Poster of the Edinburgh Art Festival, 2016

Act 1 Landing in memory

The plane made a final loop over the sea before landing in the belly of the earth of Scotland. Something stunned me right there. It felt so familiar even if I knew that it was rare, this acrobatic cautious way to land. Suddenly a flash crossed over my slow motion mind of the moment (I barely slept since the day before my departure) and I began to pulse with excitement  …Home…my homeland.
Incredible, here I was, in an unknown land somewhere in the north, more than 9,000 kilometers from where I live, and witnessing a plane’s similar flaming loop for landing at the Aimé Césaire’s airport of Martinique.
I thought already of our writer Aimé Césaire and the unknown/known land when he experienced his visit to his dear friend Petar Guberina. I mentioned it earlier in some ebb and flow words with Annalee Davis(the Caribbean Arts Manager for the British Council)…it was at that time only intuitive.
 Aimé Césaire (our national poet of Martinique) met the Yugoslav Petar Guberina while they were both students in Paris. The young men, one from the Caribbean and one from Europe, were accomplices in poverty in the city of lights. They help each other in finding honest strategies to eat.
After school ended, Peter invited Aimé (this first name means loved) to meet him in his hometown. This was Aimé Césaire’s first trip out of a familiar universe.
Anyway, we are getting now to the heart of the story. From this encounter of two men, of men and territory and at the end, from space and time, emerged a tremendous long poem.
The renowned story is that Aimé Césaire’s first night over there was slightly tumultuous. In the morning, he opened the window of his room and saw the sea in front of him.
Just in front of him, he saw an island.
So he asked his friend: what is the name of this island?
Martinska in Croatian. It was a shock for him. If you translate it in French, it is Martinique.
And it is at this time that Aimé Césaire asked his friend for some paper. His friend answered him that he only had a note-book.
This is how Aimé Césaire wrote in Yugoslavia, with Martinska in his perspective, the first pages of his famous “Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal” (Notebook of a Return Home). It sparked something in him. « Cahier d’un Retour au Pays Natal» is the poem where the odyssey, an awareness of an identity reconciled with the universal. According to Aimé Césaire, to be universal, it must begin by not deny what it is to be Negro; on the contrary he said that the more we are Negro, the more we will be universal. This is a reversal.


Act 2 Airports can be seen as the first window of any place we set our foot on.

While I disembarked the plane, walking towards the customs with the paper I got from the stewardess filled by my ungainly handwriting revealing my status (not a UK citizen), I heard footsteps behind my back, trying to catch up with something. Far from my mind was the idea that I should be concerned.
“Madame”, I think I heard. I turned around and saw the custom agent whom I welcomed when I entered in the airport.
“You don’t need this paper” the man said gently with his swinging Scottish accent. “You are at home here”.
Thanks, I responded. I don’t think, as far as I can remember, I have ever been so nicely hosted by a customs officer. I am used to a knowing glance shared through customs in Fort de France or Paris. But here in Edinburgh, what was it? I realized that I was in a country, with my European passport, and that Scottish people pronounced themselves not long ago for “Remain”. They clearly showed, like the Irish and the Londoners, that they did not share “out” with the average British’s point of view regarding their link with Europe.

Act 3 Untitled

My senses wide open, I headed to the mediaeval city of Edinburgh, designated as “The Athens of the North”, which later on in this rich trip, I discovered why.
The city of Edinburgh is an open theater stage particularly during the summer. It beats the rhythm of festivals under the majestic umbrella of Festivals Edinburgh. Here I was in the world’s leading festival city, as they like to say.
I myself had the honor to be invited by 2016 Momentum programme held by British Council Scotland, Creative Scotland and Festivals Edinburgh. Twelve festivals would hatch, captivating the entire attention of the city.

Edinburgh appeared to be floating with its astonishing architectural heritage. I saw the Victorian Gothic Scott Monument and the Calton Hill to name a few. Calton Hill collects historic monuments and therefore the most important landmarks of the city. Walking up this hill, I ended up facing on top of it a ruin titled the National Monument. Inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, the monument was never finished building. What I found striking was the fact that it did not become a ruin, it was born that way. Isn’t it wonderful! The Calton Hill manufactured its own chronology.

Act 4- More Lasting than Bronze, Edinburg Art Festival

“Remember Me” …
Sorcha Carey, director of the Edinburgh Art Festival, and her team, commissioned  new works by seven Scottish and international artists for the 2016 edition, to highlight monuments by revisiting them with art. To appropriate and/or re appropriate its Cultural Heritage is one of the major strengths of the Scottish people. Scottish identity has continued to emancipate, innovating constantly.
Out of the blue, I fell in love with the traditional taxicabs and fantasized about the so elegant kilts.

Act 5…In the interlacing of the Invisible & the Visible

I was captivated by Bani Abidi ‘s “Memorial to Lost Words” located in the neoclassical building entitled the New Parliament House. Throughout this piece, Bani Abidi, with  great sensibility, related the invisible wound of the Indian Punjab mothers, wives, sisters and the seclusion of the Indian soldiers during the First World War.  Their letters acknowledged the confusion about their participation in this horrible war. No recognition, no thanks, no honor, this was the sorrowful fate of these men.
With her sound installation located in the New Parliament House, Bani Abidi gave back voices to these women and men and removed them from the invisibility and censorship in which they were trapped. Hearing these chants get louder in the monument of this no longer functional Parliament House, grabbed me in my flesh.

Act 6 Sequence

Jonathan Owen, true to himself, presented a sculpture made of a marble statue from the 19th Century. A life-sized nymph, placed in the center of the Burns Monument, whose design was based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, enchanted me. Again, this kind of temple that housed the Untiltled statue, was first constructed to welcome the life-size statue of Scotland’s favourite son, Robert Burns. The head inclined, the voluptuous statue offered us tremendous sensual curves even if our gaze processed and lingered on a curiosity…her torso deviated from the classical expected form. Instead a series of interconnecting chains shaped it like the traditional jewelry, the Forçat necklace of Martinique.
Could we read in this female figure the struggle for women to be seen as subject and not enchained as an object of desire? At the same time, despite the disappearance of the torso and breast, our memory remodeled the body as an entity…the invisible, visible.

Act 7 Passage in suspension

Edinburgh, famous for its literature, is blessed by the soul of its poets. In a Drama in Time, Graham Fagen was inspired inter alia on the story of the Robert Burns’ non-sea voyage to Jamaica. Made from neon and acrylic, the artist installed five images representing the journey of a life at the Jacob’s Ladder place. The breath of color and light entered the stone of shade.
Crossing the city to join the edges of water, stood the “Every Woman” of Ciara Phillips. I puzzled out the history of “dazzle ships” explored by the artist. The female artists, once more invisible, those little hands who had worked on dazzle designs during the First World War. No record and no recognition of their bold, colorful, geometric brushstrokes.
With the Edinburgh Art Festival, history and daily life stories could resurface with delicacy and esteem. These commissioned works were able to renew the city graciously; this is the magnificence of art.