Original translation from Kreyol to English by Geraldaro Jeudy; interview by Sabrina Greig
The legacy of artistic production in Haiti has been a source of creative inspiration for countless international artists of the past and present. World-renowned artists, from painter Kehinde Wiley to surrealist poet Andre Breton, have visited Haiti to carry out personal creative projects that document the country’s rich cultural traditions.
This past December, the neighborhood of Grand Rue in Port-au-Prince, Haiti was home to the 5th Annual Ghetto Biennale. Convening over 100 international artists this unconventional art fair asked artists, writers, and curators to propose projects that mapped the city’s eclectic heritage. Unlike traditional biennials that request artists to showcase art made in advance, the Ghetto Biennale requires participants to produce works on-site in collaboration with local Haitian artists in the Grand Rue community in the weeks leading up to the biennial’s opening.
As a participating teaching artist and curator, I led a relief printmaking workshop entitled “Potre,” centered on self-portraiture with a Haitian art collective called Ti Moun Rezistans. Ti Moun Rezistans, “Children of the Resistance” is the youth affiliate of the artists’ collective Atiz Rezistans, “Artists of the Resistance,” hosts of the Biennale. Members of Ti Moun Rezistans are teenagers ranging from age 12 to 18 who are heavily influenced by the aesthetic of Atiz Rezistans, especially that of lead artist Andre Eugene. With the hopes of crafting a more complex portrait of Haiti through the eyes of its residents, this workshop intended to use self-portraiture and printmaking as a method of emancipation and radical self-love. The prints created were exhibited in the final biennale exposition on Friday, December 15th.
After the workshop, I sat down with three of the artists to reflect on their experience in the Biennale, their thoughts on their own artist collective, and the significance of self-portraiture in their creative practices.
Sabrina Greig: What inspired you to become involved with the Ghetto Biennale?
Londel Innocent: I started participating in the Ghetto Biennale during its first year in 2009 after I was approached by co-founder Andre Eugene. He’s the head of the artists’ collective Atiz Rezistans who helps coordinate the biennial Before joining Ti Moun Rezistans, I became interested in the Ghetto Biennale by witnessing Eugene and other Grand Rue artists making artwork in the community. Seeing them produce work made me more and more interested in the art fair as a whole.
Louvesky Mondesir: Initially, I served as a preparator for artists when they installed their work for the exhibition. Then, I had the chance to collaborate with Andre Eugene and other creatives in Grand Rue for a performance work called “Tele Geto” that was included in the biennial in 2009. Eugene is the person that gathers all of the young artists in Grand Rue. He’s the top convener for all of the exceptional talent in the neighborhood. His dream is to bring all of the young artists in Grand Rue together to give them the opportunity for wider recognition in the art market.
Lawrence Love: I became involved with the Ghetto Biennale when the other co-founder, Leah Gordon, came to Grand Rue with the project in 2009. I noticed that it united the circuit of international participating artists with local Haitian inhabitants. We became one. When I saw the kind of impact of the biennale had, I became a member. The curators don’t just pick anyone to be an artists in Ghetto Biennale; you have to be very talented.
Mario Pierre Louis: I was a little kid when I started working with Ti Moun Rezistans and the biennale. I saw how much Eugene loved to worked with artists, and he often asked me? help to nail his own artwork onto walls around the community. He comes into contact with a lot of people out of state who come to Grand Rue to buy art, so my artistic relationship with him is important. He pushed me to become the artist I am today. I am heavily influenced by him.
SG: The structure of the Ghetto Biennale is not like most biennales, in that selected artists must produce work on-site in Port-au-Prince and collaborate with Haitian-born artists, like yourself. How were Haitian artists incorporated into the programming?
LI: First, to be part of the Ghetto Biennale as a Haitian artist from Grand Rue, you have to live in the neighborhood. You have to be known in the neighborhood. So, above all, I am an inhabitant of Grand Rue. My art practice, however, is what makes me known in the community. Being an artist as part of Ti Moun Rezistans serves as motivation for me to keep producing work. My project this year involved creating t-shirt designs that represented architectural monuments that our ancestors left for us. This includes sites like the historic fortress of the Citadelle, Palais San Souci, and more.
LL: I’ve noticed that each time the Ghetto Biennale occurs in Grand Rue, artists who are part of Ti Moun Rezistans encounter an invaluable experience with an international artist. In the last biennial in 2015, I worked with an artist from Denmark for his project “Lakou Freelance.” He brought a group of friends to the Ghetto Biennale and we all collaborated together to make his project come to life. They said the work we made with them was so good that they asked to work together again in future years.
SG: Did members of Ti Moun Rezistans engage in artistic collaboration before the Ghetto Biennale started?
LL: The majority of the Haitian-born artists in the Ghetto Biennale were my friends before the project because we all live together in the Grand Rue community. I appreciate the Biennale because not only does the art fair give us exposure, but it helps us become more solidified as a team. Members of Ti Moun Rezistans see each other almost every day and inside of our designated studio, we can come and work at any time. When we have a meeting as a team, we always make sure to schedule a time to meet again to keep the momentum going.
SG: How did learning a new technique like relief printmaking affect you? What did it feel like to create self-portraits?
LI: Your self-portraiture workshop was a good way to prove to our own Haitian people that we can create beautiful images that reflect our identity. I’ve been part of several expositions in Haïti, but it is different to work with foreign artists who then become friends. I do not want to stop living in my country. Your workshop and the Ghetto Biennale are platforms to produce work based in Haiti.
LL: We were all happy to participate in your printmaking workshop because it was the first time we had come together to learn self-portraiture. Even though it was my first time carving out of linoleum, it was extraordinary to be part of such a beautiful project.
SG: What is the future of Ti Moun Rezistans?
LL: I can’t tell you the future of our collective, but I do know that the more that art fairs come to Grand Rue, the more chances Ti Moun Rezistans will have to meet worldwide artists. When artists like you come, they don’t only buy work, they motivate us to become better creatives.
Sabrina Greig is a Chicago-based art critic, curator, and communications professional from New York City. She received her MA in Art History from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a focus on representations of the Black diaspora in pop culture, fine art, and gentrified urban spaces. She is a resident curator in the Chicago Artist Coalition’s HATCH Projects program. At the intersection of social activism and Art History, her curatorial practice uses exhibition spaces to showcase experiences unique to Diasporic communities on the margins. She has curated exhibitions at ACRE Projects, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Haitian American Museum of Chicago. She has published essays in Arts.Black, Contemporary And, Sixty Inches from the Center, Bad at Sports and has been featured in the Observer.
Geraldaro Jeudy is a designated translator for the Ghetto Biennial. He is currently working for Protech Tech in sales and communications. He graduated from North Miami Beach Senior High School in 2006 and attended Lindsey Hopkins to study Computer Systems and Information Technology.