Ms Elfrieda Bissember’s long rejoinder (Sunday Stabroek, July 22nd, 2018) to my article on the National Gallery does not add much to the real subject under discussion. Hers is a curious letter which purports to address “errors” and “omissions” on my part, but the vast bulk of her missive does nothing of the sort. She points out some words I used and some things she believes I should have mentioned but nothing in her dissertation contradicts what I said, or adds any new information about this national institution.
My article was not designed to list minutiae about the Gallery. Instead, the article has a historical thesis on nation building. I thought that the history of the National Gallery was a good opportunity to show how the independent actions of different persons can coalesce many years later into very important and valuable institutions. This, in my humble opinion, is a useful historical and cultural lesson for us in Guyana.
The bulk of Ms Bissember’s letter dwells on many details with which she is preoccupied, such as the National Visual Arts Exhibition, the book project, her tenure at the gallery and other matters. These are interesting and I am sure there is space somewhere for these concerns to be documented. But I am equally sure that they are not as incontestable as she presents them. The African writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie presented a TED talk (https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story) on “single stories”: the way in which one group claims authority to tell stories (define others/the world) from their own point of view. We even take this unilateral view to be the whole and only truth. Ms Bissember claims such authority repeatedly in her long missive, and claims to be the guardian of the “correct context”. But there are other, interesting sides to each of the matters she intimates.
What is more serious are two accusations that she slips in: that the board which I chaired from 2104 to 2016 was “intermittently functioning”, and that I am “complicit” in her being unable to continue her functions at the Gallery after 2014.
The first charge is bizarre, since, by her absence from the board, Ms Bissember is not qualified to say anything about its functioning, and especially since this statement is easily proven to be false. Ms Bissember was a member of the board appointed in 2014. She sent regrets for the first meeting. She was not present at any other meeting as far as I can recall and as far as my minutes show. This board was very active, meeting regularly every month, and even having extra-ordinary meetings. It was at these numerous meetings that the board did the work that I mentioned in my article (I stated the wrong period in the article – I should not have said “in the last three years”).
The second charge is (almost) libelous. There can be no grounds for her to make such a charge. Either someone has been playing her for a fool, or this is another demonstration of her unilateral thinking. If she has any proof of this claim, she should be equally prolix in stating them.