Artist, writer and scholar Dr Andil Gosine believes since, socially, the definition of “human” revolves around some impossible ideal of European men, no one should have to prove their humanity by conforming to that standard.
Instead of trying to live up to other people’s sense of humanity, he said, people should claim themselves as animals by refusing the historical racism, classism, and other -isms that continue today.
Those concepts are the basis of Gosine’s newest book, Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex and Law in the Caribbean. And on October 13 at Nature’s Wild (Duets), a one-night show at Medulla Art Gallery, Woodbrook, those concepts will be expanded.
At Duets, Gosine is expected to read sections of his book, to which writer Andre Bagoo and educator Yvonne Bobb-Smith will respond with works of their own.
Bagoo has written a new poem specifically for the event, and
will also be reading from his fiction debut, The Dreaming – a book of short stories following a group of queer men in Woodbrook, which he described as a sequel to VS Naipaul’s Miguel Street. And Bobb-Smith will read from her upcoming autobiography.
At the show, Trinidad-born, Canada-based actor, director and comedian Rhoma Spencer will perform an excerpt from Nature’s Wild, and several pieces of art revolving around the book will
be on display.
Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex and Law in the Caribbean was published a year ago and Nature’s Wild (Duets) is the end of a series of book launches, as well as the beginning of the artistic projects that emerged from the book.
“For me, the epilogue of Nature’s Wild, the text, is a series of creative artworks in which I collaborate with different people.”
Gosine said Duets is a way of allowing him to elaborate on the book, engaging with other artists about the ideas in it, and learning from other people’s understanding of the text.
“Part of doing this is to push the ideas further. But for me, it’s pointless to do things in isolation. It’s for the sheer joy of doing it with other people and to have this company, to develop your ideas together.
“One of the things that brought me to art is the sense of community it provided. So it’s about approaching these folks whose work I love and respect and using the text as a way to investigate an idea.”
He collaborated with the artists on all the pieces, which include three untitled beaded works by Bev Koski, an indigenous Canadian beader, in which she covered three miniature 19th-century statues of Hindu gods which were passed down through Gosine’s family.
Inspired by Trinidadian poet, LGBTQ+ activist and Newsday columnist Colin Robinson, who died in 2021, Godfather’s Return is a tapestry by Amber Williams-Hing which was recently premiered at the House of World Cultures in Berlin.
He added that Robinson bequeathed his archives to Gosine, so he would choose materials from the archives for artists to use as a basis to create art. Godfather’s Return is the first piece and a show is scheduled for 2024 in New York.
Flower Army, No 1 is a jumpsuit designed by Robert Young of The Cloth and there are plans to create series of 16 jumpsuits to be completed over the next three years. It is a soldier’s uniform for a flower army to engage in the war against the earth’s ecological crisis.
“There’s a pocket at the back that perfectly fits the book. It represents knowledge you carry as a kind of armour.”
There are also nine of 108 prints from the series Les Trois Hommes de Paris: L'Un by Gosine, and Tree of Life, a vintage piece by Guyanese artist Bernadette Persaud which he re-imagined in a new presentation for the show.
He said he would will continue to collaborate with artists in different parts of the world on similar projects for the next three years and, in spring 2025, he plans to put them all together in an exhibition.
THE DISTANCE BETWEEN HUMAN AND ANIMAL
In Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex and Law in the Caribbean, Gosine explains that the world has a long history of animalisation that is extremely complicated, violent and racialised.
“When these very repressed European colonisers arrived in Africa, the Caribbean and South America, they witnessed more kinds of relationships, families, and people feeling comfortable with who they are, than they were accustomed to. They responded from their anxiety and called those people animals because they (natives) were not reflecting the kind of dominant structure of family and desire they were held to.”
As a result, they tried, and continue to try, to make others seem less than human to secure their own humanity.
“For example, the genocide of indigenous people becomes premised on the idea that they are more animal than they are human. Similarly, the enslavement of people comes about because you justify they are less human than the enslavers.”
In addition, he said the first sodomy laws were twinned with bestiality, there were claims by the English that Irish shepherds had sex with sheep, and
enslaved people were considered more expendable than cattle. Much was done to make others seem less human, wild, like animals.
“The main concern in my book is the ways in which we carry anxieties about the line between human and non-human nature. In a lot of what we do, culturally we have been tasked with showing our distance from animals even though, scientifically, humans are animals.”
He said since “human” has been defined around European men, Caucasians have power, and their humanity is rarely at risk, so they are held to a different standard than everyone else.
He recalled moving to Canada as an adolescent and knowing he could not behave like others his age because, as a coloured person, he would not get a second chance if he made a mistake.
He compared his situation to that of former US president Donald Trump and US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who made vulgar statements and admitted to or were accused of committing vulgar and criminal acts. Yet they were defended and placed in positions of power.
He said they could be as vile as they wanted and still have access to power because no one challenged their “human-ness.” If they were anything but Caucasian, they would not have got those chances.
Gosine said claiming one’s animal-ness is powerful, and no one should have to prove their humanity by conforming to dress codes, sexuality, or hairstyles. There should be no dress code to access social services, and people should not be rejected by a school or employer because of a hairstyle.
He said governments and “elites” of former colonies are using those same rules to punish its people. However, he appreciates the “critical consciousness” in TT – that they enforce the rules but are aware the rules are stupid.
“I think there’s something deeply sad about punishing our own people and forcing us to live up to a definition of human that is impossibly out of reach.”
Still, that pressure to be human creates anxiety and distance from nature. But people have to recognise their “animality and continuity with nature” to deal with climate change and other ecological crises.
“Ultimately, the point of the whole exercise is to think about the moment we’re in now. All this energy we put into proving ourselves human need not be. It’s about refusing to subject ourselves to the kinds of measures that other people make for us.
“In fact, we need to recognise our connections to the natural world, because we’re going to go down if we don’t invest in saving species, in protecting our environment, if nothing else but for the selfish reason of saving ourselves.”
Nature’s Wild: Love, Sex and Law in the Caribbean will be available for purchase at the event, as well as at Paper Based Bookshop at the Normandie Hotel, St Ann’s.