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written by guest author Marie Antoine.
HCX kicked off Black History month with the closing reception and artist talk of the visual arts exhibition Ayiti Toma: The Genesis. The event was hosted at the Haitian owned Tapas Wine Bar and Lounge, 33 Lafayette. The lounge provided a cozy and inviting atmosphere which allowed attendees to attentively absorb the fierce storytelling, history and intricate layers of Haitian liberation as it continues to unfold. Conceptualized and curated by Mahalia Stines a multidisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn and featured two other Haitian women artists: Monique Serres, a realist painter who asserts that the value of art lies in its message and therefore she thoughtfully uses technique including allegory, facial expression or color and form to evoke meaning; and Nathalie Jolivert, a New York based artist whose artwork is influenced by urbanism, environmental issues and human relationships.
Each of the women submitted very contrasting pieces, yet the messages of Haitian triumphs, defeats and aspirations were present in each of their works. Stines’ quilted piece Ayiti Toma: Genesis depicts the birth of Haiti starting from Langinen (the Motherland) to the declaration of Independence in 1804. She also stated during the talk, that the piece is a work in progress holding space for developments in the nation’s plight to achieve liberation. Stines is a natural and captivating storyteller, her quilt includes details that bring to life the various states of anguish that the ancestors lived through; from the atrocious and cramped spaces of the slave ships to the fiery scenes of the bloodshed during the rebellion.Fittingly the opening of the exhibit took place on January 1st commemorating Haiti’s 214th year of independence and the show ended in February during the celebration of Black history month in the United States. Timing was not the only well-thought out facet of the show, Stines’ was intentional in every aspect of creating Ayiti Toma. Firstly she only featured female artists. She did so in order to address that although women played crucial roles in the Haitian revolution they are not given the necessary recognition that is warranted.
From my perspective, the most poignant scene from Stines’ narrative of her quilt is when she told of the slaves’ gazing up at the stars when they were given an opportunity to move from the constricted space they occupied to allow blood to circulate in their bodies. To imagine the ancestors gazing up at the stars triggered a peculiar emotion within me. Often times history can be difficult to grasp, especially a history that is so full of atrocities, covering a long span of time and that affected a huge population. It is easy to focus only on the facts and the dates when studying history and in doing so it makes it possible to disconnect from the reality of historical events on human life, therefore incorporating small details that capture the humanity in history is crucial. I was pleased that Stines presented such a comprehensive retelling of the genesis of Ayiti Toma.
Similarly Serres’ piece of a woman living in a tent city in Port-Au-Prince (PAP) after the earthquake in 2010 was also impactful in the way it portrayed one reality of those who were affected. During the talk Serres stated that she had not been back to Haiti after the earthquake, a fact that surprised me because of the layers of truth she conjured up while creating her piece. At first glance it was apparent that Serres did not paint a subject in despair, in fact the woman in the painting looks dignified in her bright yellow shirt and red dangly earrings which match the bag she is holding in her hand. Deliberately so on the artist’s part, the woman’s presence captured my attention first. However when my eyes started averting to the collapsed presidential palace in the backdrop and then to the American rice laying on the ground inches from her foot I started to get a different picture. Furthermore as the spectator, I do not know if she has been living in that tent a few weeks to a year or more, so it becomes clear why it is necessary that this woman keeps her head up. This attitude of not giving into despair but instead trying to rise above is how Haitians were accorded the term resilient.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary resilient means being able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. Starting with slavery, through the revolution and the following years of political and environmental issues; Haitians are in a consistent state of recovery. However the consistency of the unrest does not allow for full recovery. Instead Haitians have become a depository for the negative impacts of the persistent assault on Haitian land, Haitian bodies and Haitian psyche. The result is what Nathalie Jolivert touches on in many of her works, which portray the urban landscape and live figures of Port-Au-Prince.
During the talk, one of the attendees noticed that the human figures in Jolivert’s art do not have eyes. Her answer — it symbolizes the invisibility that the masses in PAP embody. She explains further by describing the scene in the tap-taps (a form of public transportation in Haiti) where there is seldom eye contact; she also describes the nameless merchant women who are only classified by the products that they sale e.g the charcoal vendor or the fritay vendor. She paints the figures without eyes in order to stimulate conversation as an attempt to give voice to the reality of the implicit and marginalized aches of the masses in PAP. And also of the distress linked to the poor infrastructure and landscape of the city. One of her strengths as an artist is that Jolivert is not politically correct, therefore she does not dilute the truth of her observations and experiences of living in Haiti.
I left Ayiti Toma: Genesis more knowledgeable of Haitian history than when I walked in. I left inspired by the audacity of Haitian blood. And I left motivated by these three women creatives who are making sure their voices are heard deliberately, passionately and with authority.
About the Author, Marie Antoine
Marie Antoine is a Haitian born holistic counselor and
aspiring entrepreneur based in Brooklyn,NY.
Her ultimate goal is to use her education
and experience in social work to work in community building in Haiti.
by Nathalie Jolivert, Communications and Outreach Coordinator at HCX.
Lakou NOU is Haiti Cultural Exchange’s newest Artist in Residency program providing opportunities for artists to work in Brooklyn communities that are home to generations of Haitians and Haitian-Americans. The first four artists to participate in this program are true community activists who will be working in the neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Flatbush, East Flatbush and Canarsie. Their projects deal with urbanism, place-making, community-building, public health, and empowerment at a time in US history when the Afro-Caribbean people of Brooklyn need it most. HCX hosted its signature Ann Pale Café Conversation panel with the first cohort of Lakou NOU residents: Sabine Blaizin, Veroneque Ignace, & Okai Fleurimont. (Sherley Davilmar was unable to be present).
Sabine Blaizin, a New York based DJ who spins Afro-Soul, combines sounds of the African and Afro-Caribbean diaspora. In her project based in Crown Heights, Blaizin will create a soundscape with stories she will collect from Haitian members in the community affected by gentrification. To collect those stories, Blaizin is very proactive in connecting with Crown Heights community leaders and attending neighborhood meetings relevant to her subject. On October 26th, she will be holding interviews at our office in Crown Heights with volunteer residents. Their stories will be recorded by StoryCorps and archived in the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.
Blaizin has performed with DJs in various cities in the US, Canada, Dakar, Mexico, Cuba and Haiti. In answering how it feels like to travel to different countries and coming back to the US with new material, she explains that she reaches a different level of connection with her crowd. Listening to her music mixing conversations, deep reflections and words of wisdom, one can already imagine how inspiring and challenging it may be for Blaizin to piece together sounds of grief, displacement, nostalgia and disappointment in Crown Heights. The feelings that are attached with the “Haitian flight” in Crown Heights can be assimilated to all the forced migrations people of black heritage experience. Gentrification is an ongoing occurrence in Crown Heights. It is bittersweet to foresee that the residents’ experience is ready to be archived for the memory of future generations. Blaizin’s project also brings an opportunity for those residents to reflect on their situation with an approach that might reveal new depths in their understanding of what gentrification means in their lives.
Véronèque Ignace is a dancer and public-health professional who wants to heal through the power of dance. This has been an important goal for her since working on her thesis at Williams College. In a powerful video introduction of her thesis, she explains that the experience of Black students studying in predominantly white institutions can be traumatic and should be taken into account in their academic performance. The result is a dissertation and choreography in which her dancers interact with the audience and make them face this issue with movement.
How does her experience as a dancer and academician at Williams differ from her role as a healer in East Flatbush? “In East Flatbush my work is not a show” she responds. In East Flatbush, Ignace creates a platform and outlet for the youth to deal with emotions that are not always addressed. It is an opportunity for her to truly practice skills of dance therapy and respond to the youth’s reaction to violence in their neighborhood. “Some of them are afraid to leave their house” Ignace explains.
The title to Veroneque’s project is “#Trending” and she encourages the young Haitian-Americans of East Flatbush to express their feelings about the trending deaths in the Black community – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, more recently Keith Scott… unfortunately, the list goes on. How not to feel overwhelmed? Dealing with the growing numbers is a challenge that Ignace is willing to tackle as the youth of East Flatbush grapple with the violence they witness in their community.
Rodney ‘Okai’ Fleurimont, is a percussionist and MC who is interested in the importance and benefits of a healthy diet in a musician’s life. In recent experiences traveling with his music band, he realized that, beyond the fatigue of traveling through different time-zones, the meals his colleagues consumed had a direct correlation with their performances. Okai has previously taught at PS 189 in Brownsville Brooklyn as a Ti Atis teacher via HCX and his experiences leading workshops and various other initiatives, made him realize that there is a pressing need for the youth in the Black community to think about their diet. Issues of diabetes and obesity are prominent within the youth of the Black Community.
With his project in Canarsie, Okai will partner with various drummers, masters of Afro-Caribbean and West-African techniques, to teach students how to play the drums. Each session will begin with a class on exercise and diet. Okai’s goal is to inspire the Haitian-American youth to keep their passion for music alive by understanding that they need the physical strength to carry their musical instruments around and also to play for hours without collapsing. There are many other benefits in participating in Okai’s workshops. Discipline and team-work are the qualities he sees his students acquire as they learn how to play the drums. They understand that it takes great team-work and perfect coordination to carry out a nice melody.
Sherley Davilmar, who will be working in the community of Flatbush was unable to make it to the Ann Pale Café Conversation. However, she shared with us the workshops that she will be hosting in the upcoming weeks for her project. They will all take place at the Brooklyn Public Library on Linden Boulevard and will cover themes of “Health Beauty and Wellness”, “Gentrification” and “Black Bodies”. From Davilmar’s energetic performances during HCX’s Selebrasyon events, one can already expect that her work will be charged with great information for future performances.
The Ann Pale Café Conversation with the Lakou NOU artists was a great opportunity for us to learn about the progress of their work. Speaking to the audience was also initial research material for the artists in their projects. As interactive as their work is, it will be inspiring to see how their projects evolve in the upcoming months.
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Take a look at the calendar of upcoming programs HERE.
For the 6th edition of our annual literary event “Pwezi ak Mizik Anba Tonèl” we were pleased to host the legendary musician Boulo Valcourt and poets Jeanie Bogart and James Noël. Boulo Valcourt holds an important place in the Haitian music scene and culture. He participated in various music bands, including Ibo Combo and Caribbean Sextet, and is well known for his contribution to Haiti’s “twoubadou” music genre. Jeanie Bogart grew up in the Southern Haitian city of Les Cayes before moving to New York. As a Creole and French court interpreter, Bogart witnesses difficult court trials, yet her poetry is full of passion and love. James Noël, who joined us from Port-au-Prince, is a prolific poet whose career is widely celebrated. He is very active in the literary scene of Haiti and often participates in international literary events.
The evening started with an open-mic for poets in the audience, which was a fitting tone for this evening filled with impromptu performances, street dancing, and community residents from our Crown Heights neighborhood. They were followed by Boulo Valcourt whose lovely guitar set the mood for James Noël and Jeanie Bogart. Noël’s touching tribute to the late Haitian drummer Léonord Fortuné ‘Azor’ and Bogart’s passionate love lyrics motivated our guests to rush and buy copies of their anthologies after the show. It felt like the perfect end-of-summer event. In the final moments, Boulo Valcourt’s nostalgic sounds for the famous song “La Pèsonn O” had the crowd chanting together with the musician as they wished farewell to the warm season.
Please enjoy pictures of the performance below by Paul Corbanese:
Event covered by Adolf Azuphar on Rhythm Passport: http://www.rhythmpassport.com/articles-and-reviews/event-review/review-boulo-valcourt-five-myles-gallery-brooklyn-27th-august-2016/
Event covered by Tequila Minsky on Caribbean Life: http://www.caribbeanlifenews.com/stories/2016/9/2016-09-02-tm-haitian-sidewalk-soiree-cl.html?utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=misclinks&utm_source=newsbar&utm_content=intra
James Noël’s books :
Anthologie de la Poésie Haïtienne
Le Pyromane Adolescent
Un jour… tes pantoufles
Jeanie Bogart’s books :
Sa m pral kite dèyè
Dènye rèl- DVD
Join HCX for our classic An n’ Pale | Café Conversation at the Bowery Poetry Club with Danielle Legros Georges.
Danielle Legros Georges
Danielle is the current Poet Laureate of the City of Boston and a professor in the Creative Arts in Learning Division of Lesley University. She also teaches in the Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences summer Writer’s Workshop, University of Massachusetts, Boston. Her poems have been widely anthologized, and recent essays of hers have appeared in Others Will Enter the Gates: Immigrant Poets on Poetry, Influences and Writing in America (ed. Abayomi Animashaun) and Anywhere But Here: Black Intellectuals in the Atlantic World and Beyond (eds. Kendal Radcliffe and Jennifer Scott). She is the author of two volumes of poems, Maroon (Curbstone Press, 2001) and The Dear Remote Nearness of You (Barrow Street Press, 2016).
Click here to view the Selebrasyon! 2016 calendar of events!
DATE/TIME: Sunday, June 26th | 3:30pm
LOCATION: Bowery Poetry Club | MAP
308 Bowery | New York, NY 10012
ADMISSION: $10 Suggested Donation