In March, Vybz Kartel presented a lecture entitled “Pretty Like a Colouring Book: My Life and My Art” to an audience of students and spectators at the University of the West Indies’ Kingston campus. He was invited to do so by Jamaican author Carolyn Cooper, who heads the department of Literary and Cultural Studies at UWI, where she teaches a course called Reggae Poetry. Cooper arranged the appearance after sharing a lengthy email exchange with Kartel about how her students were impacted by his choice to bleach his skin. In his lecture, Kartel claimed pride in his race and the freedom for all to, “do whatever we want in regard to style.”
Yesterday, Kartel continued to exercise his will-to-design, appearing in an event’s promo video with a mop of shoulder length hair extensions. YouTube commenters suggest the new hair’s a statement against macho, homophobic imagery in dancehall culture. Or it’s a grab for press and attention, evidence of a deep-seated desire to be talked about. At UWI Kartel defended his much-publicized body augmentations as deliberate, considered acts. “Everything is precisely orchestrated and executed in a specific way to achieve a desired result. I am conscious of everything that I do, because I decided to make my life pretty like a coloring book.” But what’s the end he’s seeking, exactly, and what’s its appeal?