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Report on LALIT Brainstorming Session on Art and Culture


Sunday saw a first-ever for Mauritius: A get-together of artists and art-lovers – in all spheres of art. It was held at the LALIT headquarters in Grand River North West, and took the shape of a half-day of unstructured, round-table “brainstorming”. There were two guidelines: First the theme, which was “the state of the arts and culture”, and second was the starting point, which was a 10-page LALIT discussion paper about Government policy since Independence in relation to arts, and about the new tendency for private sector patronage, not unlike what held sway in the times of kings and zamindars.

 Alain Ah-Vee, who was presiding, gave an introduction based on the paper that had been circulated, and already discussed informally, since the 31st December last year.

 Present were artists and art-lovers from fine arts, literature and theatre, music and film – and others who love art, some specified all art-forms, though not themselves artists.

 So, the first success was in terms of the turn-out.

 Secondly, there were important ideas that came out during the debate.

 One participant emphasized, rightly, the need to situate the present-day “entertainment” industry as something rather outside of the arts, and even of culture; he spoke of the “globalized” forms of “entertainment” that have become dominant and that are far from art.

 Another said the aim of the discussion should be how exactly the State uses public money for the arts, and how it should use this money for the benefit of all of us, the people; he said that long ago the King just decided who to patronize amongst artists and that was that; after many struggles, there has been some democratization of resources, and the question now is how do we influence the way in which the State uses these resources so that we can all benefit more collectively, as a people, from the Arts; he said it was a democratic issue; he said that the Arts are essential for life; like food and clothing, we as humans need the “recul” that the Arts give us.

 Another participant put emphasis on the need for artists to create, not for a market or for money as the first aim, but for someone in particular, for particular people. Even before, we look at resources, she said, we need to look at who it is that we are creating for.

 Another said he was often in difficulty deciding where to perform, in the sense of whether it was ethical or not to play music on x or y platform.

 Others denounced those who play “for” politicians.

 Someone pondered on how to democratize the access for musicians to radio – and wondered how some musicians promote their own and their friends’ music very selectively by themselves being employed by radio or TV. She said she did not understand how this process worked, and it seemed unfair.

 One said he was only interested in getting paid, and would play for anyone who paid.

 Another, with a broader view, spoke of the historical reality, in particular how Mauritians began to see themselves not through the eyes of the colonizer, but from the inside, as it were. He put his finger on the moment Thomy Pitot replies to Bernadin de St. Pierre. But then again, perhaps, runaway slaves, not to mention Ana de Bengal, nearly two hundred years earlier, beat him to it. Then, he mentioned two other key moments in history. He had said at the outset that he would, as devil’s advocate, defend the State, but did not really seem to go ahead and do so.  

 Thirdly, everyone present got to see how “lost” some artists in Mauritius are, in terms of the big picture. It is one of those epochs in which it is not easy, even for artists, to get a long view or even a wide one. Many artists, even those present, see only their own particular skill or art, and some only see their own particular bio-narrative and are content with personal anecdotes devoid of analysis.

 Fourthly, as one participant pointed out, the very fact that LALIT had used the word “culture”, in his view erroneously, opened the door to a couple of examples of the most nauseous-making volleys of discourse haunted by constant communal classification, while narrating autobiographical anecdotes. The violence of the discourse hides behind a sly excuse that “I am only dividing you all up, so that I can say how I am not communalist at all because of my personal trajectory.” It is a kind of manipulation of others through pleading weakness – reminiscent of the methods of the Dickens character Uriah Heep. It uses veiled threats, coming from a position of avowed inferiority, drawing on the “power” that this can yield. In the context of debate in Mauritius, it is a drawing on power that inhabits the bourgeoisie of the community the individual artist thinks, and says, he is part of, in order to control others present. It also changes the subject away from art.

 This tactic was first master-minded quite suddenly by MMM leaders in about 1981, as the MMM began quite suddenly to sell out; in public meetings orators started standing up and pushing people in the audience into communal boxes (“Ki u enn x, y, z” in order to supposedly say, “nu reprezant u”.) It was no longer a question of the MMM representing the aspirations of all the oppressed, united together.

 The point of this reactionary classification by community/race/religion is that it constantly constructs and re-constructs communal ideology, on which prejudice breeds. (See our article “Deconstructing Community”, re-loaded near this one on the NEWS page.) There are a few artists who find it useful, as a tactic, to constantly divide and redivide people into communities. This plays on the individual vulnerability in each of us. The person speaking, however, is individually (like Paul Bérenger is) somehow outside of this colonial framework, or even above it, or represent a unification of it. These individuals are not, like us, in one of those “Ki u enn x, y, z” situations, but somewhere much better and higher. It is not unlike the Eric Triton song with its poisonous terms of abuse, which are closer to being garbage than to being lyrics worthy of the excellent musician that he is. People who are not “Mauritians” are of course not part of this right-wing conversation at all. And this reminds us of the poverty of the “Morisyanism” strategy as a supposedly way out of communalism (See article re-loaded near this one in the news section.) It is, when everything is made clear, the Le Pen line.