By Ralph Cherbo Geeplay
That arts is finding a place in the hearts of Liberians again is a testament that, it is a powerful tool around which reconciliation and peace could rally, as Liberians move forward in a new era, mending the broken pieces of a divisive past while finding excuses to come together to enjoy leisure and pay tribute to their history.
The collective imagination of a people is slowly awakening after decades of neglect with new artists like David Mell bursting on the scene, and old hands—veterans like Miatta Fahnbulleh passing the torch, while nurturing the young. It has been said, if Liberian creative growth must blossom in today’s Liberia, yet while, the country stands at the cross roads with politics dominating every Sphere of Liberian life, arts than, is that indisputable luxury and shine that will kick open the social awakening of a generation still reeling from the ugly past.
Comes in, the Blamadon Arts Center [BCA] and James Emmanuel Roberts, aka Kona Khasu Sr. The arts center and it artistic director it seems is what post war Liberia needs as arts gradually takes the center stage in the country.
Kona Khasu is a household name and his passion for the arts stretches back to the 1960s and 70s. In a recent interview with the Liberian Listener he said, “The Blamadon Center for Arts (BCA) is an arts collaboration to support creative people in the arts (music, theatre, poetry, and visual arts)…It establishes the social context,” he says “ for communicating shared values derived from common beliefs, mythology, symbols and history of the society.” His mission is a call to action say admirers, as the country searches for its own identity, especially with foreign culture and mores dictating Liberian lives.
Blamadon Arts and Khasu efforts are not going un-noticed. Recently the Cooper family donated the famed Sugar Beach Mansion to the BCA. “The House at Sugar Beach,” the theme title of the 2008 best seller written by the New York Times Liberian native Helene Cooper is now the new home to the arts center, an effort and gift that Roberts hopes will inspired the worthy venture he spearheads.
Kona Khasu is one of Liberia’s culture icons, and Liberians still so fondly remember the popular television series he directed before the civil strife took everything away. Says Khasu, “Returning and settling in Liberia in early 2000, I was amazed how the adult population still remembered the “Kotati” series, the popular Liberian television program produced by Blamadon Theatre workshop. This television series, which ran for a year, kept viewers glued to their seats and was the topic of Monday morning conversations.”
Kona Khasu also collaborated with his son Kona jr, also an artist, in producing “No More Selections We Want Elections!” which premiered at the Africa World Documentary Film Festival, University of Missouri, St. Louis, MO, in February 2012, and was shown at Shiloh Baptist Church Trenton, NJ. , the New African Films Festival, Silver Springs, MD, Harvard University 2012, the African Development Conference, Cambridge, MA., the 44th Annual Conference of the LSA, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY., and at the Boston University’s 20th Annual Graduate Conference in African Studies.
To bring arts to Liberians and to repair the Sugar Beach Mansion, its new home, the center has been holding events in Monrovia. Recently, the New York Times White House correspondent was in Monrovia on a research visit, she told the media, for her second forthcoming book.
Given the raves review her first book garnered, taking home about eight critically acclaimed recognitions, especially the 2008 National Book Critic Circle Awards nominee for Best Autobiography; Cooper’s next project is expected with much anticipation, say observers. While in Monrovia, reports say, she took time off her busy schedule and read from the Starbucks Book Pick, one of the many thumb ups it won, to raise funds for the center. “I am reading a few passages from it [The House at Sugar Beach],” she said. “The proceeds will be donated to the Blamadon Center for Cultural Arts. My family is donating our property at Sugar Beach to the center and they are going to be establishing a cultural center for Liberia there,” said Ms. Cooper in a Frontpage Africa interview, with Wade Williams.
Khasu, while thanking the Copper family, especially heaped praises on Marlene Cooper who inherited the property and donated it to the BCA.
BCA has started what it calls Conversations with Liberian Artists Series, and Ms. Cooper was one of the very first to appear. The Blamadon artistic director says his center wants to “encourage, promote and advocate for the establishment of public buildings: such as museums, concert halls, theatres, art galleries, public sculptures, archives, recording and film studios, that display, preserve, protect and pass on the arts and culture of Liberia to succeeding generations.”
A laudable feat, when you consider that Liberian arts have taken a back seat, and wealthy Liberians have shunned the arts and have given nothing to its promotion in the country, observers say. Such efforts on his part could raise the badly needed sensitization for the support of arts in Liberia.
Continuing its Conversations with Liberian Artists Series, Blamadon also brought on stage another prominent Liberian writer recently, poet Patricia Jabbeh Wesley. Not since Bai T. Moore and Doris Banks Henries has any Liberian writer contributed to poetry so much as Jabbeh Wesley have, these past few years. She have authored four books of poetry, all highly commended.
Wesley in a recent interview is concerned that Liberian arts and culture cannot progress in the 21st century if Liberians do not appreciate their own, “Younger Liberians are experimenting with writing and self publishing. But Liberian literature is not where it needs to be. No matter how much we write, if our literature is not the foundation of literature taught in Liberian schools and institutions, we are going nowhere,” the Associate Professor of English at Penn State said.
Meanwhile at the Krystal Oceanview Hotel Mamba Point, where the Liberian poet read, the auditorium, bubbling with mixed and diverse crowd led her to long lost pals. She was surprised to be reunited with old friends, relatives and classmates she have not seen in years.
The event also provided an opportunity for her to autograph copies of her books to well wishers and patrons. After the reading, on her Face Book page she posted these comments, “What a great evening I had at my first poetry reading, & a standing ovation. Get out of here! Boy, but was I surprised to see so many of those I love, some I had lost to my absence, classmates & school mates, family, at my reading.
I think it was a great evening. I’m so grateful to those who came, some, government officials, university officials, and other prominent & ordinary poetry lovers. Thanks so much to Blamadon & Big Kona Khasu for organizing the reading & to Krystal Ocean View Hotel.”
“Efforts like what the BCA is currently undertaking must receive support from both the public and private sectors,” says a Liberian.
Adding, “Liberians must generously give to the arts and foundations that promote culture in our country, because we owe it to ourselves to do just that.” The BCA artistic director also echoed these concerns lately when he called for support saying, “We are hopeful that President Sirleaf soon will respond to our letter requesting that she endorse a Legislative action and the recommendations of Dr. Elwood Dunn’s 165th Independence Celebration Oration:  turn over the E. J. Roye Building to civil society group for use as a national Arts Center for Liberia, and  request the Legislature to pass a law stipulating a certain percentage of the Annual Budget of the Republic of Liberia to support the country’s arts and culture.”