Tivoli healing through art 12 years after deadly operation 

STILL lingering, even after 12 years, is the trauma experienced by residents of Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston stemming from the deadly operation in the community by the security forces in 2010 to capture reputed gangster and community strongman, Christopher “Dudus” Coke.

Pondering on numerous initiatives after the operation to try and heal both young and elderly residents, social organisers in the community believe they have now found that healer — art.

Since last week, Bumps Park, a section of Tivoli Gardens, has been undergoing an artistic transformation as the first phase of a community-wide mural project became reality. The project was executed through a collaboration with residents, Berger Paints and artist Marlon “Life Child” Spencer, who brought together at least seven other artists to beautify the space.

One of the ‘masterpieces’.

“We as a community need to evolve, but before we evolve we need to deal with the issue of trauma, so we can experience healing to be able to put our best foot forward,” said Oniel Coke, one of Tivoli Gardens’ main social organisers who is spearheading the mural project.

According to Coke, following the joint police/military operation during which more than 70 people were killed, there was an urgent need to “balance the brains” of Tivoli residents, especially the children.

“The genesis of the project was a reading club. We took the initiative after 2010 to gather the kids and to do something to balance their brains to take them out of that negative state of mind because trauma was real dem time deh. We ended up evolving [as] we needed things to sustain the positive movement. We started looking towards a form of urban tourism for the community,” Coke said.

An artist places his magic touch on a mural in Bumps Park, Tivoli Gardens.

“My community is one of rich history and historic places. My community has the Ebenezer Chapel, which is the third Methodist church built in Jamaica. We have the Queen’s Theatre which is not operational but our grandparents created memories in that space. There is the May Pen Cemetery where a whole heap of our great people were buried, but who knows?

“Sometimes, people need to stop focusing on the negative and start looking at Tivoli as a positive. When it comes to history, this community has it. When you talk to some elders, they will tell you where Bob Marley used to play football in the community,” Coke pointed out, also sharing that there were specific days dedicated for homework as well as a day for creating things.

Yearning for more sustainability in the activities, Coke geared his thoughts towards uplifting the image of the community as it moved towards actualising urban tourism.

Artist Yonas places his finishing touch on a painting entitled Enlighten in Bumps Park in Tivoli Gardens, in Kingston.

“We have a programme lined up where we are training the residents to be tour guides within the urban structure. When we linked up with Life Child and the Art Evolution family that is where things took a turn to what you are seeing now. When I met Life Child A few years ago through a brethren called ‘TrueTrue’ was telling me that he would love to do some work in the community.

“A month ago he came back to me and said, ‘It is now or never’ and we reached out to Berger and they said they would give us a certain amount of paint for the first phase of the project in Bumps Park. Bumps Park is very significant because for the oldest to the youngest this have been memories in that space.

Nakeha Shepherd shows his piece of art in Bumps Park, Tivoli Gardens, Saturday.

“We needed to start this process of healing. We feel good to be accomplishing phase one. What I have learned about art is that each line, each circle you see represents something. With time, you are going to see some things in a book and then you will realise that that was what you have been seeing on the wall you always past. Each thing you see has a meaning from the artist but it also carries a meaning that you will get for yourself.”

According to lead artist, Life Child, words aren’t enough to explain how excited he was to see the idea become a reality especially since he had been agitating for the project for some time. He emphasised that the people of Tivoli, were in dire need of healing after the event of 2010.

Oniel ‘Coko’ Coke and Life Child discussing what mural to paint next.

“The whole concept for this is a healing concept through art. It is really about rehabilitating the minds of the youth. A lot of people pay a blind eye to what went on and do not realise that the community needs healing. Something major happened. The members of the security forces were traumatised and the youths were traumatised, so in creating this, the police, the soldiers and the youths of Tivoli can really feel that healing. We are opened to ones who can really help out the youths them to rehabilitate through art and it can also create something called community tourism where it becomes a business for them and so they can see so much more out of it, even the Government of Jamaica,” said Coke.