Pares & Nones (Evens & Odds)
Contemporary photography from Haiti and the Dominican Republic
Curated by Alanna Lockward and presented in the following venues:
Museo de Arte Moderno — Santo Domingo – 16.10.02 / 09.11.02
Art Basel Miami Beach –Miami 03.12.02 / 06.01.03
Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut — Berlin -3.06.04 / 26.06.04
Goethe Institut – Lomé – 03.03.08 / 19.03.08
Casa de las Américas – La Habana – 15.04. / 15.05.16
Pares & Nones (Evens & Odds): Invisible Equality
To read a book—one book—we must divide it in two. Ancient traditions say that the creation of the world may have only been possible by the powerful force of polarization, differentiation: Man/Woman, Ying/Yang, and Light/Darkness. The number two is then the same number one, the manifestation of the same reality, but in opposite directions.
To articulate the complicated historical scenery of the two nations that dwell in La Hispaniola, it is also necessary to separate them, polarize them. The emergence of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and of their respective cultures, has been canonized by their chroniclers in such a way as to assume this natural splitting process—in their eagerness to define by opposition, they have obviated the absolute interdependency of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Yes, they were twins; two creatures were born in the same island, gestated in the belly of plantation economy, the machine invented by Europe for the New World.
“Pares & Nones” is an exercise in the hidden sight of this unique reality in the Caribbean that challenges the beatific hypothesis of an anti-apocalyptic Caribbean, as argued by Antonio Benítez Rojo or as prophesized by Edouard Glissant, who both talk about a model of Caribbean creolization for the world. Over the mountains of this island—the only in the Caribbean with a territorial dividing line between two nations—lie presaging clouds that threaten to liberate them with their humid truths; the exceptional life of the serpent-island that eats its own tail: that must be two to be one.
In this exhibition the images of Elia Alba, Carlos Acero, Vinicio Almonte, Ricardo Briones, Olivier Flambert Miguel Gómez, Adler Guerrier, Carl Juste, Fonso Khouri, Abraham Khouri, Roxane Ledan, Daniel Morel, Darìo Oleaga, Marc Steed, and Roberto Stephenson, seek to demonstrate the disparate unity of both realities. Deliberately, some images appear to have been taken in Santo Domingo when in fact they were taken in Port-au-Prince—or vice versa.
“Pares & Nones” is the first and so far the only exhibition of Haitian and Dominican photographers to have been realized.(1) It represents an original approach because in addition to incorporating those of the Diaspora and those of the island this unprecedented exhibit also includes different genres and techniques ranging from photo-journalism to contemporary art, from classic 35 mm to digital, from natural to infrared light, revealing in this way that photography in the Caribbean is one of the most technically developed visual traditions.
Finally, “Pares & Nones” is committed to the inescapable permeability between the two nations sharing the same land without falling into the common exoticism that has traditionally shaped the perspective from which the cultural production of the Caribbean is dealt with.
CARLOS ACERO (b. 1961, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; lives and works in Santo Domingo)
Unos van y otros vienen: Cruzando el charco (Some Leave, Others Come: Crossing the Stream), 1995; digital b&w print on paper 40”x 26”. Courtesy of ArtLabour
As a byproduct himself of migration, since his parents are from Spain, Acero is an accomplished artist with a handful of awards. This image won a prize in 1995 and is entitled “Some leave, others come: crossing the stream”, referring to the dual migration status of the Dominican Republic which has two active borders, one in the ground with Haiti, and the other one in the water in the Mona Canal that separates it from Puerto Rico. The porosity of the border with Haiti has been overtaken vigorously by the United States that sent 8,000 soldiers to reinforce it in November 2002. This image was taken at dawn in front of the Cathedral of Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros in what the artist describes as a magical moment of light, since it was raining very hard and the sun only came out for a couple of precious minutes. The duality of the reflection is a wonderful metaphor of reality turned upside down depending on which side the eye decides to position it. This ambiguity is an indispensable component of everything that has to do with the conflictive relations between Haiti and Dominican Republic.
OLIVIER FLAMBERT (b. 1973, Belgium of Haitian father and Belgian mother; lives and works in Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros, Dominican Republic)
Descanso Escuchando la Pelota (Resting While Listening to the Ball Game), 1999. Digital b&w print on paper 40”x26”. Courtesy of ArtLabour
What is must striking about this image is the compassion and empathy between the subject and the photographer, who with a beautiful sense of respect portrays the privacy of the individual who is listening to the baseball game. And that is the title of the work, “Resting while listening to the ball game.” The passion for this national sport is presented with elegance and insight. Flambert says about this series of works that he was inspired by how in the Caribbean poverty does not prevent people from enjoying life intensely. This individual depicted is a very humble shoe polisher, as we can see from the box of his livelihood on the bench, on top of which rests yet another icon of Dominican style, the baseball cap or “cachucha.”
ROBERTO STEPHENSON (b. 1964 in Italy of Haitian father and Italian mother; lives and works in Port-au-Prince)
Dancing for the ball, 2000. Digital b&w print on paper 40”x26”. Courtesy of Bourbon-Lally Gallery
Taken with infrared negative, the movement in “Dancing for the ball” is poetic and enchanting. Roberto Stephenson, half-Haitian, half-Italian, captured this scene in Port-au-Prince while a group of young players enjoyed the Haitian national sport, soccer. I would like to note that games between soccer teams from both countries are more and more frequent and of course the Haitians win most of the time. Port-au-Prince seen through the eyes of Roberto Stephenson is a journey into a unique world. Having moved back to Haiti four years ago after a long residence in Europe (where he worked for the best architects and design companies), Stephenson is committed to a practice of excellence, working consistently for artists and architects. In November 2001 at the IV Caribbean Biennial in the Museo de Art Moderno in Santo Domingo, he won one of the 13 awards. In 2003 he won the First Prize of the VII Rencontre International de Photographie de Bamako, and in 2005 the Grand Prix of the Salon d’Art Contemporain de Montrouge.
Roberto Stephenson, School in Port-au-Prince, 2000
Digital b&w print on paper. 40” x 26”
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A multi-award photo journalist and photo editor, Miguel Gòmez is always looking for the right blend of laughter and tears, tenderness, and brutality—the brutality of surviving in a country only a tiny bit less poor than Haiti. This particular image was taken at the Youth Detention Center in Najayo in 2000, and with another twenty others was awarded the most prestigious prize for the press in Dominican Republic (though it was banned because it represents wrong moral values). “Pares & Nones” is the first opportunity for this image to be seen in public. Gòmez work is always challenging to local prejudice.
This work by Miami resident Adler Guerrier. Particularly universal, Guerrier’s focus is not a byproduct of Caribbean nostalgia. Having moved from Haiti when he was twelve, he dialogues with issues and individuals of his new location, the US. This is the first time that Guerrier is participating in a Caribbean group show. “Nine to Five” is a video in a three-channel and it features a man in a suit carrying a briefcase. He waits at the bus stop; walks down the street; walks in a building; enters a cafeteria. But his activities begin at 9 p.m. when it is dark and downtown is wholly deserted. This is definitively the view of an immigrant that sees himself as part of the scene, not as an accessory; there is a strong sense of dignity and self-respect in this perspective.
This image by photo-journalist Daniel Morel, is also from a foreign city: Santo Domingo. But what is really interesting about the photograph is the obelisque that symbolizes the renaming of the city of Santo Domingo to Ciudad Trujillo during the dictatorship. Rafael Leònidas Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic for thirty-one years, from 1930 to 1961, during which time he ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitians in 1937, which is an open wound in the relations between both countries like the river that divides both nations and was also baptized “Masacre.” But Daniel Morel saw beauty in this moment in July; the ocean and the monument are married by light and to him that was the only important thing to see.
Daniel Morel, Lluvia en Canapé Vert (Rain in Canapé Vert), 2002.
Digital c-print on paper. 26” x 40”.
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Two time Pulitzer Prize winner, Miami resident Carl Juste is another great example of how artistic sensibility directly interferes with the journalist tasks. The depiction of the despair of this young girl in Islamabad, who is watching an anti-American demonstration, is so eloquent that one can easily discern that what she is watching is unpleasant. Her “stare” (which is the title of this piece), is a reminder of how everything human concerns a fellow human. The particular sensibility of a native of a very poor and troubled country such as Haiti somehow “explains” the clarity with which the feelings of this young girl are so expressively portrayed.
FONSO KHOURI (b. 1955, Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros, Dominican Republic; lives and works in Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros)
Piedad (Pietà), 1999; digital b&w print on paper 26”x 40”. Courtesy of ArtLabour
Fonso Khouri is an accomplished architect. Always active in the vibrant and highly productive photographic live of this city, he has recently won three prizes of the most important local competition. This image, entitled “Pietà,” is inspired by a real every day story, of one of those without any social security—which means almost the entire population of Dominican Republic. In this theatrical re-enactment, Khouri states that only thanks to the stability of the tripod he was able to accomplish his task, since the sadness of the situation made his entire body shake. Without any guarantee of survival, the relatives of the dead most of the time struggle very hard to buy a coffin. The Catholic Church forbids dead bodies without coffins inside their premises. Fonso Khouri belongs to a very interesting group of photographers from Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros who every year organize a special exhibition of the Carnival.
ABRAHAM KHOURI (b. 1961, Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros, Dominican Republic; lives and works in Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros)
Virgen Morena (Black Virgin), 2002. Digital c-print on paper 26” x 40”. Courtesy of ArtLabour
Abraham Khouri is a successful ophthalmologist. This image of a Black Virgin was taken during Carnival in Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros and it is very special not only because of its absolute beauty but also due to the fact that the female posing as the Holy Mother of Christ is a Haitian. A Haitian woman living her fantasies, questioning the whiteness of the other virgins, in a profane celebration such as Carnival, in the Dominican Republic and photographed by a Dominican national is yet another wonderful example of how Dominicans and Haitians can have great fun together when they want to.
Ricardo Briones is a full time advertising photographer who has started recently to exhibit his work in galleries. A biologist by profession, Ricardo Briones has been seriously committed to conservationist groups and a lot of his portfolio consists of images of the unique diversity of the fauna and flora of the island. These Lutheran Girls are totally involved in their prayers, charmingly conscious of the photographer they still try very hard to concentrate. This image was part of a commission he received to document Lutheran Church projects in the Dominican Republic. Briones has also an extensive series of portraits of Dominican poor children that are strikingly tender and powerful.
Ricardo Briones, Framboyanes (Flame Trees), 2000
Digital c-print on paper. 40” x 26”
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Marc Steed has won his reputation in Haiti as an expert of anthropological portraits. Usually working on commissions by different NGO’s, recently he is more involved in his private photo shop in Port-au-Prince, while in his free time he directs his interest to the architecture of the Haitian imagination. These decorated graves are so eloquently graceful and dignified that one could easily relate them to the pyramids of the Mayans. They are a sumptuous reminder of the amazing capacity of Haitians to transform their physical reality, inviting the viewer to rethink the nature of the life cycle. By beautifying the context of their ancestors, the members of this community are paying homage also to themselves. According to Steed there are no researched or historical facts available that could explain this tradition that is unique to this area of the country.
The fragile composition of this Leaning House, captured by Roxane Ledan reflects a sense of humor that is even more enjoyable when we ponder the fact that it comes from the perspective of an insider. This is the first time that Roxane Ledan has actually exhibited her work and this debut proves that her long term practice of carrying her camera wherever she goes has been worth it. Always ready to capture the poetry of the moment, she has a self-confessed natural disposition to discover Haiti with her heart, and sometimes she feels the other way around, as if those epiphanies of Haitian life were in fact looking for her.
DARÌO OLEAGA (b. 1972, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; lives and works in New York City)
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Barbie, 2001. Digital c-print on paper 26” x 40”. Courtesy of Henrique Farìa Fine Art
Also looking for the beauty in the tragic stories of the streets of Upper Manhattan, where he lives, Dominican Darìo Oleaga started capturing the sidewalk shrines that mourners of violent deaths (usually related to drug trafficking), make in memory of their lost ones. Then came September 11 and he re-oriented the series understandably towards this subject. In his own words: “Just as the historian documents history and records it with his pen, this urban homage documents the inevitable fusion of cultures that has nuanced the history of New York. The ‘altar’, deeply ingrained in popular spirituality of Latin American and Caribbean people, transforms into the point of convergence of human suffering that New York lived through on September 11.” Darìo Olega was selected by the curatorial team of the Havanna Bienial in 2003 and has exhibited in museums and galleries in New York and Miami.
VINICIO ALMONTE (b. 1965, Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros, Dominican Republic; lives and works in Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros)
El último viaje del emigrante (The Immigrant´s Last Trip), 2002; digital c-print on paper 26” x 40”. Courtesy of ArtLabour
These men taking their last drink before departing on the treacherous ride to cross the shark infested Mona Canal, on their way to American territory, Puerto Rico, do not believe in floating devises. Some of them do not believe in Santa Elupina, o Señorita Elupina, the saint of the Dominican balseros. Others do, but just in case drink a sip of rum to feel braver, to forget about the future. This powerful image, manipulated digitally by Vinicio Almonte, was taken while he silently stalked a nearby area. Vinicio Almonte has an eye for the dramatic that is truly remarkable, the self-explanatory title: “The Immigrant’s Last Trip,” fatalistic as it may sound, is a poetic truth. Every day Dominicans embark under the most unfavorable conditions only to meet Puerto Ricans Coast Guards with a special talent for sinking yolas, the fragile boats used by the prospective migrants. The local news in Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico periodically report on the incidents of the drowned ones and very rarely on the deliberately sunken boats.
The Doll Heads of Elia Alba reflect her interest in ambiguity and the blurring of boundaries, natural vs. artificial, material vs. spiritual. These images, made tridimensional by hand-sewing, come from a transfer of portraits of “real” heads that after the manual activity of sewing acquire a puppet-like quality. The artificial volume also refers to her interest in identity, one that is particularly schizophrenic when departing from the New York experience, as is her case. Alba attended high school in Santo Domingo but was born in New York of Dominican parents. This bilateral experience is present in her work. By dismantling the heads from the bodies, substituting ego as the true representation of individuality, Elia Alba successfully illustrate the ultimate goal of this exhibition, presenting the extreme fragility of what “identifies” us, while at the same time the “Doll Heads” remind us that identities are man-made, inexact and basically ephemeral.
(1) “Pares & Nones” toured internationally from 2002 to 2008.
An exhibition supported by:
Henrique Farìa Fine Art, New York; Centro Cultural de España, Dominican Republic; Bourbon-Lally Gallery, Port-au-Prince / Montreal.
|©Copyright Alanna Lockward and the Artists 2002|