Tuesday, February 20, 2018

1970 Through The Eyes Of A Revolutionary

1970's Trinidad through photos: Apoesho Mutope and Black Power


MAKING A POINT: Charasmatic leader Geddes Granger (Makandal Daaga) who understood the plight of the people and could voice their suffering.

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THE DEATH OF A LEADER: Labour leader Tubal Uriah "Buzz" Butler is laid to rest in 1977.

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There are not many photos documenting the 1970 Black Power protests in Trinidad according to photographer Apoesho Mutope. Both the Trinidad Express and Trinidad Guardian newspapers lost their archives due to fires and Mutope, who was a committee member of one of the movement's key organisations, the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), and an unofficial photographer, lost eight rolls of footage of demonstrations. This loss does not, however, keep Mutope from sharing the photographs he has managed to save in the upcoming exhibit The Enemy Within: Reflections on the 1970s Revolution.

The photographs, along with posters and other media included in the exhibit, do not only cover the marches, but also depict some of the outcomes of the revolution. The movement was global and concurred with decolonisation struggles in Africa and civil rights agendas in the Diaspora.  "Part of what it [the exhibit] states is that the Black Power revolution is not something that just happened in 1970. It actually started with the consciousness and black awareness of the 60s and was highly influenced by developments in North America where you had people like Malcolm X and our own Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) at the forefront and so on. It affected all aspects of life."

Mutope hopes that this exhibit will function as an educational tool and plans to take it on tour throughout communities in Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean, and host one-day showings in secondary schools. For the month that the exhibit will be at the National Museum & Art Gallery, discussion panels are being organised to focus on the contribution of women to the revolution, calypso, drumming, poetry and spoken-word of the period.

Also addressed in the exhibit are certain misconceptions about the goal of the revolution and its outcomes.. "1970 was not about taking over the government. It was about changing the society of T&T initially and it was a process which identified the need for education of the people, recognising that we had been subjected to a colonial education system and we needed to be able to look at ourselves and our country and our future from a different perspective" says Mutope who believes it is his duty to share this information.

He laments the fact that many have passed on without imparting their knowledge to younger generations, "Too often our elder people die and end up carrying with them all the benefits of their experience and the younger ones have to start the

journey all over again and waste a significant amount of time. If I manage to give that to the country—my records of that time—I would've left something of significant value and a base upon which people could access that period in our history"

A period in history which Mutope believes is of vast importance. "1970 changed Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean in a way that no other short period in our political history has done. It was not a revolt or a coup; it was a process that continued throughout the 70s and in a lot of ways it continues in different forms still," says Mutope.  

Some of the changes to society Mutope notes are the nationalisation of sectors of industry such as banking and oil and gas which led to the formation of companies like Petrotrin and the opening of what is now First Citizens Bank, the first indigenous bank in the country. There was also a change in mindset among citizens, "More fundamental than that was the change in the psyche of the people where people began to realise that we could run our own country and did not need white people running everything for us. That led to some very far reaching effects in the whole national composition."

Mutope does note however that a great deal of work has been done over the years to reverse these changes. One of the most recent examples of this is the return of the Royal Bank of Canada, he says.

Mutope has been a photographer for over 50 years.  While a student at Hillview College in Tunapuna he joined the photography club without even having a camera of his own. By the time he graduated however, he had a camera in his list of possessions which has been a benefit to him ever since. "There are people who've known me for a long time that will tell you they've never seen me without a camera slung over my shoulder and it provided me opportunities. In 1976 I became the first member of NJAC to visit the continent of Africa."

Mutope arrived on the continent on the sixth anniversary of his release from prison on Nelson Island. He was arrested along with other activists during a government declared state of emergency in April 1970 and served six months.

The 1970 protests began in response to racism against Caribbean students at Sir George Williams University in Canada, demanding government intervention on behalf of the students. Protests were taking place in many different Caribbean countries and in Trinidad they grew into a national movement including, not only university students, but also trade unionists and unaffiliated citizens who wanted justice at home as well.

"In the speeches that were made before the march to Shanty Town there was a lot of identifying that this is not just an isolated thing with the Canadian students or the locking out of Michener. It was a wider thing, the whole concept of Black Power, a phrase that was being used to identify the whole movement of African consciousness. So things were put into perspective that we as a people need to do something to change the kind of situation we were in."

Mutope is ever mindful of the importance of this work, "This is a really crucial venture because it is not primarily about photography; it's about the knowledge of the 1970s, the importance of getting that information out. These are not nice pictures you want to hang up on your wall because they're pretty and so on. These are shots of important events in our history," says Mutope.

The Enemy Within, hosted in conjunction with Studio 66 and the Traditional Afrikan National Association, is being held at the National Museum & Art Gallery.

The exhibit closes on August 10.