Archive: HCX Collaboration | Interpreting Haiti

Muted Expressions: A look into the Caribbean Presentations In ‘Crossroads’ Exhibit

By Jessica Senat, HCX Outreach & Communications Intern

I found myself a bit out of my element at the Haiti Cultural Exchange and Haiti Art Society collaborative event “Interpreting Haiti”, a panel discussion at El Museo Del Barrio, on October 24th. The evening’s main subject was the museum’s featured exhibit “Caribbean: Crossroads of the World.”

The 3-part project which featured over 500 pieces by numerous artists gave viewers a peek into their own definition and conception of the Caribbean and of what being Caribbean means. The exhibition is being shown in three different museums: Studio Museum in Harlem, Queens Museum and, of course, El Museo del Barrio.

Listeners were treated to an intimate performance by Goussy Celestin who serenaded listeners on keyboard while a dramatic tempo was kept up by Haitian drummer Jean-Mary Brignol.

Following the performance was a reading of a letter sent from Gerald Alexis, one of the curatorial consultants for the exhibition, who was unable to make it. The letter highlighted many key ideas and themes such as unity, presented in the exhibit, a great segue into the main discussion, led by artist and art critic Andre Juste.

Unfortunately, the lead curator of the exhibition Elvis Fuentes was not present. But fortunately, with humor and artistic insight, Andre Juste gave listeners his own take on the exhibit while providing an open forum for people to share their opinions and ideas which listeners were encouraged to think about, expand or refute.

“Is it possible to communicate one message through so many voices?” One of the primary concerns brought out during the conversation was if it was possible to have so many artists contribute to one exhibit. Though the exhibit featured wonderful pieces, most believed it may have been one too many. According to Juste, the result was muted:  the artist voices were lost in the numerous pieces.

“Was it successful?” Depending on what mattered most- the actual presentation or the message behind it-answers varied. While some believed the curator Elvis Fuentes could have done a better job of conveying his unique vision of the exhibition within the art, others congratulated and commended  the Museum and curators for working with such a vast representation. In terms of the exhibit itself,  it gave many artist I’ve never even heard an opportunity of to receive some exposure. However, some were disappointed with  the lack of  Haitian Art.

“What could have been done differently?”  Towards the end of the discussion, Andre opened up for suggestions for alternative applications that could have been utilized in creating a better presentation of the exhibit. Noting the muted voices of the artists as a primary weakness, few listeners believed organization would be their ideal focus. Admitting fewer artist to participate in the project would have resulted in a more condensed and focused sequence in artwork. Andre himself suggested he would have focused on far more richer aspects of our history. According to him, at this point, we have gone through enough pain and struggle that can be turned into a useful source of artistic inspirational. Juste left of with a very powerful comment on the lack of theorizing of the Caribbean, particularly Haitian, art and perhaps the limitation of the exhibition to fully, if at all, address this. He felt this was perhaps a reason for the scattered nature of this major project.

The discussion encouraged experienced art viewers and new art fans alike to dig deeper behind these interpretations of Caribbean culture-a given in the face of modern media’s attempted to tell the story themselves (where everything is reshaped less for contributing to the overarching discourse and more for political relevance.
Basing my opinion merely on the fact that the project needed three museums to house the displays, I concluded there was bound to be some discontinuity in the fluidity in the overall message. Is it worth the size if it does not have a comprehensive representation of the Caribbean? I know people who disregard Haiti as “Caribbean” and though I haven’t gotten the chance to see the exhibit myself, it’s discouraging to go through a Caribbean showcase with a lack of Haitian representation.

It was about taking a critical approach to what these artists have been putting out there for the world to see. But the the panel offered useful insights and addressed thematic concerns which I am eager to apply and will look out for.

This entry was posted on Monday, November 19th, 2012 at 3:17 pm and is filed under Archive, Events, HCX Collaborations, Public Forums, 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.