‘pòtoprens’ brings haitian urban art to brooklyn

October 29, 2018

Pòtoprens, the phonetically titled group show of artists from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince at Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works, seeks to make one contemporary art blind-spot perfectly clear: exposure. Because while current work from throughout the pan-African diaspora has been appearing more and more often at American museums and galleries this past decade, Haitian artists continue to be under-exhibited and under-valued by the Colonialist art-world’s gaze. It is as though culture creators from the world’s first Black republic, don’t have lessons and ideas to impart upon our current end of days — a notion that Pòtoprens blows away.

Photographs by Josué Azor.

Co-curated by Haitian-American artist Edouard Duval-Carrié and British artist Leah Gordon (with assistance from the Vodou drummer Jean-Daniel Lafontant), Pòtoprens neither frames present-day Haitian art, nor surveys it from a deep historical perspective. Instead, the exhibit brings the dynamics of the city’s street-art culture into an informal art space, using Port-au-Prince as a lens through which to view the chaotic intersections of history, music, politics, religion, magic, architecture, art, and literature; engaging the diverse creative vibrancy that the capital possesses, despite the bewildering economic inequalities of its inhabitants, and the continuing disrepair caused of the 2010 earthquake.

Pòtoprens unfolds over all three floors of the 19th century building, presenting sculptures (stone and wood carvings, and found objects assemblages — grouped as products of separate Port-au-Prince neighborhoods), sequined Vodou flags, photographs, and films, as well as an outdoor installation that pays tribute to Port-au-Prince’s barber shops. Highlights include André Eugène metal and wood assemblages, Dubréus Lhérisson’s jeweled skulls, Josué Azor photographs of Port-au-Prince underground queer culture, Michel Lafleur wood-panel paintings, Myrlande Constant beaded tapestries, Ronald Edmond’s Vodou doll figures, and Anne Lescott’s 2002 film Des Hommes et des Dieux (Of Men and Gods), which looks at the relationship between the Vodou religion and homosexuality.     

Myrlande Constant, “Ceremonie Saint Brigitte Baron La Kwa” (2005-2016 )
Ronald Edmond figures
Barbershop installation with paintings by Michel Lafleur

Though the work itself makes it easy to understand why the exhibit’s co-curator Duval-Carrie told The Brooklyn Paper that the environment in which Port-au-Prince culture works is “almost apocalyptic,” Pòtoprens is an extraordinary and illuminating peak into the minds of contemporary Haitian artists, and the communities that inspire them. This may be the first time that so many of them have been shown together in the United States, but the continued globalization of the art market, and broadened cultural engagement almost demands that it is not the last.

Assemblage by Jean Claude Saintilus.

PÒTOPRENS: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince is on view at Pioneer Works, Red Hook, Brooklyn until November 11th