The Living Gods
By Jessye McDowell
The central image in this block is from a film by Maya Deren, an avant-garde filmmaker known for the canonical Meshes of the Afternoon. Deren later became interested in Vodou ritual, and made the film Meditation on Violence in Haiti. Deren also documented many Vodoun rituals, collected in the film Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. This title was very evocative for me, because when I started learning about Vodou via my collaboration with the Haiti Lab, I was struck by the way aspects of contemporary culture are incorporated into the mythology of Vodou.
La Constance des classes
By Edouard Duval-Carrié
Maupin's engraving of pre-revolutionary Haiti; a very telling image of a slave and a mulatto woman. Colonial society of Saint-Domingue. Shows the caste system, which is the seed of so many problems in Haiti, and which have colored our history and our problems. Instead of adopting the "one drop" model of a unified black identity in Haiti. The color problematics of Haiti have been organized along the lines of the mulatto elite and subservient black classes, leaving a fractured society. All of colonial society was a fractured society.
Nyame Nwu Na Mawu
By Vincent Brown and Ajantha Subramanian
Nyame nwu na mawu (loosely translated, "God does not die, so I cannot die") is the Akan adinkra, or proverb, that symbolizes the continuity of the human spirit in temporal affairs. This idea envisions death as a transition between physical and immaterial states of being, with the dead remaining consequential players in the societies in which they lived. So it is for the victims of the transatlantic slave trade -- and of the 2010 Haitian earthquake -- who continue to guide and inspire their descendants.
Chevalye, kote ou prale, Chevalye?
By Reginald Dewight Patterson
Knight, where are you going, Knight? heralds the movements of the Guadeloupean afridescendant violinist, composer, and French Revolutionary War hero Joseph Bologne de Saint-George (1745-1799). Some accounts indicate that the Advisor to the King traveled to and resided in colonial Saint-Domingue (Haiti). The frame is from two scores: the manuscript of his simphonie concertante in d minor and a modern reprint edition of his g minor violin sonata with "Volti subito come le diable" at the bottom. The marquees on the tap-taps read "Respect", "Always Thank Your Mother", "Patience", and "Filante." The portrait, panthera leo, trochillidae, hedera, and the twa fey are from the original certificate of arms awarded to elite swordsmen. The two insignia is from a kreyòl proclamation printed in 1793 in Le Cap Français. The seeds (delonix regia, majidea zanquebarica, erythrina esp., and Erythrina variegata) and shells are all indigenous to the island of Guadeloupe. The sequined silly band instruments (violin, saxophone, clarinet, guitar and trumpet) cross the lines of aesthetic excess of sound and noise. The centerpiece is a passport stamp dated January 12th, 2010 inlayed on a violin: the date this artist (R. D. Patterson) departed from Hispaniola. The foliage is dracaena sanderiana.
Ezili Survives the Earthquake
By Christina Mobley
In this block I wanted to invoke the history of survival in Haiti. Throughout her long and storied history, Haiti has been the site of many disasters, both natural and manmade. Among these are the arrival of Europeans and European diseases, slavery, indemnity, war, and occupation. The earthquake of January, 2010 is another in this long series of tragic events, but while it is a story of loss, it is also a story of survival. In order to represent this, I took a picture of a female survivor surveying the damage wrought by the earthquake and transformed her into Ezili Dantò (represented by Our Lady of Czestochowa). In the vodou pantheon of lwa, Ezili Dantò represents the mother, the protector of children, and also the aggressive female warrior. By transforming this earthquake victim into Ezili, I wanted to change her from a victim to a warrior, and the story of tragedy into one of perseverance.
By Jim Jenson
The roulette wheel in the lower right of this block features GI Joe, a Catholic priest, Toussaint, Napoleon, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, La Sirène, a Vodou priestess, and missionaries, all figures in the political and cultural power shifts in Haiti. The French frigate with wings in the lower left, whisking away both Haitian Gourdes and French Francs, shows Haiti on the rough seas of economic transactions in a colonial, and postcolonial world, and recalls the demand for reparations to French slave holders following independence. Aid, referred to by the parachutes with bundles, extracts its own price in terms of political, monetary and cultural agency. In the upper right is a mirror behind pen tips arranged to suggest the rays of the sun with Toussaint Louverture's image in front. The illuminating force of Toussaint's writings, such as the proclamation in the background, sheds light on the aspirations of the Haitian people historically and even now. The mirror captures the viewer along with Toussaint's image reflecting the universality of the struggle for freedom yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
By Lauren Anderson
The block was inspired by a versified excerpt of the first Creole/kreyòl novel, Dezafi, by Haitian writer and artist Franketyèn, that has been translated into English. Although the poem was not written in reference to the earthquake of 2010, it struck me as a hopeful declaration of the strength of the Haitian people. This phrase in particular moved me most: “The night is thick; the night is tough. But still our hope is kept safe in the depth of our hearts” (“Nuit-la pwes; nuit-la kòryas. Mentou, espwa nou sere lan fon kè-nou.”) To represent the thickness of the night, glitter and pieces of plastic swirl around the words, while the largest and most emphasized element, the heart, remains intact at the center of the block.
By Maria Isabel Arroyo
This block's figures are composite images made up of fragments of more than one Haitian image. It merges two time periods by producing a hybrid representation of adulthood with childhood. The three figures have the heads of boys attached to the bodies clothed in the dress of adults. The figures are then deified through their decorative attire consisting of jewels and flowers. These images of archetype and divinity become in a sense the products of images showcasing the mortal and the worldly. These images, made with intention of preserving the past, and the present, are recombined and ornamented to give an icon communicating immortality.
The bust on the right is taken from a very famous painting by Anne-Louis Girodet. There are nice images of this painting, along with a good description (though in French) of the history of the painting, at this website.
By Maria Isabel Arroyo
The design of this block honors the attribute of hybridity in Haitian Vodou. Like Haiti’s culture (and the cultures of the Americas), with their syncretic traditions of the colonizers, the colonized, and the enslaved, Haitian Vodou borrows figures and modes of expression from Roman Catholicism, West African Vodun, and the practices of the Taïno Arawak people of Hispaniola. This practice of religious admixture is not limited to belief and ritual, but becomes art, because it makes emerges in iconography and religious imagery. A consistently important idea found in vodou is the re-appropriation of imagery where a person (whether a cartoon, an actor or a famous movie character) communicates a certain archetypal idea such as fertility, power, strength in battle, or motherhood. The figure can be reused with modification to represent a deity associated with that particular attribute. The goal of my blocks was to produce icons that communicated this idea of re-appropriation. This block has two figures, man and woman, as hybrids of the art of pre-Columbian Haiti and revolutionary Haiti. Both have heads that come from the zémès (zemis) rock carvings of the Taïno people, attached to bodies from the European tradition of portraiture. The woman is adorned with flowers and jewelry and the man is in the military uniform of a Haitian revolutionary. Meanwhile the two are each set in a medallion that is a visual quote of the portrait miniatures of the European eighteenth century.
Ode to the Siren
By Edouard Duval-Carrié
This block highlights a detail of a painting I did, “Haiti, Hold on Tight” (“Haïti kanpe janm”) that talks about the telluric underground of the island. The siren, the propitious goddess coming to the rescue of the slaves tossed overboard in the Middle Passage, here is trying to hold the whole country together.
The Burnt Hero
By Edouard Duval Carrié
Toussaint Louverture represents a key to the betterment of society, in a sense that has largely been forgotten in contemporary political life in Haiti. That “key” has been very important in my iconography, although through the years, his example has waned. What does he really represent now for the politicians who appropriate his iconic status? He is a figure of such relevance internationally, but his key example of dedication to Haiti’s political life goes unimitated.
Les Trois Grâces Revues et Corrigées
By Edouard Duval-Carrié
This block is based on William Blake’s frontispiece “Europe Supported by Africa and America” for the John Gabriel Stedman book, Narrative of a Five Years Expedition Against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam. It tells you the story of colonization and the complacency of Europe, even though the image was done by such a major European figure as Blake. It was one of the most popular images of the time—to the point that the engraving had often been cut out of existing copies of the book.
By Christina Davidson
Flowing between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the Massacre River exists as a constant reminder of a turbulent past. Between October 2-8, 1937 blood flowed down the Massacre as hundreds of Dominican troops murdered Haitians living on the border in the northern Dominican city, Dájabon, and its surrounding regions. The massacre of approximately 15,000 Haitians came at the order of the Dominican dictator, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina. Yet, the reasons behind such a horrific crime go beyond the malevolent decree of a racist leader. The military recruited local alcaldes (government officials) to participate, and even some civilians numbered in their ranks. The act was committed, not with machine guns or gas chambers, but with common machetes typically used to cut crops such as sugarcane. The use of machetes served not only to cover up the government’s participation in the massacre, but to symbolize a grass-roots effort of Dominican nationalists. It purported to show that anti-haitianismo was as much a “bottom-up” as a “top-down” phenomenon. Lying at the base of Dominican nationalism, anti-Haitian sentiment continues to trouble the waters of the Massacre today. Haitians cross the river daily to participate in the border town markets; they are met with discrimination, extortion, and sometimes violence at the hands of Dominican border officials. Shallow enough to wade across, the Massacre River reminds us that history is not forgotten, as if swept away by currents to deeper, unknown depths; it is also very present.
Our Portrait of You, Edouard and Me- Naturalizations Series
By Pedro Lasch
This partial mirror allows viewers to fuse their faces with that of artist Edouard Duval-Carrié. The resulting portraits thus set up a direct correspondence with Duval-Carrié's complex and intense collaborative process. What we see embedded in the block is also part of a work in progress I call “Naturalizations.” Based on the production and distribution of a set of mirror masks, which are used in specific social situations, this work creates a sense of spatial and psychological confusion. Subjects are reversed if only one person is wearing the mask. If several people wear them and look at each other, their faces disappear and transform into an endless set of reflections of other mirrors, other faces, environments, and objects. Landscape and subject are one and many. Subjects are inseparable from each other, their bodies dismembered by rectangular planes departing and arriving through reflected gazes. Light breaks and travels on these masks with unpredictable speed and variety. Space and movement become counter-intuitive. Authors and audiences are fused.
Not long before the production of this block, and a few weeks before the devastating earthquake of 2010, Pedro Lasch and his collaborator Esther Gabara, held a series of these Naturalizations workshops in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. The context for the project was the first edition of The Ghetto Biennale, which took place between November 28 and December 18, 2009.
By Madison Smartt Bell
Touching his right hand to the knife still clipped in his trouser pocket, he moved into the shadows of the bamboo and strained his attention toward the roadside trees. If it's not your time, he remembered, Ghede won't take you.
No, he thought, with a weird joy, we don't kill for no reason. If they'd come for him now he was ready either way. On the far side of the compound, the house of Micheline's family was shut tight and dark. It might as well have been in some other galaxy-- if he were attacked he'd never reach that shelter. Somewhere high up on the mountain, the voice of a deep drum had opened. A figure appeared on the roadside, as if it had been reeled in by the sound, and then another, then half a dozen more, flitting from tree to tree like silver fish in the starlight. They wore dark cloths wrapped around their heads and in their hands were what appeared to be long knives.
Delamarche felt his own pulse move with the drums-- now there were three of them-- but he remained standing where he was, the bamboo whispering at his back. From the crown of the old almond tree, the serpent lwa Boan was rising, figured in the pattern of the stars. It was he the drums were calling, three drums and the jerk and stuttering sway of the dancers shifting from tree to tree. The knife-objects beating in their hands were flamboyant pods they used to make the rattle of the spirit. They were not coming for Delamarche. It was as if they could not even see him. The drums, and Boan's need to be, pulled them over the road and across the ravine and up the mountain trail.
When they had passed, the risen constellation held the sky together, shaped it as the drums modeled the silence. Here, when you looked into darkness, there was God.
By Laurent Dubois
In 1822, Guillaume Lethière painted “Le Serment des Ancêtres, » the painting this block celebrates and deconstructs. Lethière was the son of a white master and an enslaved mother, and become a well-known painter during the French Revolution. He made this painting as an homage to, and gift for, the Haitian nation, and had his son secret it out of France to offer to the Haitian government. It depicts Alexandre Pétion (on the left) and Jean-Jacques Dessalines taking an oath to defend a free Haiti, under the protection of a classical, bearded, biblical, and very white God. Of course the depiction of unity is as much a prayer as a representation: and here I’ve pulled the two apart – Pétion, after all, organized the assassination of Dessalines – and reconstructed the chains depicted as broken at their feet in the painting. But they are, too, connected inevitably by a chain as well. The painting, which hung in the cathedral of Port-au-Prince until 1991, was restored in France and later placed in the National Palace in Haiti. A month after the January 12th earthquake, it was located in the rubble of the Palace by French fire/rescue personnel, and though the frame was destroyed and the canvas ripped, the painting is now being restored once again.
To see the image click here
Story of an Epicenter
By Edouard Duval-Carrié
This block commemorates the maps that were shown on TV on or just after January 12, 2010, locating the epicenter of the earthquake. There was a very strange symbol used by a fundraising organization, a strange kaleidescope type of icon, which I have juxtaposed with a lady emerging from the rubble. I was a student of geography and I should have known about these faultlines under Port-au-Prince, and yet it wasn’t common knowledge. For the last 30 years there has been a national program to use lightweight materials because of the risk presented by hurricanes; one of the first uses of remittances was to replace zinc tile roofs and to put on cement roofs, sometimes on structures that were not capable of bearing the burden. When I was growing up, there was a department in Port-au-Prince dedicated to the geology of Haiti, but after the Duvalier regime, it was closed, so there was no government monitoring of seismological activity at the time of the earthquake to my knowledge.
Port-au-Prince en Rose
By Edouard Duval-Carrié
This block illustrates the French metropole’s vision of the former colony of Saint-Domingue as one of baroque sophistication, with the reproduction of sugar leaving its imprint on all visual representations like a sugary bonbon. What is always left out of these gilded representations is the conditions of the production of that sugar, the labor of slaves whose work propped up the edifice of the colony.
By Anton Dubois and Laurent Dubois
Toussaint Louverture and Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc face off here, as they did in 1802 in Haiti, then Saint-Domingue, in a war over the future of freedom in the colony. The clashing swords create the crossroads that has produced Haiti, a place which Louverture – who died in a dank French prison in 1803 – helped to create but never saw. Edouard Duval-Carrié’s “Toussaint Planant,” which depicts the general caught between two words (invisible here) – Haiti on the right, and New York on the left – and literally coming apart, connects the two figures. Below, Toussaint appears as a superhero, an Avenger, as he did in some eighteenth century texts that saw him as the long predicted “Black Spartacus” who would lead the enslaved to rebellion and freedom. The block as a whole is an homage to the legendary but still in many ways mysterious figure, who retains a magnet for contrasting representations.
To see the image on the left click here
Agwe and LaSirèn in a Tent
By Deborah Jenson
The aquatic loa or vodou spirits Agwe and LaSiren preside over the underwater realm known as “anba dlo.” In Haitian art they are shown heralding the arrival of Columbus, and flicking their magnificent tails in the wake of the slave ships across the Middle Passage. Agwe and his merman cohort cruise in full military regalia through the spaces of the maritime crossing to “Guinen” or the African Afterlife, for slaves who sought that return through death by drowning. What happened to Agwe and LaSiren in the earthquake of January 2010? I imagine them in an underwater tent, regal, outlined by pearls and jewels. The IDP (internally displaced persons) camps also appear in waves that are formed of photos of tents from the Port-au-Prince camps, and in the motif of amputee prostheses. Were Agwe and LaSiren beached in the earthquake, clumsily adapting their tails to life in the camps? Or are there IDP camps under the sea, anba dlo, where earthquake survivors float free and navigate shoals artfully in their role as attendants to Agwe and the mermaid?
Ezili Lives in Durham
By Laurent Dubois and Edouard Duval-Carrié
In the heart of Durham is a neighborhood called “Hayti,” established in the years after the Civil War. The name – pronounced “Hay-tie” – is a kind of underground trace, often unacknowledged, of the long history of connections between the U.S. and Haiti. There are other such communities in the U.S., and the particular history of how the name got attached to the place is unclear. But Durham’s Hayti has another fascinating, and a little mysterious, marker of that connection: on top of St. Joseph’s AME Church, an institutional pillar in the neighborhood which is now the Hayti Cultural Center, is the metal sculpture photographed in the center of this block. Whenever I bring Haitian visitors to Durham, the church is our first stop, because they always recognize it for what it is: a sculptured version of a vévé for the Vodou lwa (god) Ezili. These figures are drawn with flour on the floors of Vodou temples as an invitation to the lwa, and have served as an inspiration for Haitian artists, including metal-workers, for generations. Whose hands made this particular piece? Was it made in Haiti or the U.S.? Why was it placed on top of the church, and when? We don’t yet know the answers to these questions, although we may yet discover them. But the aesthetics of the piece leave little doubt, as the comparison with other vévés, such as those depicted here – copied from Milo Rigaud’s classic study of the drawings – shows. Few in Durham recognize the symbol, or what it means. This block, then, attempts to help Ezili feel at home, flanking the image with sister vévés, offering her a bottle with the makings of sequin and bead necklaces, and in the right-hand corner a depiction of her in one of Edouard Duval-Carrié’s most famous paintings, which shows Ezili being stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard trying to enter the country by boat. As this block suggests, however, she can’t be stopped; she is already here, and has been for a long time.
Plus ça change…
By Waitman W. Beorn
Haiti’s history has undoubtedly been impacted by military interventions beginning with the first incursions by Europeans almost five hundred years ago. The complex legacy of Haiti’s encounters with military force is the subject of this block. In it, the viewer is encouraged to consider the continuities and long-term impacts of military power as a governing force as well as the more problematic nature of international humanitarian aid, which is often symbolized by military forces as well.
In order to highlight this longue-durée relationship, the block is composed of three levels that bring us from Haiti’s past forward to its present. A landscape photograph of Haiti provides the background for images from historical military power, much as the land itself provided the canvas across which succeeding iterations of military dominance imposed themselves upon the population. Next, we see the duo of Napoleon Bonaparte who ordered a military assault on the island and Jean-Claude Duvalier, whose undemocratic dictatorship was supported and legitimized by military force. Lastly, we arrive in the modern era with a partial image of American soldiers and a child during recent humanitarian support operations in the wake of the disastrous earthquake.
The partiality of the images allows the viewer to contemplate the connection between repeated military intervention—both imperialist and humanitarian—and Haiti’s unfulfilled hopes for democracy. The gold toy soldiers around the margins ask us to consider whether a history of military violence tempts local leaders to choose physical force as a preferred means of governance even when foreign occupation has ended.
By Laurent Dubois and Edouard Duval-Carrié
Charlemagne Péralte was the now legendary leader of the Caco insurrection against the U.S. occupation of Haiti in 1918-1919. After he was assassinated by a U.S. Marine who had snuck into his camp, wearing blackface, his body was put on display for identification by relatives and friends. A picture was taken of the dead man, and copies of it were dropped by plane over the Haitian countryside in order to convince the remaining Cacos to surrender. But in the photograph, taken by a Marine photograph, Péralte becomes Jesus. His banner, a Haitian flag on a pole topped with a crucifix, becomes a shroud. Unwittingly, the U.S. occupation produced an image that has become a central part of Haitian nationalist iconography. The photo, on the bottom layer here, was the basis for a painting by Philomène Obin, which occupies the top layer. Surrounding Péralte are copies of a document from the U.S. National Archives: an “oraison,” or prayer, found on the body of his second-in-command, Benoit Batraville, when he was killed the next year. The prayer, and it’s symbols evoque Toussaint Louverture, and Africa, seeking protection and communion with the ancestors in a renewed struggle for independence.
Le Gateau Affaissé
By Edouard Duval-Carrié
At the center of this block is an image of Haiti’s National Palace, which collapsed in the January 12, 2010 earthquake.
Victims of History
By Laurent Dubois and Edouard Duval-Carrié
Marcus’ Rainsford book An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti provided a relatively sympathetic description of the Haitian revolutionaries. It was widely read, and included a series of engravings, including the two that appear in this block. One of these – the one showing the execution of a white French officer – has been widely reproduced. The other, its original companion – showing the execution of black soldiers by the French – remains much less well-known. Here, we re-unite the two in order to bring back the original meaning of the images, which depicted the war of independence in Haiti as a cycle of violence, with a brutal symmetry reflected in the parallels between the two images: one execution under a French flag, the other under a palm three, with both victims in precisely the same pose. Brought together like pictures in an eighteenth century locket, they are surrounded by smaller contemporary images of women, the often-forgotten victims of the violence of this period.
By Emery Jenson
When I first went to the Haiti lab with my mother, I was very impressed with Edouard's work. I was interested in many aspects of Haitian culture and history and I really enjoyed watching other people starting their blocks and I decided to start one of my own; for some reason, I was the first person to actually make a block in this project. I was looking through all the pictures of my mom’s trip to Haiti and decided that I wanted to use a picture of La Trinité Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, which used to have amazing murals of Haitian interpretations of biblical scenes. Unfortunately the church was destroyed in the earthquake, but the inspirations of those artists are still everywhere in Haiti. The glass beads in the piece remind me that even though Haiti is going through hard times, it has a shining future.
By Julia Gaffield
My block represents the relationship that Haiti – as an island – has with the outside world. The coming and going of different boats highlights the many and diverse ways that Haitians have engaged with or been confronted by the outside world. These seafaring travelers were part of an ongoing conversation regarding the nation’s independence and its relationship with external powers.
A late eighteenth century ship represents both colonialism and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. A cutout from an early nineteenth century American newspaper – the logo for “shipping news” – represents the international economic relationship that Haiti had with the international community, both before and after independence. A blurry photo of a sinking boat represents that many “boat people” that attempted to escape to the United States in the second half of the twentieth century – “Haiti’s problem and ours.” Two boats painted by Edouard Duval-Carrie represent the spiritual relationship that Haitians have with the sea.
The list could go on: American marine ships, Napoleonic battleships, floating hospitals, cruise ships…
The Boy and His Angel
By Kavitha Prasanna and Nandini Srinivasan
The earthquake of January 2010 devastated Haiti and severely damaged the people's morale. The beauty of Haiti during this catastrophic time period is seen in the strength with which the Haitians immediately began to rebuild and the way that they always look for better times ahead no matter what happens to them. Our story block is dedicated to hope, strength, and beauty. WE chose to depict children who lost their way during the calamity and the beauty that can be found in rubble that surrounds them everyday. The bible often describes the role of a "guardian angel" throughout its pages. In this block, we attempt to recreate this role through the depiction of an older looking boy guiding a younger boy through the rubble. As they walk, they are surrounded by small gems and golden trash which is indicative of the beauty that can be found in the ugliest of situations. The older boy wears a golden dress because he has been enlightened by god and the light within him shines on the outside in the form of a golden dress. The younger boy wears red as a representation of the lives that were lost. However, as the younger boy continues to walk through the rubble with his "guardian angel" right behind him, he reminds us that there is still hope for Haiti. The background of the scene depicted is dominated by a tree. The tree features the glittering rubble as its leaves in order to indicate that it is possible for Haiti to eventually grow back with time, but that these hard times will always be important to Haitian history.
El Corte/ Kout Kout-a
By Christina Davidson
In Spanish el corte means “the cutting,” and every season el corte de la caña (the cutting of the sugarcane) signals the migration of Haitian workers to the Dominican Republic. These workers reside in communities known as bateyes. Over the years, many Haitians have come to reside permanently in the bateyes, where they raise families and work in the agricultural sector. While some benefit from increased opportunities in the Dominican Republic, living conditions in the bateyes are often very poor. Batey communities receive little to no support from the Dominican government, and Haitians and their Dominican-born children face daily discrimination as a result of Dominican anti-haitianismo.
The racism implicit in anti-Haitian sentiments in the Dominican Republic date back to colonial racial ideology which pitted Spanish descendant elite against Haitians during the period when Haiti ruled over Hispaniola (1822-1844) and abolished slavery in the region. Slaves in the Dominican Republic had previously worked on sugar plantations, where they both harvested and processed the crop. One sugar mill, El Ingenio Nigua, was the sight of a 1796 slave rebellion. Today, it stands in ruins in Boca de Nigua, Dominican Republic, allowing all who visit a glimpse into a harsh, violent past. The rebellion is commemorated every year in October during the season of el corte.
Yet, within the borders of the Dominican Republic, “El Corte” also holds another significance; it refers to the October, 1937 massacre of Haitians living within the border town of Dájabon and the surrounding area. In Kreyòl, this corte translates as kout kout-a, the stabbing.
By Summer Puente
This piece is in dedication of all of the many individuals determined to rebuild Haiti, especially the Haitian women living in rural areas and fighting for their political voice. We would do well to honor the recommendations and leadership of community organizers, for their hands have struggled longer than ours have, their stories are rooted in the earth they live in, while we are merely visitors or students of their home.
Roumain à la Rivière
By Laurent Dubois
In prison in Haiti in 1935, the writer and political activist Jacques Roumain wrote a poem to his son entitled “Chanson du Prisonnier à Son Petit Garçon.” In it, he described talking to a stream of water that had come down from the mountains above Port-au-Prince, only to find itself imprisoned in pipes and so piped into the prison. He asked the stream of water what it has seen, and asks it to say hello to his five-year-old son. In another poem he wrote in prison, the only he ever wrote in Kreyòl, he described going to the river, but finding it dry. Throughout his subsequent career as a writer, Roumain remained obsessed with water: the central drama of his classic novel Les Gouverneurs de la Rosée is the search for water that will sustain a rural community in crisis. This block offers homage to Roumain, whose childhood photograph bathes in the water from a mountain river in Haiti. Alongside the water are two Tambou Assotor. These large and powerful drums played a central role in Haitian Vodou ceremonies, but most of them were destroyed or confiscated during the anti-Vodou campaigns that took place during the U.S. Occupation and its aftermath. When Roumain did the research for a classic study of the initiation rites for the Tambou Assotor, Vodou ceremonies were actually illegal, so he had to have an oungan perform the rites personally for him rather than observing a real ceremony. Today, most Tambous – like the one picture here – are in museum collections outside the country. This block seeks to revive them, in part by placing an image of a U.S. Marine – one of many who took advantage of anti-Vodou legislation to collect drums for their own personal collections – at the center of the drum. In the tiny photograph, he is playing the drums he has taken. Here, the drum takes him, and perhaps itself, back.
By Deborah Jenson
Haitian General Jean-Jacques Dessalines was the midwife of the Haitian Independence in 1804. I use that mixed metaphor--a male general as midwife rather than founding father of the independence--to signal his own mixing of metaphors: military strategist, Afro-diasporic philosopher of black autonomy, statesman, and… dancer. His own compatriots were confounded by Dessalines’ integration of exuberant, African-influenced dance into the profile of the new black republic. Christophe was said to have particularly disapproved Dessalines’ response to the expert dances of his mistress, the courtisan Euphémie or “Phémie,” by leaping through the air like a Fon dancer of old, and landing on his knees in front of the admired lady. His predilection for the dance inspired the Creole “carabinier” tune “Dessalines vini ouair Couloute danse” (“Dessalines came to watch Couloute dance.”) In a losing confrontation with French General Ferrand, Dessalines was reported to have turned to his own “carabinier” soldiers and to have taught them an improvised march, “Carabinier n’ale, n’a vini encore!” (“Carabiniers, we’re leaving, but we will be back again!”). In this block, I bring together Dessalines’ portrait, his handwritten signature, a manuscript of one of his proclamations, and 19th century images of Afro-diasporic dancers.
By Summer Puente
This shattered mirror was found at the side of my house. Discarded by a roommate, it fell perfectly into my mind for an idea. When learning about a place, or a people, sometimes we can’t stop asking questions, we can’t help but want to know more. This quest guided me to my first course in Haitian Kreyòl. Although this block only represents a fraction of the words, concepts, and histories I have learned about Haiti, this journey will not stop. As sounds, images, and ideas come at us, there is a certain beauty in how they overlap and influence one another. Each of these words will mean something different to each one of us; you don’t have to know Kreyòl to interact with the piece. Think about how the words sound in your head, out loud; think about what they mean to you.
Writing on the Walls
By Laura Wagner
Graffiti is not necessarily a reliable barometer of society or political sentiment in Haiti. To put it overly simply: Why would one spend his money on spray paint to scrawl "Aba Lavichè" (roughly, "Down with the high cost of living") or "Nou grangou!" ("We're hungry!") rather than spending that money on food? Graffiti is often financed by somebody with deeper pockets than the guy with the can of paint in his hands, and generally reflects a particular political agenda. However, there are exceptions. One of these is the young graffiti artist Jerry Rosembert Moise, whose clever, insightful, and often playful work has become a major part of the post-earthquake landscape of Port-au-Prince. His first archetypal image was the earthquake-cracked map of Haiti with a crying eye and the words "We Need Help," but he has since expanded his oeuvre to comment on everything from elections to the floods in Pakistan to the World Cup -- and even on graffiti itself. One of his works, not pictured here, says "Spre pa la pou di Aba, vote + viv!" ("Don't just create graffiti to say 'Down with' whatever -- vote and live!"). This piece is a pastiche of graffiti and graffiti art, and includes work by Jerry and also by others whose messages tend more toward the tradition of "Down with..." It shows several images of cracked and crying Haiti, including one in which Haiti's fissures are implied to come not from the earthquake, but from a figure in a business suit with a hammer for a head, presumably representing the political and business elites. Other words, by other can-wielders, include "NGOs are selling the tents of the people. Down with the occupation" and "PADF NGO Thieves." I have, intentionally I guess, appropriated others' words and images to create this block, all drawn from photos I have taken myself throughout Port-au-Prince. It was the only thing I could think to do, however indirectly it reflects my or others' lived experience of the earthquake. Here I have appropriated images, but they were images always meant for public consumption. To tell the truth, this block feels soulless to me. But as for any images of collapsed buildings and people I know or see -- that felt too much like stealing souls.
By Alyssa Pollizzi
La Sirène, a loa of the Haitian vodou religion, rules the sea and all of its treasures. She is also the loa of vanity and loves to look at her reflection in a mirror. This mermaid exemplifies seductive power and will enhance your own sensuality in return for worship and gifts of sweet wine, desserts, champagne, or melons.
Be warned: with great beauty also comes great power, and she may also choose to exercise it in dangerous ways. Her enchanting songs and elegance may lure you into her depths, not to return for years. She may also drown you as punishment for unsatisfactory worship and service. I wonder if many looked to the sea to worship La Sirène after the earthquake of 2010. Do many still look to her to be bestowed with beauty or sexual appeal? Or have the priorities shifted to give praise to less superficial gods who can supply more practical gifts for times like these. Are the new necessities shelter, food, or to speak to a loved one lost in the quake? I imagine La Sirène floating through the seas, treasures in hand ready to be given to her loyal worshippers…but they are no where to be found.