Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Gina Athena Ulysse Makes the Case for Why Haiti Needs New Narratives – by Manolia Charlotin

10.19.15

Gina Ulysse w:bookOn Saturday, September 19, as part of the Brooklyn Book Festival, Haiti Cultural Exchange hosted the formidable anthropologist and performance artist, Gina Athena Ulysse, to launch her book tour of the recently published Why Haiti Needs New Narratives: A Post-Quake Chronicle at the Brooklyn Public Library.

The event was a homecoming of sorts. When she migrated to New York City in 1978, her family passed the Brooklyn Public Library on the way to her grandmother’s house.

“Lakou Brooklyn, I’m right here!” Ulysse proclaims excitedly in her opening remarks.

Then she took the audience on a journey, from her Rock n’ Roll dreams to becoming a leading public scholar in the Haitian diaspora. Growing up in the 80s, a difficult time to be Haitian in the U.S., Ulysse had a goal — and she was defiant to the gender expectations set by her parents.

“It was the 1980s. I was an oddball. I loved Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, Cyndi Lauper, Eurythmics, U2 and the Rolling Stones. I was dreaming of becoming a rock star. My father wanted me to do the dishes…

Since I wasn’t averse to other chores, I asked why. ‘You’re a girl,’ he said. ‘So?’ I said back. ‘Your mother does the dishes,’ he said. ‘I am not your wife, I replied. ‘We don’t have a contract. And even she shouldn’t have to do your dishes.’

This, of course, made us enemies for weeks. Such answers were typical of me. They made me very un-Haitian and eventually marked me as the one who can’t keep her mouth shut and doesn’t care about the consequences of talking back. Click! Silence is a structure of power. Click!”

In the midst of laughter from the auditorium, Ulysse wraps her reading of this first essay.

“I became an academic; the next best thing,” she deadpans.

She became an academic to explain Haiti to people. But as a Haitian-American navigating the challenging terrain of learning a new culture, a new way to be in a new world, Ulysse had to define her identity on her terms.

“Haiti was my point of departure… and Haitians, have always been plural to me.”

This perspective would prove to be useful, and many times necessary, in her academic and media interventions.

“I was adamant about this book being in three languages because it needs to be accessible.”

Why Haiti Needs New Narratives opens with an essay published in Huffington Post (the day before the earthquake) about a major Hollywood movie.

“Avatar is not just another white-man-save-the-day movie. As a black woman and a cultural anthropologist born in Haiti, I had doubts about the depiction of race in the film…

The movements, setting, altar, offerings. Communion with nature. All beings are interconnected. The NaVi do not distinguish between themselves and their environment. We came back to the tree.

In Haitian Vodou ecology, trees have always been sacred. They are significant in rituals as they are inhabited by spirits. Rapid deforestation of the island has impacted worship. In overpopulated urban settings, practitioners are living in what one scholar recently referred to as ‘post-tree Vodou.’

…New age spirituality with its purported openness may incorporate some African based religious practices especially from Latin America, but (Haitian) Vodou remains stigmatized therein especially in interfaith circles. Although a growing number of initiates are whites, few multi-denominational churches dare to acknowledge it. Cultural specificities aside, Vodou shares core features spirits, nature, ceremonies and offerings — with other mystical religions. Avatar is a reminder of the hierarchy within alternative religions.”

But her analysis didn’t stop there.

“The clash of cultures and races is an easy way for moviemakers to explore personal transformation. In too many films, dark bodies have systematically been the catalyst for white salvation. Avatar forces us to confront these contradictions as we wait for the epic film that has yet to be made — one that tells the natives-meets-white-men story from their perspective.”

And that is the core of Ulysse’s argument for new and diverse narratives.

From there, the book delves into the aftermath of the earthquake, including inadequate distribution of aid, inhumane conditions suffered in makeshift tent encampments, violence against women, tumultuous elections and an insightful analysis of the corporate media’s negative portrayal of survivors.

“One of the reasons I’m interested in representation is… Haitians do speak for themselves.

She closes with the final essay in the book, “Loving Haiti Beyond the Mystique.”

“I grew up in a country that most of the world degrades and continues to dismiss because it is broken.

…When Haiti attempted to piece itself together two centuries ago, many among those in power at home and abroad took calculated steps to ensure that it would remain shattered. All of my life, I have lived various aspects of the shame of this heritage. I have also been continually reminded I was born in a small place that is devalued and is trampled upon precisely because of its weaknesses. I persevere holding on to knowing my little country dared. It dared to step out of line. It dared to stand up for itself. It dared to try to define itself. It dared.

In the last decade, while struggling to redefine myself in the all-too-hierarchical-world that is the academy, where you are only as good as the person you are better than, I have fought to dare, and not accept labels that were being thrown at me or etched onto me for others need me to fit into a category to be comfortable with me. I resist, insisting that Haiti needs new narratives to explicate its myriad contradictions.”

Click here to take a look at photos from the event.

This An n’ Pale | Café Conversation is a part of our Fall-Winter Season Programming: Revolisyon/Revolution.

For more information on upcoming events, visit: http://haiticulturalx.org/revolisyon

Posted in An n' Pale, Archive, Arts, Events, HCX Collaborations, HCX Programs, Literature, Public Forums, Uncategorized, Weekend | No Comments »

A Little Meditation on Revolution and Liberty – A thematic statement by Gina Athena Ulysse

09.17.15

Gina w-Revolisyon logoOver the course of the 2015-2016 season, HCX will present a series of public programs around the theme Revolution/Liberty to foreground the revolutionary spirit of Haitian people and their continuous quest for liberty and autonomy. Through our signature An n’ Pale | Café Conversations, public forums, workshops, performances, and film screenings we seek to educate and engage diverse audiences while presenting original programming that showcase the multifaceted ways that artists, dancers, filmmakers, musicians, raconteurs and writers are deploying the concepts of revolution and liberty.

Our season-opening guest, author, scholar and performance artist, Gina Athena Ulysse, was gracious enough to write this piece for Haiti Cultural Exchange.  Read it and share!

A Little Meditation on Revolution and Liberty

If there were two words most emblematic of Haiti and Haitians, revolution and liberty would be my choices. One is our rightful claim to glory, a glory still denied, as pursuit of the other remains quite elusive. Overused terminologies, archaic narratives born of socially limited gazes ascribed to us, continue to fail to capture complexities that have always been ours. Revolution and liberty are not just part of our foundational scripts— a fundamental factor of global history, which ultimately forged reordering of humanity #1804— they are also a persistent common thread in our dailyness, expressive practices, which are in constant states of renewal. For us as a nation, a people diverse, an unevenly positioned part of a growing and overstretched diaspora lòt bò dlo, revolution and liberty have been discursive and practical blueprints integral to how we see, make and remake ourselves and our differences. Indeed, we can boldly assert that we hold near monopoly to unmatched creative survivalism. Yet, while we bled and gained our freedom from slavery, we certainly cannot claim to have ever possessed full liberty. The unfinished business of the revolution is a universal quest for blackness, a relic with too often fatal impact on a massive scale that is felt and lived every single moment of every day by one too many. We have become too intimate with struggle that has taken form in economic enslavement, occupations, dictatorships, exile, statelessness, faux performances of democracy, and torment. Indeed, we endure turbulent times inside and outside our borders and diasporas. These oppressive restrictions demand alerted and open consciousness, inventive and critical responses, strategies, and dedicated action. We have never been reducible to our conditions. We hold promise to achieving self-possession, pou nou vin mèt-tèt nou. It is in every breath that comes out of bodies pondering aspirations determined to tap into that revolutionary spirit to envision and chart new paths to fuller liberation.

On with our rasanblaj!

– Gina Athena Ulysse

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Pwezi ak Mizik Anba Tonèl – by Keylah Mellon, HCX Communications & Outreach Intern

09.09.15

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The Kreyòl language has the imagination of a child: limitless. It paints everything vividly, musically and is full of emotion. It holds nothing back.

For our fifth annual Pwezi ak Mizik anba Tonèl, we paid homage to the poets that showed us the limitlessness of our mother tongue: Jòj Castra, Lionèl Trouyo, Jean Pierre Richard Narcisse…

After a great introduction by Wynnie Lamour, Director of the Haitian Creole Language Institute, the evening of inspired music and poetry  began with Andeyò: Drums & Chants from Rural Haiti with master drummers Jean Raymond “Sanba KebyesouGiglio, Zilibo, Markus Schwartz, and vocalist Geralda Dalestin.  A fitting and educational drumming set that took the HCX community back in time, to a period where Kreyòl was being brought to existence by the different African tribes transported to the island. Introducing each song with its historical background, the group taught us about the various rhythms so prominent in traditional Haitian music: Rada, Nago, Kongo and Banda.

The poets took the stage next. Delianov and Melissa Beauvery shook us with their readings of “M’ Gen Yon Kanmarad, Loray Kale” and some of their own writing. Schneider Laurent, with his own mash up of Franketienne, Georges Castera, Felix Morisseau Leroy, and many more, had us at the edge of our seats with a breathtaking theatrical performance.

The emotional intensity only escalated from there as pioneer of Kreyòl writing, poetry and literature, Jean Pierre Richard Narcisse came to the stage. He read a series of texts from the great Haitian poets and some of his own that extensively and intimately explored the various forms of basic emotions of human nature: anger, sadness, happiness… He then invited his wife and her endearing voice, Jasmine Narcisse, on stage to sing “Nan Katye Moren in accompaniment before ending his set in a powerful reading of an excerpt of his collection Recho etajè : Pa mande m’ poukisa m’bèt. The latter had our hearts in our throats and holding back tears.

The night ended on a melodious note with Pauline Jean and her band taking on beautiful, jazzy renditions of some of Haiti’s iconic tunes. Leaving the Shapeshifter Lab was a struggle, as we didn’t want her set to end.

Thank you to all that made this event as wonderful as it was and we can’t wait to bring you another event filled with what, in our opinion, runs through the veins of the world: art, rhythm and culture.

Thank you to our funders: ConEd, National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts.

For photos click here.

Posted in Archive, Arts, Events, HCX Programs, Literature, Mizik Ayiti, Music, Photography, Poetry, Weekend | No Comments »

HCX to Haiti, 2015

02.17.15

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In January 2015, HCX traveled to Haiti with a small group of people who were experiencing the country for the first time.  It was quite an experience!

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Click here to read more about what HCX Executive Director, Régine M. Roumain, had to say about the trip.
Click here to view photos of our trip!

Posted in Archive, Arts, Dance, HCX Programs, Literature, Music, Photography, Poetry, Theater, Uncategorized, Visual Art | No Comments »

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