Artists from DR and Haiti Explore a Complicated Past

“Acariciando El Chivo” (Caressing the Goat) by Scherezade Garcia (Photo by Vania Andre via The Haitian Times)

“Bordering the Imaginary: Art from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and their Diasporas,” a new exhibit which opened at BRIC House in Brooklyn on March 14, explores the “complicated relationship” between the nations and the peoples of the island of Hispaniola. Through 40 works by 19 Dominican and Haitian artists,  the challenges and shared histories that mark this nuanced relationship are presented.

Vania Andre of The Haitian Times attended the opening.

The artists’ work is inspired by their experiences that expose the inequalities and stereotypes of race, gender, and sexuality; issues that have all plagued the island for centuries.

In one piece titled Madame Beauvoir’s Painting, the artist Fabiola Jean-Louis highlights the strength and fortitude of women, while providing subtle commentary on the spectrum of the Black identity.  Madame Beauvoir’s Painting is inspired by 18th-century French portraits of elite, white women. However, instead of a white woman pictured in the ornate dress, Jean-Louis inserts Madame Beauvoir – a black woman.

“This piece is really about ownership,” Jean-Louis said. “Madame Beauvoir is not a victim of the past. She’s a reminder of the past and how the African experience is nonlinear, and that even in 2018, we’re still dealing with things that have to do with our past and that we need to face it.”

In the piece, Madame Beauvoir is pictured looking at the iconic and troubling image of “A Slave named Gordon” that depicts a runaway slave from 1863 with gruesome scars on his back as a result of repeated whippings.

The show was inspired, writes Alexandra Simon in Brooklyn Paper, “by a controversial 2013 ruling that stripped Dominican citizenship from children of Haitian descent, and the ignorance that its curator saw displayed at panels and protests about the ruling.”

“I started going to events about it but it upset me all the time,” Abigail Lapin Dardashti, a Dominican-American woman raised in France. “I felt that there was a lack of education on the history of the island and the history of exchange on island, because most of these events just ended in arguments, there was a lot of contention, extremes, and emotions of course.”

As a scholar in Latin American art, she wanted to bring a different perspective to the conversation, and she came up with the exhibit as a way to get artists of both nationalities to work together.

“This exhibit’s [purpose] is to propagate and imagine communities, and it’s Dominican artists and Haitian artists who come together, and trying to find ways that highlight that creativity,” said Lapin Dardashti.

The show is divided into four sections. The first deals with the history of the island, the second with the border region between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the third with identity. The final section is entitled “Memories of a Utopian Island and the Future” and is a contemporary multimedia collaboration between Haitian-American artist Vladimir Cybil Charlier and Dominican-American artist Scherezade Garcia. Writes Simon:

The countries have much in common, said Garcia.

“The more and more we engage in this conversation of Hispaniola we realize we’re not different,” she said. “And it’s not about making us one country — it’s beyond politics, it’s about the history that unites us, and they can fight all we want but we are intertwined.”

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