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Go down to the Umana Yana right now!

Go down to the Umana Yana right now!

– For   Pictorial  Exhibition of Godfrey Chin’s “Nostalgias”

February 19, 2010 Freddie Kissoon

One book on Guyana that will remain quite popular for a long time is Godfrey Chin’s “Nostalgias.”  This is not a publication that fits into a particular genre (see my review, KN, March 18, 2008). Chin’s “Nostalgias” is a portrait of what Guyana was like from the forties up and his canvas takes in Guyana in totality.
Chin didn’t leave anything out – the trains, buildings, cinemas, industries, gardens, roads, sports, schools, parties, floats. This is what has made this book particularly enduring. If your kids in 2020 want to know what their parents’ capital city looked like in 1960, then “Nostalgias” will always be there for them to read. Chin filled a void when he wrote “Nostalgias.” I would suggest that it is an excellent gift for a Guyanese who grew up outside and wants to know about their parents’ country.

Not satisfied with a literary description of Guyana’s contemporary history, Chin has now put on a photographic display of Guyana’s past. This project is fantastic to see. While viewing it with my wife, I called my editor and described for him what I was looking at. No country’s leadership that cares about its cultural and historical values should let this type of material slip through its hands. I appeal to President Jagdeo to buy this stuff. This is our country’s history. Mr. Chin asked me not to quote the particular figure he has in mind but he has no objection in announcing that he is delighted to see the collection bought for the National Library. The figure that was mentioned is not extensive at all. This is peanuts for the Government.

Should the Government buy this photographic archives (please Mr. Jagdeo follow the examples of the leadership of all those countries you visit and preserve your nation’s legacies), I have a suggestion to make. Make a book out of these photographs. Let history be passed on. My fear is if Mr. Chin retains these mountains of depictions, what happens if they should be lost. Mr. Chin is in his seventies. Please, let’s be realistic; he isn’t getting any younger.

The photographic “Nostalgias” exhibition is like the book. It is all inclusive. Mr. Chin has compartmentalized his subjects. There is a politics board. There is a wall for sports. Another section is on great Guyanese. The corner that is absorbing is the ancient fires caught on camera. Most of the famous (or infamous, depending on your epistemology) fires that ravaged Georgetown were snapped by Mr. Chin or maybe some negatives were given to him. Mr. Chin lecturers his visitors on the origins of the fires. In one episode, fire-crackers were being made. At Bookers, a huge fire emerged after something went wrong with the making of Limacol. It is intriguing how Mr. Chin’s camera followed the flames as they consumed building after building.

I don’t know if the families of Forbes Burnham and Cheddi Jagan have all the pictures snapped of them throughout their long careers though I doubt it. But if they need some films on these two personalities when they were young then Mr. Chin is the man to consult. There are about five shots of a very young Forbes Burnham in different situations and it was clear to any viewer that Burnham was a fashion-conscious politician.  The photographs show a contrast between the two men. Burnham appeared to prefer casual clothes while Jagan was more formally attired.

Some rarities are definitely in the collection, like a photo of a man named Art Williams who, according to Mr. Chin, was the pioneer of aviation in this country. It was explained to me that Williams landed his aircraft in British Guiana by mistake. After realizing that what he had on board was deemed contraband in the US, to avoid arrest, he detoured to this country and made history in the process. Then came the shocker for me. Mr. Chin has posted up a snap of Charles Lindbergh in Guyana, the world famous American aviator and explorer who landed here on a flight from Panama.

So which photograph caught my eyes? It is one with the British soldiers leaving. They landed here in 1953 after the Constitution was suspended. As they embarked at Atkinson airport, there is a school of young women watching them with blue-eyed children in their hands. These were the children the soldiers fathered while on duty here. As I was leaving I said to Mr. Chin that he has a section on Guyanese icons and he must add himself to the list .

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