any serious intellectual investment in West Indian middle class values.2"
The two statements are not necessarily in opposition. C. L. R. James was speaking of his fiercely independent reading in ‘the literature, philosophy and ideas of Western civilization’. Brathwaite was reacting against the European tradition, as it emerged in his experience of ‘West Indian middle class values’. Nevertheless, placed side by side, they point to the variety of attitudes and positions that fed into what became known, at its second meeting, as ‘the Caribbean Artists Movement’, or CAM.
The Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) was an influential cultural initiative, begun in London, England, in 1966 and active until about 1972, that focused on the works being produced by Caribbean writers, visual artists, poets, dramatists, film makers, actors and musicians. The key people involved in setting up CAM were Edward Kamau Brathwaite, John La Rose and Andrew Salkey. As Angela Cobbinah has written, "the movement had an enormous impact on Caribbean arts in Britain. In its intense five-year existence it set the dominant artistic trends, at the same time forging a bridge between West Indian migrants and those who came to be known as black Britons."
The Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM), founded in London in 1966, was the first organised collaboration of artists from the Caribbean with the aim of celebrating a new sense of shared Caribbean ‘nationhood’, exchanging ideas and attempting to forge a new Caribbean aesthetic in the arts. Previously there had been individual Caribbean artists in Britain actively pursuing their art, some with notable success, but all worked in relative isolation. The arrival of the celebrated Empire Windrush which landed at Tilbury Docks in 1948 with some 800 West Indians aboard, ushered in the first wave of mass Caribbean migration to Britain, and among their number were aspiring artists. The Caribbean Artists Movement provided a forum for shared artistic expression, and ironically perhaps, provided the foundation for the later emergence of a new generation of Black British born and bred artists, whose concerns were more British than Caribbean.
David Abdulah is an economist who has walked the talk as a political activist committed to social justice and the transformation of Trinidad and Tobago. Starting from his days as a leader of the Students’ Guild at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine; and throughout his almost four decades as a leading member of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union and the labour movement, David has never wavered in his commitment to improving the lives of the ordinary working men and women of our nation.
David has consistently been recognized for his leadership qualities. At 16 he was President of the Students’ Council and Head Prefect at his secondary school in Jamaica; at 18 he was the Treasurer of the UWI St. Augustine Students’ Guild and at 19 its President. At 22 he contested the parliamentary elections for the Tunapuna seat for the United Labour Front; and at 24 became the OWTU’s Chief Education and Research Officer. He became that Union’s Executive Treasurer at 28. He was the Co-ordinator of the Committee for Labour Solidarity from its inception in 1981 and was elected the Interim Political Leader of its successor - the Movement for Social Transformation (MOTION) at 35. He has initiated, co-founded or been centrally involved in very many civil society organizations and movements including: the Constitution Reform Forum and the Assembly of Caribbean People, both of which are still active many years after their formation. David has always sought to bring diverse groups together in joint activity as evidenced by his leadership of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and NGO’s; and such ad hoc bodies as The People’s Democracy, the Committee for Media Democracy and more recently Citizens’ Intervention.