Simply put, ‘it mixes you up’

Dutch Caribbean visual artist, Sharelly Emanuelson’s audiovisual project entitled Doh Mix Me Up, We Always Negotiatin’ is a creative project, that takes place within the context of the Carnaval di Aruba, (Aruban Carnival) presented as a ‘negotiating space’ that features connected segments, which include dialogues between members of the calypso world in Aruba, colorful moving lights in the darkness, dancing bodies, the reporting of events by tv and radio personalities all brought together in a synergetic way by the lyrics and melodies of the Trinidad and Tobago calypso artist The Mighty Shadow.

The title of the film is very ambiguous. Simply put, ‘it mixes you up’, even though the title suggests the exact opposite as ‘Doh’ is supposed to signify ‘don’t’ in the English based creole language of Trinidad. It puts you in a space of confusion, a space where our pre constructed realities are rendered irrelevant. It leaves you with nothing to hold on to. A traditional chronological make up is absent and it challenges the senses in ways we are not comfortable with as in the film you are literary for the most part left in the dark. Literary asking yourself “what the hell is this” and “what the heck are these lights supposed to mean”. We want to know, we want to see, we want to be in control of the images, the touch, the sounds, the smells and the tastes. This film strips us of all of that and seemingly leaves us all alone and confused.

However as the film moves on, you begin to sharpen your other senses, you start to use your imagination to construct a different reality. It actually engages you. Instead of living in a structured world where all is signified, where our notions of music, language, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, carnival and so forth is determined and where we passively accept that reality, we now get the chance to become co creators in a world of our own making.

This film reminds me of Trinidadian author, Earl Lovelace’s interpretation of ‘creole space’, a concept that scholars like K. Brathwaite and E. Glissant have described earlier. Lovelace distinguishes the ‘creole space’ from what he calls the ‘ethnic space’, described as a space inhabited by a vocabulary with purist notions of race and ethnicity. Lovelace (2005: 9) says,


“We all have a lot to lose if that space becomes corrupted, bacchanalized, rendered  impotent. The idea of having ethnic spaces as reference points has many merits in what is still very much a Eurocentric world, but the vision of ethnic spaces as a retreat from the    bacchanal of the Creole world is a temptation we must resist. The space for adventure, for newness, for growth is the Creole space. It is this space that we have to get right. It is here we have to challenge definitions and pose questions and utilize what we have  inherited to shape a real space of our own.”

In light of the recent Zwarte Piet (Black Piet) discussions in the Netherlands, the public sphere has been very much polarized, where pro, contra and in between rhetoric and silence have caused many to cling on to stereotypical notions of the ‘other’ where there is ‘we’ and ‘them’, Makamba and Antilliaan, ‘oppressor’ and ‘freeloader’, ‘my race’ and ‘your race’, ‘my language’ and ‘your language’, and ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

This film is a breath of fresh air, as it challenges these essentialist perceptions on many fronts in implicit and yet obvious ways. When you are left in the dark, your hearing becomes sharper, and if you listen closely you can hear Sharelly’s ‘human message’ start to reveal itself. In Sharelly’s creole space, you hear and see multiple languages spoken and written such as Papiamento, English, Dutch, Spanish (including both etymological and phonetic spellings), notions of time, space and inclusion, multiple forms and combinations of musical styles such as the Tumba, Calypso, Soca, Brassband, multiple discourses on gender, sexuality, multiple discourses on race, ethnicity and identity and multiple presentations and interpretations of the human body.

At the end of the day, Sharelly simply wants us to reflect on our own notions of the world, specifically with regards to our ‘othering’ of those with whom we share a space and to show in creolized fashion how our multiple experiences can indeed form a whole by means of showing ‘respect, plenty, plenty respect’ as in the words of The Mighty Shadow. In the end, the most fascinating thing about this project is actually the didactic Sharelly employs to get her message across. She actually teaches us to ‘Doh Mix us Up’, by actually ‘Mixing us Up’!  

Review ‘Doh Mix Me Up: We Always Negotiatin’ by Gregory Richardson