I was entirely correct to describe Mr Hosein as complicit

Dear Editor,

I write first of all to thank  Mr. EB John for his courteous letter (SN 27 July) in support of mine on National Gallery issues (SN Sun 22 July), which was in response to an initial article by Alim Hosein (SN May 27 last) .

I appreciated Mr. John’s oblique reference: my ‘studiously crafted account’: to my reluctance, stated many times previously in the press, to treat in the public domain with the serious issues regarding Castellani House. But as I stated in my initial letter of response, it was the many inaccuracies noted in Mr. Hosein’s article on the gallery’s history which compelled my very particular corrections and additional facts, to place these matters in wider, and correct, context, for the additional knowledge of readers.

Having noted Mr. Hosein’s response (SN 1 August) to the ‘minutiae’ of my letter, I must admit to having a difficulty accepting the reasoning of his ‘thesis’ on nation-building which was meant to justify the contents of his article on the gallery’s 25th anniversary. Otherwise, I apologize for appreciably reducing the number of meetings he was involved in during his tenure as Chairman of the gallery board; but at the same time am happy to note that he does acknowledge, in his fashion, his incorrect reference to ‘the last three years’ of committee meetings, when the last two of those ‘three’ had not occurred.

Mr. Hosein rightly confirms that both he and I were appointed to the board in existence from August 2014 to July 2016. Having myself received two official documents which referred to my own committee service, as stated in my previous letter, I felt that I had every right to comment on such matters given my expected continuation to serve on the board; but which, via typically bizarre and aggressively imposed events, I had been unable to do, relatively soon after receiving this confirmation.

In noting therefore Mr. Hosein’s apparent outrage at being referred to by me as being ‘complicit’ in events which prevented committee service on my part, it is with the sparsest details necessary that I justify this reference: the word in fact having a clear and simple definition, which encompasses acts as well as omissions.

In fact after a series of events regarding my office as Curator during much of 2014 the highest possible offices in the government of Guyana had advised those involved that any actions being taken had to follow proper procedures, and had kindly  advised me some time after that a current matter was ‘on hold’.  Looking forward therefore to a meeting at which many serious matters might be usefully resolved, I was once again taken by surprise one morning by another sudden and unpleasant turnaround in circumstances at my office, further to which the Curatorial Assistant could only tell me that he did not know anything and that I was to speak to ‘either Mr. Hosein or the Minister’.

Though I was unable to make any contact with either party, Mr. Hosein that afternoon stepped into the gallery to advise the staff, and the security guards (yes, it was also a matter of security), of how Ms. Bissember, from that point on, should be regarded.

I was therefore entirely correct to describe Mr. Hosein as ‘complicit’, as he was a part of, or taking part in, these actions begun earlier that day against me, and having been sent in later to the gallery to underline, and to complete these actions in fact, for the instruction of the persons assembled there. 

Further to this, I could not in any meaningful way fulfil my duties as Curator, and therefore, by extension, my function in the key position on the board that I was meant to hold: sitting solely in my ex officio capacity as Curator (the CEO of the gallery) and Board Secretary; that is, the person in charge of executing the gallery’s business. It is for this reason that I questioned the work of the board, however important Mr. Hosein says this was, when there was no substantive office holder in the position of the CEO/Secretary in attendance during this period, to report on or to begin execution of any of such issues. Indeed, Mr. Hosein seems to have a persistent mental block in acknowledging this (my role as the person in charge of the gallery, and the reason that I was obliged to be on the board), by referring to me as ‘a committee member’, as though I was simply one among those several persons appointed to the board to represent the various interest groups and agencies affiliated to the visual and other arts in Guyana.

Mr. Hosein’s selective forgetfulness reminds me that, just as it is dishonest to deny the fact and truth of a situation, it is similarly dishonest to state that other facts and events took place, when they did not. Indeed, further examples of the latter were soon to follow in the public domain, weeks after the events described above.  So that in mid- January 2015 an internet news item on two websites claimed that I had ‘walked off the job’ (I had not): released around the same time as the launch of the first National Gallery exhibition-themed book, Panorama, mentioned in my first letter. At an exhibition opening the next month, two regular National Gallery visitors asked separately of the same staff member if Ms. Bissember was still on leave, both being promptly told that I had ‘resigned’ (I had not). By the next month, I was informed that an item in the print media stated that I would ‘soon be leaving the gallery’; though I had never advised anyone officially of such plans or vice versa.

To all this can be added, regrettably, an official email newsletter, mentioned in my previous letter, in which choice details were cherry-picked from supposedly confidential documents, including a staff member’s aforementioned false report: edited and released to numerous recipients to present an extremely negative story about ‘the Curator’, even as I was nearing the end of my leave and preparing to return to work in 2014. With regret I also advert to that extraordinary Stabroek News editorial of May 2014, which represented, in my opinion, overlapping conflicts of interest and bias, and not the stance of detached but deeply engaged concern that the reading public might have presumed; as, not for one instant was any reporter deputed to call the scandalized object of this editorial, myself, for a comment, let alone a refutation, of the material so sensationally presented.

Both these matters, in fact, constitute libel, or defamation. 

It is with some irony therefore that I note Mr. Hosein’s temerity in inserting a reference from the impressive Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, warning about a ‘single story’ told to cover up the more revealing and whole truth of a situation or place. But Mr. Hosein, in daring to then accuse me of being one of these terrible single storytellers, seems not to have carefully read his reference to Ms. Adichie before inserting it into the text of his letter, as she clearly warns about ‘single stories’ from a group (my emphasis) of persons  – not from a single individual such as myself – who will put out falsehoods, deliberately or otherwise, to cover up or obscure the truths of a story or of history; what she warns of in fact is not only the opposite of what he is accusing me of, but also exactly what I myself have been subjected to, as described above. 

Indeed there can be nothing more sinister than a group of persons getting together and agreeing to put out a single story (meaning also by extension also a single message) and relentlessly promoting this, to either denigrate or demean a culture, tribe or race of people, or indeed, more personally, to harm or damage an individual or group, for personal or professional reasons. As the website preamble to Ms. Adichie’s talk says, she warns that ‘if we hear only a single story about another person (my emphasis) or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.’

As I noted in my previous letter, I have long been the target of ‘fake news’. Further I could not begin to quantify the occasions for malice and spite of these false stories, of which I have much documentary evidence, from a recurring set of persons and their occasionally recruited acolytes, over many years.

I find myself asking why these persons, and others more recently participating in the actions I have detailed above, if so convinced of the rightness of their cause, should insist on going about their pursuit of it by subterfuge and furtive actions, and the virtual abandonment of the established decencies of due process and professionalism: which would have allowed for balanced and respectful examination of issues by the involved parties, at any chosen time.  Further, why view this writer, the focus of all their attention and energy, like a virtual target of jungle warfare, to be ambushed time and again in attempts to achieve very particular, not to mention self-serving, aims and agendas?

I would ask how such acts can be seen to conform to any dedication to the cause of the visual and other arts in Guyana, or further, to any examples of the leadership that we so badly need in pursuing such causes. 

Yours faithfully,

Elfrieda Bissember

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