Jamaica Gleaner / Amitabh Sharma, Contributor
Think of downtown Kingston, and pictures of a sea of huanity travesing across alleys, vying for space in between handcarts, vendors on the pavements trying to outsell the others flash past. It might seem chaotic to many, but this is symbolic of vibrancy and most important, life.
This enigma, which unfolds like layers of mysteries being solved, has been captured by a group of youngsters, as they highlight ‘ArtUpDownTown’
For those familiar with political terminologies, Kingston can very well be defined as the proverbial north-south divide, the ‘sterile’ and the ‘unkempt’. ‘ArtUpDownTown’ is an attempt to converge those two distinct aspects of Jamaica’s capital city. “Its aim is to empower more Jamaicans to tell their own stories through audio, video, and photography, while highlighting positive aspects of downtown Kingston,” said Rozi Chung, founder of Studio 174.
‘ArtUpDownTown’, conceptualised by Abbas Nokhasteh, in collaboration with the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC), University of the West Indies, took off in May 2013.
“We approached CARIMAC with the initial concept in April 2013,” said Anika Kiddoe of Studio 174. “They agreed to incorporate it as a part of their summer internship programme for second-year students.”
Franklyn St Juste was CARIMAC’s main adviser to the project.
The introductory training workshops were conducted for three months, from May to August, when the bulk of the production and post-production was done.
“Eleven CARIMAC students and eight student members of the studio participated in the pilot phase,” said Chung.
Even this was a confluence of ‘uptown’ with ‘downtown’, and at their first contact there was a mixture of apprehension and reluctance.
“I was thinking (of) how the interaction would be,” recalled Sheldon Green, a student artist at Studio 174, but that soon changed to a spirit of camaraderie and teamwork.
“They (the students) particularly liked the fact that it was a real-world learning experience for them – while it included indoor workshops, the real training was on the streets,” Chung added.
These students captured the life and art of downtown Kingston – Coronation Market, the furniture makers, and the waterfront. In the process, they encapsulated the positives – smiles, laughter, and fun under the crisp Caribbean sun, overlooking the turquoise blue waters of the sea.
But behind the fun, there is a deeper thought process.
“We want to take the guns out of the hands of the youth,” says David Chen, director at Studio 174, “give them paint brushes, cameras, pen and paper; let them be surrounded by positivity.”
Framed in mixed media, photographs, video, and 3D installations, ‘ArtUpDownTown’ is a storyboard that connects people to people, transcending any boundaries that may exist.
“The students were satisfying a hunger for positive attention that the communities need,” said Chen. “Some of the community members also embraced the role of teacher and connectors and, in the process, this helped the students to build their social skills.”
“We are the same,” Sheldon said, “I learnt that I can do the things that they (students from CARIMAC) can do.”
This project, in some way, might give a new dimension to the famous lines from Rudyard Kipling’s Ballad of East and West : East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet … but the twain just happened to meet in downtown Kingston.
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