Archive: An n’ Pale | Café Conversations: ArtQuake

The portfolio exhibition “ArtQuake” at the Renaissance Fine Arts Gallery in Harlem was a great success. Our opening night reception was filled with gallery-goers and HCX members, and our monthly    An n’ Pale with artist Didier William, currently a Vassar professor, led a lively discussion on the search for cultural identity through art and the Haitian “hyphen” American.

Portfolios are still available for sale. Proceeds will benefit a cooperative in Haiti for artists and artisans, Kolektif Atis Jakmel.

Please contact Regine Roumain at regine@haiticulturalx.org for more details on purchasing portfolios.

Image Credit: Drop, Didier William


Art Quake, Didier William, and Revealment/Obliteration of Haitian (Hyphen) American

Excerpt from an essay by Kantara Souffrant

January 15, 2011

Haiti Cultural Exchange’s (HCX) goal is to provide continuing support and promotion of the intellectual and artistic works being produced within the Haitian dyaspora, particularly in New York City. Yet, HCX has also devoted much of its time and programming efforts to supporting rebuilding efforts in Haiti post-quake. The January 15th An’n Pale | Café Conversations with Didier William was a continuation of this work and it was also the final installment of a week-long exhibition and print portfolio project fundraiser entitled “Art Quake” (AQ), whose opening was held on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. The opening of AQ exhibited a contemporary print of each of the 10 internationally known artists featured in the project: Sherezade Garcia, Terry Boddie, Cathy Mooses, Juana Valdes, Klode Caroute, Marlie Decopain, Aurora de Armendi, Rejin Leys, Vladmir Cybil Charlier, and Didier William. The group of 10 prints ranged in medium and content yet what they shared was that each image had been created, reproduced 25 times, signed, and donated by their artists. The result was the creation of 25 print portfolios which gathered these 10 one-of-a-kind images. By the eve of the An’n Pale the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture had already purchased a portfolio for their collection. All proceeds from the sales would support a collective of 12 artists and artisans living and working in Jacmel, Haiti whose studios, equipment, and materials had been destroyed by the earthquake. Art Quake’s fundraising initiative was aggressive and impressive but putting philanthropic savvy of this project aside, it was also, according to co-organizer Reijin Leys, a bridge for sharing and collaborating with artists whom Leys and fellow artist and collaborator Vladmir Cybil Charlier had wanted to work with for a long time, “the earthquake [was the] push we needed to get something done.”

The same initiative holds true for the collective of artists; as William stated at the beginning of An’n Pale, “[It] was imperative that I be involved with [Art Quake].”

William’s An’n Pale was a mixture of personal narrative and reflection. We were taken back in time as he charted through a progression of his work, from his training in figure drawing and painting at Maryland Institute College of Art, to his MFA from Yale in Painting and Printmaking, to his current work which is neither fully figurative nor abstract, but a combination of reveal-ments and concealments. Indeed, the progression from the first slide to the last and most recent work, which Didier defines as a “process of obliteration” is striking. Where initial pieces seem rooted in a narrative and one can see Didier manifesting an idea into a form, the traditional sequence of concept-to-sketch-to-final product (which then births another project and then another), the “process of obliteration” is antithetical. The spectator is unable to gaze upon the artist’s work fully, or to know Didier’s process by merely observing the final image. Didier himself never truly knows how these pieces will emerge once he has created them.

His process entails a recess flooding technique that leaves some areas of the original image visible and others completely consumed in blackness, resulting in a sort of visual cacophony of images trying to burst through the obliteration.

William is convinced that the “process of obliteration [can] give birth to new stuff.” The process is not about destruction, but rebirth, finding order and beauty in perceived chaos. Although it would be easy (and neat) to lend this metaphor of beauty-in-chaos to the aftermath of the earthquake, I resist this urge. Instead, I wonder if we might see this “process of obliteration”, of seeing beauty through, with(in), and outside of chaos, as part of Didier’s own negotiations and articulations of Haitian (hyphen) Americanness; a poignant and artistically-rendered response to the question posed by his critiques and colleagues that both stirred and infuriated him in grad school: Where is the Haitian in your work? The question of Haiti and Didier’s Haitian authenticity as a painter has been both muse and shadow in Didier’s work. Born in Port-au-Prince, he moved to Miami with his family at the age of six and his travels because of school and work have left him with, “no concrete idea of what home is […when my] place is always shifting.” Though Didier’s artistic process has always been about a relationship between the materials and himself, Haitian heritage had always been culturally and contextually important to his work, realized in the complex relationship between oral traditions, memories (imagined, inherited, and real), and his family.

However to those critics who search for a Haitian “authenticity” in his work, Didier retorts “my work isn’t about Haiti, it’s about me [and] my process of displacement from Haiti.” In this respect, the interplay between reveal-ment/concealment, beauty/obliteration, figurative/abstract is reflective of the interplay and tension that constitutes Haitian (hyphen) Americanness, a formation which is always in the process of becoming, revealing itself as it creates itself; born out of shifting relations to territory, nationhood, history, and (inherited and imagined) memories. “Concealed” by this very token, Didier’s art is not only about the myriad ways that Haitian dyasporans critique and disrupt an imagined Haitian “authenticity” but the ways that, at least in the context of An’n Pale | Café Conversations and ArtQuake, they have burgeoned the “hyphen”; creating a space for flexibility, critique, and transgression vis-à-vis their art and their own articulations about what their work does in and for the world.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, February 10th, 2011 at 11:21 am and is filed under An n' Pale, Archive, Arts, Benefit, Events, Exhibitions, HCX Programs, Visual Art. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.