The Inheritance of the Haitian Diaspora is One of Spoiled Promise:
How can the arts be used as a structured experience that provides pathways for the Haitian Diaspora to be challenged with interpretations of their own rich cultural inheritance? Inheritance is a sculpture-based gallery installation that integrates audiovisual media, Antillean Creole cuisine, and American fast food into responses to this question.
Creole cuisine, as an inheritance of the Haitian people, suffocates and decomposes beneath the clear acrylic surface of an outer table, encapsulating opulent amounts of specially spiced meats, mountains of different styles of rice, millet and maize, greens, sauces, beans, French chocolates, soups, fine alcohols and malta, and raw ingredients. A clear acrylic table acts as a see-through shell, which completely contains the inner wooden table and all of its food contents. The food is left beneath the acrylic to rot for a month just as some Haitians have left their inheritances to rot for years, absolving themselves of all responsibilities to their homeland and people or just unable to maintain. Prepackaged American food wrappers litter the surface of the acrylic table with the rotting Haitian food lurking just beneath the surface. The movement of the audience in the space triggers audiovisual media that informs, while deconstructing, Creole cuisine and its polyvalent relationship to the people that live it.
This interactive room-sized installation seeks to immerse its audience in a loose choreography which inherits it’s movements from an autobiographical and diasporic cultural moment captured in a still photograph. This instant was recorded a few months after my mother and I had landed in Chicago from Miami where we were vacationing.
My mother was a Haitian journalist reporting the corruption under dictator, Jean Claude Duvalier. We feared for our lives. So, we ended up staying with her college friend in West Rogers’ Park. It was outside of his apartment that we were waiting for the bus when my mother pulled out a disposable camera and unknowingly initiated this piece.
I do not remember my first snow but found it fascinating that staring at this photographic medium could induce the same emotional/physical reaction that the physiology responsible for my memory released long ago.
The stop sign that was present in the photograph is going to become the main point of interaction for my installation. I purchased a stop sign that was junked for metal in Nebraska. I secured it to a wide, flat metal base, that can be fastened to the floor or a nearby wall. Strapped it with an infrared beam to it and pointed towards a camera overlooking the room.
The camera mapped the movements of the sign, when it was touched, to the generated snow particles. It also triggered the sound to play.
Moving to Haiti at the crux of forming the construction of what it was to become a man was something that has changed my perception of masculinity in general.
With this installation I was looking at the tie between the construction of the streets and the perpetuation of masculinity. I assign the street the role of the stage, a place where characters can exhibit themselves. This is a play on the crossroads of Afro-Caribbean and African spiritual belief. The characters are taken from popular Haitian society. These were the characters that I have used to construct my perception of masculinity.
The fresco man (the mechant with the cart) embodies endless work as a model for masculinity. As a father and husband I feel the cultural weight of being a good provider.
The drunk is the escapist in me that I try not to feed with too much dancing, drugs, or alcohol. That is a model of manhood that pulls humanity apart.
The molotov cocktail man is my version of the machete man of the Haitian revolution. He physically creates change and assert a physical justice. I want his conviction and courage.
The most horrific thing that I absorbed in Haiti was dehumanizing people for a political purposes. The man in the truck tires is a burning statue. A sacrificial man who’s enemies found to be less valuable than an idea.
The death of my cousin changed the dynamic of my family in relation to his father, my uncle. In listening to him talk about his children I was able to overcome a very limiting construction of what is was to be a man. In him I found the virtue of sensitivity, honesty, and the acceptance of life in a very real way.
I have no memories of my cousin and little evidence of his life. I do have a picture, which I have studied for information about him and through him an insight into my past self. By stretching him in this animated video many things happen.
He grows to be, in proportion, what he would be in height as an adult. His eyes are multiplied as a symbol of gaining greater consciousness. and every color in the photograph is stretched,the red/blue/green registers separated. The result is an epic, moving, painting of great height.
I projected this video in a stairwell where a time-streched Arvo Part choral piece, Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem, is transmitted via radio through cement walls to a radio receiver outside of the structure. The receiver plays the sound for the audience at a vantage point where they can still see the projection through large windows. Like radio waves are able to overcome physical boundaries because of their nature, his memory is able to break through to affect my family to this day.
School building turned art show
Graduate students entertain with obscure art
By Amber Fijolek
Issue date: 5/10/07 Section: Arts
•PrintEmail Article Tools
•Page 1 of 1
The strangers stood next to each other, motionless and silent, listening to the distorted tones of native Haitian choral music, their eyes glued to a wall under a staircase.
“It’s beautiful,” said Greg Albrecht, a sophomore studying radio and television from Downer’s Grove.
The artistic projection that was presented before his eyes created a new memory for him. Little did he know, the image was no stranger to the stranger he had been standing next to. While the piece also held the infatuation of the stranger, he, unlike Albrecht, wasn’t making a memory.
As the creator of the showcased piece, he was just building on a memory that was already his. The sheer vibrancy of the experimental film illustrated emotion to visitors, as magentas, greens, blues, oranges, and the brightest of rainbow tones moved slowly within the virtual rectangular box of light cast on the wall. Most raved as Albrecht did, telling of the display’s sensationalism.
For Ramah Malebranche, however, it was just another look at one of his favorite images. As the image – one of the last pictures taken of his late cousin – arranged graffiti-like hues onto the colorless, unfinished walls of Faner hall, Malebranche remembered the short life of one of his dearest relatives in his piece entitled “Ascension” at the “Recollection” exhibit in the “Staircase to Nowhere” at the north-end of the building.
To host the attraction, a memo went out. Its message was “Re: Collection” – and, like the fliers suggested, recollection is what took place. Whether it was the first time they had seen the pieces, or it had been their primary focus during the previous months – as the artists have been preparing since January – exhibitors and guests alike observed to resonate with others’ nostalgia.
The exhibit was a project of several students from a graduate class as part of the mass communication and media arts department’s master’s of fine arts program, which takes an average of three years to complete. The students said their professor had recommended that they each do a piece, and all were eager to participate.
Malebranche, a student in the program born in Haiti, hasn’t been back in six years, but he said he keeps images of his family to remember the life he left behind.
The image that he filtered, stretched, and skewed for the art film he showcased was his favorite picture, and one of the few pictures of family here in his new home. The photo is one of the last taken of his cousin, who died of heart conditions when the two were young.
“All of the colors were already in there,” he said of a piece of his cousin’s hair that transcended diagonally and slowly across the wall that illuminated colors that
manifested colors more like those found in a bag of skittles than the body.
“I didn’t add anything.” Malebranche said the effects were made by cutting up and softening segments of time for the images and the sound, too.
In titling the piece”Ascension”, it symbolized his cousin’s journey in death towards a higher place, and was played in opposition on a reel from the same projector with a piece by a fellow student called “Descension”.
The music, that could be heard both inside and outside – as exhibitors could also view the piece through a glass window opposite the wall – was concurrent with the images: loud, slow, and distorted. The “Descension” piece entertained distorted sound clips from the Danube Waltz to match the nostalgic film’s plot which his family’s polish roots and their immigration to the United States. Like “Ascension”, “Descension” was as morphed as a water-damaged glossy print.
Malebranche was willing to give explanations to those that wanted them, but he said it was not required, and felt it true for all the pieces at the exhibit.
“You don’t have to understand all the details to take meaning to it,” he said.
Even strangers like Albrecht left inspired. “I felt a little out of my element, but it was interesting,” he said.
The unusual art, as described by another graduate student in the program,
Brian Wilson, as a form of guerilla art, transformed the rustic-looking venue into a bizarre gallery through the 7-work student-compiled collection.
“People died for this type of art,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s exhibit, a collaboration with another classmate, was an arrangement of irregular objects, shapes, and shades that shined on the building’s outside wall adjacent to the campus woods; the piece illuminated the lofty vegetation illuminated, casting wavering shadows onto trees and anguishing memories onto onlookers. Wilson said that after months of conceptualizing, the project came together in about 8 hours.
“It started out as a collaboration of our memories, like real memories, and it turned out totally different.”
The unusual venue for the exhibit was Ramah’s idea. He said that it being an odd venue went along with the night’s atypical motif – nostalgia. Apart from distorted documentaries, of which there were 5 that played consecutively as a popcorn grazing and soda sipping public enjoyed them throughout the three levels of the multifarious foyer, other displays of normally private emotions were even more unconventional.
Small, round, jewel-resembling globs of glass stuck to the walls of the staircase in formative arrangements, that when followed, lead you up to the top. At a closer look, it could be seen that there were images within the glass bubbles – mainly words and small pictures from newspaper and magazine clippings.
The bulk of the bubbles, which lay on the upper-most level of the triangle-shaped climb, were congregated around a fishbowl atop a shelf housing piles of the paper scraps, the fishbowl pondering the words “choose me? stick me keep me?”.
In the largest area of the foyer, scripted slides yielded the broadcasting of stray thoughts in a less aesthetic yet more interactive manner.
A couch, sitting opposite a projection screen hosted a rendezvous of watchers -smirking and chuckling following the sound of the projector machine, equivalent to the pump-action of a revolver that signaled the cue to read the next memory. Heather Lose teamed up with another student to type out specific memories of their lives onto black slides and trade them as keepsakes to those who jotted down a memory of their own with a pencil onto a blank one. Their freshly erected memories then became part of the show.
“We’re sharing memories,” Lose said.
After sharing such intimate things as memories, the artists and the spectators became less of strangers that night. For Malebranche, sharing such nostalgia was personal.
“That’s, like, basically all the memories I have of him.”
However, despite the risk these artists run in exploiting their feelings, they say they’re determined to finish their graduate studies in an art form that is not typically supported economically by the public. The unusual art is part of them.
“It’s very soothing,” said graduate student Zoya Honarmand.
When asked what he will do with his graduate degree in creating the form of art his project embodied, underground experimental cinema, he expressed little intention to make a career out the hobby.
“Wait tables,” he said, jokingly. But he entertained a more likely effect to maintain the flow of creativity and said, “I’ll probably teach.”
Daily Egyptian Press
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale
Kafu is an installation consisting of sculpture, mural, and performance. The sculpture is a handmade traditional Haitian beverage card for a drink called fresco. The performance is that of a fresco merchant that mans the cart in the heat of July. He uses the crossroads as a means of making a living, much like the artist might use a gallery.
The mural is a replica of many Claude Dambreville paintings depicting Haitian Market scenes. His style highlights black labor and unity through the use of silhouette, which down plays the agency of the individual voice. I hypothesize that his type of depiction in the Haitian Diaspora can read as disempowering for those that seek connection with Haitian culture but have developed a fierce American sense of individuality. My solution was to paint the mural in chalkboard paint, assign each figure a thought or speech bubble, and provide the audience with sticks of chalk to allow for expression.
Kafu is the Haitian Creole word for crossroads. The crossroads in Haitian culture has many meanings. The first is more literal, meaning the place where the individual comes in contact with their society. That might mean, socially, where the individual blends into the people at marketplace, creating the unity of the whole (the group is more important than the individual). This is an aesthetic that is pan-African and moves along post colonial slave/trade routes. It might mean economically, where the individual’s only opportunity to eat that day is defined by how hard the dig into the streets. This is particularly true for the masculine provider roles that are common in Haitian society. Religiously the crossroads is both a representation of the Christian Crusafix and the place where the sprits move to and from the spirit worlds in Vodoun.
Suspended is the original title for the concept of this piece. The actualizatio, was a collaboration with artists Stephanie Lupu and Misty Deberry, entitled, Relier.
This installation transformed an office space into a warm, inviting kitchen set slightly at an angle towards the entrance. The moment captured is that of a woman washing the dishes in silence. No matter what the audience does, they leave little to no impression on the performer, who is lost in thought.
I used to watch my mother do the dishes this way for years, exhausted from working a dead end American job, forced to clean a perpetually dirty apartment in comparison to what she had in Haiti. She would listen to Edith Piaf those nights and I could feel the loss in our lives.
At the base of the sink are projections of scrolling poetry about the relationships between the artists and their mothers. The music emitted from the tape player is a digital slowing of a Piaff chanson played through an old cassette player. On the wall are projections of snowy days blending into hibiscus flowers much like the ones back home.
The fireflies always seemed to find us
Hidden in the brush, slingshots in hand,
Clinging to the mountain side
Or under a mango tree just before dinner.
They once found me
Cursing your grandfather
In the willows behind the house.
By their light,
I never forgave him,
But still made my way back home.
I was searching for summer smiles
When I met your father.
With eyes like little magnets
He danced over my body,
Suspending me by my own breaths,
Buoyant with the promise of our love.
You were the promise of our love,
With eyes like little magnets
And a firefly in your hand
You made your way into your grandfather’s arms,
Both of you silly with summer smiles.
Flashing back the glow of street lamps
Hung in the languor of November,
The silver settles.
Between the cracks in the window pane,
It licks clean the corpses of fireflies,
Failed beacons of promise
For children searching for summer smiles.
Forced from the willows, forced from our home,
Built stone by stone for you my boy,
We took that flight.
We traveled so far, strait up and so high,
Only to settle for a shoebox,
For Niederman, a racist,
And his super,
Alcoholic and all.
How a dirty home breaks my spirit.
I make us into engines.
We scrub and scrub
Our fingerprints thin.
We hummed to the shame
of one another.
I wanted to create a device that, by design, would make someone aware of their own sense of commitment. I was trying to explore the complexities of my commitments to my partner at the time. She would soon have my daughter and later be my wife.
This sculpture is suspended by the ceiling of a gallery by steel cables. The participant approaches the main element, which is a microphone. On the microphone the words, “make a wish,” are written. When they speak into the microphone, two heat lamps cast their energy on a block of ice suspended beneath the microphone.
As the block melts, it releases encapsulated pennies throughout the coarse of the night. Together with the water drops, the pennies fall into a metal dish which resonates upon impact. The dish is equipped with a contact mic and the sound is looped to create an indeterminate soundscape.
Participants eventually seem to end up choosing a penny near the edge of the block of ice and begin making wishes that they would fall and contribute a powerful mark to the soundscape. The choose whether or not to put forth the time and work necessary to make something powerful happen.