Sculpture by Andre Eugene in opening parade for 3rd Ghetto Biennale 2013, Photo by Multiversal Services

Ghetto Biennale and “Jalousie en Couleur”: The Politics of Post-Earthquake Aesthetics in Port-Au- Prince

By Carolyn Duffey

Port-au-Prince, capital of the island nation of Haiti, which is often dismissed as “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” made international headlines when a catastrophic earthquake struck it on 12 January 2010, killing over 300,000 people. Barring intense media coverage of the earthquake, both Port-au-Prince and Haiti itself are actually very little known or understood in the U.S., despite the country’s close proximity to the coastline of Florida and the many Haitian immigrants (606,000, according to the 2012 census)[1] living in the U.S., from Miami to Brooklyn. Right-wing American tele-evangelist Pat Robertson claimed that the nation experienced the terrible tragedy of the earthquake because Haitians have sworn a pact with the devil through their vodou religion,[2] (a spiritual tradition that Haitians consider to be at the heart of their revolutionary history)[3]. NY Times columnist David Brooks wrote that Haiti had "'progress-resistant cultural influences' including 'the influence of the voodoo [sic] religion,'" which would doubtless impede post-earthquake reconstruction or development.[4] On the other hand, Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat spoke post-earthquake of the dangers of the much-repeated claim by the international media of Haitians' admirable, yet somewhat tragic "resilience" in the aftermath of seemingly unending Job-like difficulties.[5] In these mainstream Western narratives, it is easy to see the reproduction of racialized colonial tropes of the demonized native or conversely, the noble savage-like Haitian, that continue to inform Western knowledge about this island nation.

Such false and misleading information about Haiti circulates, in fact, for reasons that are highly motivated, dating back to the time of the Haitian Revolution, a remarkable 13-year slave rebellion resulting in the first free black republic in the world in 1804, a time when the trans-Atlantic slave trade had not yet been abolished, nor obviously slavery itself. As Haitian historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot says, "The Haitian Revolution thus entered history with the peculiar characteristic of being unthinkable even as it happened,"[6] even by the most radical Jacobins of the French Revolution. France, despite its own concurrent revolution, was also a colonial power facing the loss of an extraordinarily lucrative colony and had many reasons to silence this first successful slave rebellion. It did so with extensive postwar indemnities and diplomatic threats. The United States, with its own large slave population worked politically and militarily from 1804 on to destabilize Haiti, including the 1915-34 occupation by US Marines; Cold War-influenced support for the 30-year Duvalier dictatorships; and the more recent involvement in the two coups (1991 and 2004) against Haiti's first democratically-elected, populist president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.[7]

I re-frame this deeply distorted Haitian narrative—the construction of which has been ongoing since Thomas Jefferson's horror at the news of a free black republic so close to the US border[8]—by examining and contrasting two Port-au-Prince neighborhoods, both referred to as bidonvilles or slums: Jalousie, located in the hills above the city center; and the neighborhood of Grand Rue, an older crumbling area bordering the southern end of Port-au-Prince's main street, Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Both communities are involved in forms of post-earthquake urban renewal (although Grand Rue’s project began before the earthquake and has increased in visibility and viability in its aftermath), and both engage Haiti's rich aesthetic history and spiritual traditions. The ever-present iconography of vodou, the influence of early French painting schools, and a later "primitive" style promoted and critiqued by the Port-au-Prince Centre d'Art [9] have produced conflicting connotations for Haitian art, a situation which is at stake in various ways in these two communities. That is to say, Haitian aesthetic work has been perceived, particularly by the external art world, as intriguingly but equivocally “traditional.” For example, minor American artist DeWitt Peter’s initiation of the Port-au-Prince Centre D’Art in 1944 to teach the already well-known and respected Haitian artists, like Hector Hyppolite, Western pictoral technique remains a significant point of contention.[10]

I argue, using Marxist theorist Henri Lefebvre's concepts of conceived space, perceived space, and lived space, or representational space,[11] that the politics of art—here I refer to both the political uses of aesthetics and aesthetic practices with political resonance—currently are highly significant in the production of daily life in the two neighborhoods.[12] Furthermore, the kind of everyday life that is produced in Jalousie and Grand Rue both complicates and defies the narrative of Haiti's “tragic” or "progress-resistant" history.

Jalousie and Grand Rue: An Introduction

The following series of images depict pre-and post-earthquake Jalousie, and the art and living spaces of Grand Rue.

Figure 1. Jalousie pre-earthquake (fair use)

Figure 1. Jalousie pre-earthquake (fair use) Haiti Sociètè
Figure 2. "Jalousie en couleurs", post-earthquake 2010 (fair use)
Figure 3. Big Chair by Joe Winter at the 3rd Ghetto Biennale 2013, Photo by Multiversal Services
Figure 4. ISWA II - Chabon by Joe Winter at the 3rd Ghetto Biennale 2013, Photo by Multiversal Services
Figure 5. Sculpture by Andre Eugene in opening parade for 3rd Ghetto Biennale 2013, Photo by Multiversal Services

"Jalousie en couleurs" is current Haitian President Michel Martelly's (elected 2011) project to beautify this bidonville by painting the facades of structures in rainbow colors. This choice of aesthetic is a nod to well-known Haitian artist Préfète Duffaut, who was famous for his fantastical canvases detailing multi-hued cities on Haitian hills.[13] "Jalousie en couleurs" simply beautified this shantytown—which lacked a sewage system, running water or electricity—because the community is clearly visible to the nearby wealthy hill neighborhood of Pétionville, developing several post-earthquake luxury tourist hotels. For example, even a “Junior Suite” at the recently built Royal Oasis costs $350 per night.[14] Notably, these hotels look directly upon the newly colorful Jalousie.

Grand Rue, on the other hand, is internally very active in its grassroots aesthetic production by a community of artists who call themselves "Atis Rezistans." This is a densely populated neighborhood in downtown Port-au-Prince, characterized by narrow streets and alleyways, surrounded by auto repair shops and scrapyards. Here, homes double as ateliers and large sculptures appear at their doorways, in their small interiors, or in the yards outside. Atis Rezistans was founded by Jean Hérard Celeur and André Eugène in 2000. The collective consists of talented, self-trained sculptors, some previously employed as wood workers in the neighborhood, who inventively combine discarded materials from Grand Rue’s streets in their works. Along with plastic and metal detritus, the leftovers of modernity, they also include bones from the huge nearby cemetery, La Cimetière, in their art.[15] Haitian cemeteries frequently feature above-ground tombs or vaults, which can hold numerous bodies. Because the cost of internment can be high, families can rent a tomb. If the tomb is neglected for a significant period of time, and the bodies decompose, owners discard the bones to make way for other bodies in the tombs.[16] Bones and especially skulls, feature significantly in Atis Rezistans’ sculptures. These human remains performatively cycle death in life, in a vodou-influenced art practice. Some of the artists, who are also practicing vodou oungans (priests), incorporate their altars, replete with bones, in sculptural assemblages. In the last five years, Atis Rezistans have expanded their work to produce what they call the ‘Ghetto Biennale,’ to resist the bourgeois gallery world of both Haiti and global art exhibitions and specifically to “expose social, racial, class and geographical immobility" in the art world.[17] Not incidentally, improvements in the economic health of this neighborhood, including that of numerous Grand Rue children in artist apprenticeship training, have long been a part of this arts community. The 2010 earthquake seriously injured many here, and interrupted, but by no means ended this art practice. The Ghetto Biennale continued in 2011 and 2013 after its 2009 inception.

The neighborhoods of Jalousie and Grand Rue are, thus, compelling sites to investigate the relations between aesthetics and politics and their role in the production of Port-au-Prince’s patterns of urbanization. That both bidonvilles are a product of Haiti’s particular history of colonization and rebellion is undeniable. I rehearse these histories in brief below, in order to shed light on the ways in which so much of the past of this remarkable nation has been omitted or consciously suppressed in Western contexts. Erroneous narratives continue to circulate in particularly destructive ways since the earthquake of 2010, and inform Western and Haitian elite attitudes to reconstruction.

I begin by exploring the legacy of French colonial policies on economic and class divisions in both rural and urban areas, paying particular attention to how they affected urban spatial divisions that underlie the creation of Jalousie and Grand Rue to this day. Thereafter, I discuss the longstanding and enduring post-revolution interference by Western countries and international organizations in Haitian internal affairs, specifically that of the US, France and to some degree, Canada and the UN more recently. Finally, I expand on the connections between aesthetics and urban space- making in the communities of Jalousie and Grand Rue. Specifically, I comment on the entangled relations between the political economy of art and the globalized art world; the ways in which the cultural and spiritual practice of vodou figures prominently in the lived experience of Port-au-Prince residents; and post-earthquake reconstruction strategies in these two bidonvilles. I conclude by reiterating that very different aesthetic approaches have served to reconfigure Jalousie and Grand Rue since 2010, affecting the ways in which these urban spaces are perceived and practiced in Haiti's capital.

French Colonial Legacy in Haiti

Haiti was France’s richest colony in the 18th century. The making of spatial divisions in Haiti, which resonate and manifest today in the creation of the urban bidonvilles and wealthy Pétionville, began with French colonial policies. In Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, Laurent Dubois states that 1,000,000 slaves were brought from Africa to Saint Domingue with huge numbers dying young; about 500,000 slaves were present in Haiti at the time of the beginning of the revolution in 1791. At that point, the composition of the colony was approximately 32,000 whites (many of whom lived in great opulence in the then northern capital of Cap Français, now Cap Haïtian); 24,000 gens de couleur, free mixed race descendants of planters and their slaves, who often owned slaves themselves; and 500,000 black slaves.[18] In his 1797 work describing the colony, (Description Topographique, Physique, Civile, Politique et Historique de la Partie Français de l'Ile de Saint-Domingue), French visitor to Saint Domingue, Moreau de Saint-Méry, included 32 pages recounting the recognized color combinations of non-whites, which the white planters used for control.[19]

These color divisions were quite significant in the many phases of the Haitian uprising. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a freed black slave who ultimately declared Haitian independence in 1804, initially fought with revolutionary hero Toussaint L'Ouverture in the French army against the Spanish and English attempts to take Saint Domingue from a weakened French state during its own revolution. But he then turned against the French and the mulatto generals like Alexandre Pétion and André Rigaud, the sons of wealthy white planters, both educated in Paris, who were still fighting on the side of the French, in order to win independence from France. Pétion and Rigaud did ultimately unite with the black generals fighting to rid Haiti of the French when Napoleon demanded the return of slavery, which had been rescinded under Jacobin rule.[20] The finally victorious Dessalines proclaimed that henceforth all Haitians would be known as "blacks."[21] Nevertheless, the colorism/racism of the colonial era defined class stratification, subsequent land use and urban divisions in modern Haiti (as seen obviously in the name of wealthy Pétionville in the hills above downtown Port-au-Prince). Dubois further notes that post-revolution, most ex-slaves refused to return to the plantation system, which leaders felt was the only option given the colonial infrastructure for monoculture exports. The former took the rural areas for small farming plots; the elites consequently acquiesced and decided to control the ports, export trade, and the state (thus the urban areas), setting up a hierarchy that remains largely in place today[22], though the rural farmers have not maintained their land. The story now turns to the range of other kinds of post-revolution foreign intervention.

Continuing Colonialist Interventions in Post-Revolutionary Haiti

No state would recognize post-revolutionary Haiti, for fear of the effects on their own slave populations. In 1838 France finally agreed to recognize Haiti's independence but only after Haiti paid them (for taking France's colony) 150 million gold francs ($3 billion in today's currency)[23], effectively impoverishing the country for most of the 19th century.

The U.S. did not acknowledge Haiti as a nation until after the Civil War and invaded and occupied the country from 1917 to 1934, while U.S. bankers obtained shares in Haiti’s National Bank, to exert control over the government's fiscal policies, making Haiti a political and financial protectorate of the United States. At the same time, the U.S. created an army for the country designed to protect the interests of US investors and Haitian elites. Duvalier dictators, Papa and Baby Doc, later used these forces to terrorize the population.[24],[25] The more recent intervention by the U.S. consisted in provided aid to the Haitian elites through School of the Americas-trained military from the Dominican Republic, who worked with French and Canadian support to oppose the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide via the 1991 and 2004 coups against his government. Aristide had been attempting to finally include the Haitian poor—those descendants of the half million slaves—by instigating literacy programs, a minimum wage law, and medical care for the great majority of Haitians who had none. His democratic populist program was enormously popular in Haiti but seen as a threat to U.S. interests. The U.S. therefore effectively worked to undermine him.[26] This colonial and postcolonial political history in Haiti has contributed greatly to the class divisions that are so visually apparent in contemporary Port-au-Prince.

Additionally, foreign debt has contributed even more severely to the recent destruction and reconstruction of Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. Since the dramatic end of the reign of the Duvaliers in 1987, the huge debt incurred by Papa Doc's and Baby Doc's lavish personal spending and Swiss bank accounts has had to be continually repaid, mainly to the World Bank and the IMF. And when President Aristide was returned to Haiti by the US in 1994, after being in exile for 3 years following the 1991 coup deposing him, he was forced to agree to neoliberal structural adjustment policies as the prerequisite for international loan aid to the country.[27] This meant, among other things, ending protectionist tariffs on imported food. Haitian rice farmers (rice is a staple of the Haitian diet) were devastated as cheap American rice flooded the country. Consequently, many rural farmers left their land and moved south to Port-au-Prince into informal, unsafe housing, doubtless increasing the loss of life during the earthquake. Bill Clinton apologized in 2010 for forcing such a policy on Haiti during his presidency, but this was too late as rice production in Haiti had come to a halt and Port-au-Prince had become more unlivable for the urban poor and rural migrants.[28]

Some aspects of recent foreign intervention that have worsened since the earthquake are the presence of various international aid groups including, a fragmented network of the military mission of the U.N. (MINUSTAH), which began during the coup periods; the presence of U.S. aid groups; and a very large number of other international NGOs, flooding the country since 2010. In late 2010, a year after the earthquake, Ricardo Seitenfus, the Brazilian head of the O.A.S. mission, said that the U.N. troops were only in Haiti to prop up a "bankrupt vision" for the country, making "Haiti a capitalist country, a platform for export for the U.S. market," with no concern for the needed help for agrarian self-sufficiency.[29] Additionally, the U.N. infuriated Haitians after a number of Nepali troops in Haiti came down with a form of cholera known previously only in Nepal, which then spread rapidly in Haiti. Lack of concern by the U.N. for infectious care was disastrous. This form of cholera eventually took the lives of 8,500 Haitians. The U.N. refused to admit culpability.[30] Furthermore, with regard to the ubiquitous NGOs, Seitenfus claimed that Haiti has been reduced to a handy place for "professional training" for an increasingly youthful group of workers; as he puts it, "Haiti, I can tell you, is not the place for amateurs."[31] As for results from the outpouring of Western money for Haitian aid post-earthquake, virtually all has been controlled by U.S. and European NGOs. In terms of U.S. aid, Georgiana Nienaber in The Huffington Post reported in the summer of 2013 of the "$1.5 billion in contracts and grants awarded, more than half went to the top 10 recipients of global USAID awards," mostly for companies "Inside the Beltway" and only 0.7 percent went to Haitian businesses.[32] In February 2014, journalist Jason O'Brien wrote that only 1.4 percent of all the aid raised has gone for probably the most pressing need after the earthquake: safe, permanent housing.[33]

Vodou’s Production of a Counterhegemonic Space

While the omitted political and economic history of Haiti is crucial to understanding the conflicted contemporary urbanism of Port-au-Prince, a central factor in Haiti’s philosophical and cultural life, the spiritual practice of vodou, presents another way of framing urban space in Port-au-Prince. Henri Lefebvre's notions of a social space which resists the hegemony of the dominant class is helpful to consider the ways in which the two bidonvilles of Jalousie and Grand Rue incorporate the spiritual system and philosophical framing of the religious practice of vodou in response to the particular colonial and postcolonial histories that have produced urban Haiti. I argue that, given the centrality of this system of performative spiritual practice and culture to everyday life in Jalousie and Grand Rue, both bidonvilles present aesthetic, political and philosophical alternatives to the so-called globalized modernity of post-earthquake re-construction in Port-au-Prince. Specifically, vodou performativity creatively addresses the forces of multi-national development producing Jalousie today, and those of the global art market impressing themselves upon the Ghetto Biennale of Grand Rue.

Lefebvre speaks of a conceived urban space, ordained by the controlling class which, in Port-au-Prince, has constructed the rigid color/class coded communes where the poor and black live without water or sewage systems, or livable housing, many close to the center of the city and the port. From the end of the revolution on, elites controlled the cities and certainly the capital. Thus, the descendents of the free lighter-skinned gens de couleur divided the city space between centre ville for the poor, and hill neighborhoods for themselves—with bougainvillea-laced houses, French-influenced night clubs, and water trucked in from ships and delivered to tanks situated on the roofs of these houses.[34]

Lefebvre's formulations of both perceived urban space (socially produced despite constraints) and representational urban space, (that is, space seen as otherwise in daily life or imagined differently, for example in art), on the other hand, are useful to uncover how, despite the so-called administrative terrain of urban divisions, the lived collective experience as well as the imaginative aesthetic détournement (diversion) of the neighborhood space escapes expected hegemonic control. [35] In such a formulation of space, the meaning and experience of vodou is highly significant. To understand how the practice of this religion relates to urban processes, it is necessary to approach and re-examine representations of this cultural and spiritual system that the West, particularly France and the U.S., have constructed (to their advantage), as the ultimate indicator of the "barbaric" amongst the darker peoples of the world. [36] Haitian elites have frequently acquiesced to this conception of Haitian "backwardness" for their own purposes. President Martelly himself has rescinded the Aristide-era declaration of vodou as a national religion alongside Catholicism.

Vodou traces its origins to the West African religion of the Yoruba people of Dahomey, now Benin, which sees the natural world as a readable space of spirits (lwa) who are linked specifically to families and communities. Within Haiti it is a wholly collective religion, where the group, directed by the oungan or mambo, (priest or priestess) helps a suppliant cross over, to be between this world and another or between life and death, to meet the lwa and/or ancestors. Significantly, there is no particular end to the vodou experience. This experience is to enter and re-consider a disordered state of being, very different from the Christian's individual journey directed toward redemption. For Haitians under slavery and colonialism, the practice of this religion was necessarily covert, and it consequently became a syncretic system of Yoruba lwa who borrowed and added the powers of Catholic saints to their own. Vodou was also recast as a space for new and angrier lwa who resisted the horrors of slavery. These figures were hidden under Catholic iconography. Saint Peter, for example, became the image of Legba, the crucial lwa of the crossroads, who limps as a reminder of the chains of slavery.[37] From an ontological perspective, vodou refuses the dualistic (good and evil) and teleological Christian philosophical system of an end in heaven or hell and offers a world in which the twinning of life and death is ever present. In practice it presents a performative and cyclical worldview.[38]

In Leah Gordon's photographic study of Kanaval in Jacmel--a small city to the south of the capital hosting the most dramatic version of Haitian carnival--she documents how this space of in-betweenness is precisely the space of vodou in the streets of that small city.[39] Lwa-masked performers who visually suggest current figures or issues of power relations evoke the ongoing transformation of the dead and the living. Political figures can die out and return in various forms. The murdered Dessalines himself is said to have transformed into a lwa. The lansetkòd, hooded kanaval men with bare chests smeared with sugar cane juice and ashes, figuring the death of slaves, dramatically force their bodies and the narrative of slavery and colorism on the kanaval participants.[40] In effect, the dispossessed carve out a creative space in plain sight of the ruling class in Haitian kanaval, performing the practice of vodou publicly. The spiritual system has been at the heart of Haitian resistance from the time of the first major uprising in the Haitian Revolution prompted by a vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman[41] and is manifest in various responses to post-earthquake Port-au Prince in Jalousie and Grand Rue.

Jalousie: “Urban Botox”

According to its inhabitants, after the earthquake Jalousie saw itself as a "sacred place" because it was the only neighborhood in Port-au-Prince in which no houses were destroyed by the 7.0 quake.[42] President Martelly, on the other hand, saw these still standing, if dilapidated, gray or beige, mostly cement buildings as an opportunity for himself.

Critics in Haiti and elsewhere considered this problematic. Amy Wilenz of The Nation calls Martelly's plan for Jalousie "Urban Botox."[43] The painting of these houses, some only on the visible sides which face Pétionville, in a multitude of Caribbean colors, using $1.4 million of earthquake aid money, was presented by the government as a way to honor the well-known Haitian artist Préfète Duffaut magical realist "cities on the hill" paintings.[44] Duffaut is certainly popular in Haiti. However, considering the way in which an artist with a type of picturesque style is perceived in the West, certainly the Western art world, the use of his work here poses questions about advertising Jalousie's "transformation" as a positive portrayal of a re-constructed, modernizing post-earthquake Haiti. The repetitive use of photographs of the newly red, yellow and blue Jalousie are intended for Western audiences who have a view of the neighborhood from the recently constructed, private sector wealthy tourist area of Port-au-Prince. Creating a facade for a community, painted in cheerful, traditionally bright Caribbean colors, for those who are in fact densely and poorly housed, evades addressing the material needs of this community, is condescending, and plays heavily on colonialist stereotypes.

Furthermore, President Martelly publicized the project in Jalousie by emphasizing the designation of this bidonville as a relocation area for those in earthquake camps, since it had housing that was still standing. This would then allow a very visible Port-au-Prince re-construction project to be paid for with earthquake aid money, enhancing his own reputation as an effective and concerned politician. However, no additional housing, sewage, water or electricity systems were being planned for the arrival of the camp dwellers. And this was already a community of at least 50,000 people where women carried five gallon water jugs to hill top homes everyday, and residents used candles or dangerous freelance wiring pulled from the weak municipal grid, for light. This was and continues to be a community serving Pétionville and two other wealthy neighborhoods nearby, Montagne Noire and Bourdon, as nannies, cooks, gardeners or maids (if they have jobs at all).[45]

Michel Martelly is known as a "stealth Duvalierist" in Haiti.[46] His notorious compas musical performances in the latter years of Baby Doc's rule, specifically for that dictator, and his support for the coups deposing President Aristide, which forced Aristide's populist Lavalas party into hiding, were not seen as a problem by the Western aid industry. He has welcomed the neoliberal, private sector development model into a society, which, outside of the tiny elite class, finds this mode antithetical to its needs. The vertical, market-driven movement toward “modernity” includes low-wage, sweatshop urban labor for the poor, along with environmentally devastating economic undertakings like the joint US - South Korea Caracal garment factory project,[47] and has no connection to Haitian desires for community-run urban reconstruction and agrarian aid for rural regions of the country. It is highly significant that on 10 January, 2015, 5 years, to the day, after the earthquake, demonstrations against Martelly's rule and his several years' attempt to stop parliamentary elections occurred throughout Port-au-Prince.[48]

BBC's "World Have Your Say" radio news program went to Jalousie, on June 18, 2013,[49] shortly after the transformation of "Jalousie en couleurs," to interview inhabitants. Those interviewed said briefly that they liked the newly painted houses, however partial the paint job, but were much more interested in discussing the water and electricity needs of their commune. Several of the interviewees talked about a 20-30 meter mosaic wall mural initiated by Patrick Villaire in 2007,[50] called "Water is Life," and revered by the community who view it regularly as it is situated near the only water spigots of the bidonville, which still exist post-earthquake. Images, including that of a woman rising from the water, fill the large tile mural, emphasizing Jalousie's need for water along with the ambiguous powers of La Sirène, a vodou figure linked to Agwe, the lwa of the sea. She can be evoked for help, while her figure suggests the simultaneous birth and death link to water.[51] Jalousie's space, marked as "sacred" for its still standing houses after the destruction and many deaths of the earthquake, can be re-imagined as a place of re-birth as inhabitants each day walk down to fill their buckets at the site of La Sirène's mural and discuss the power of community action for running water. The political and the philosophical aspects of water issues have already coincided as 1,000 Jalousie residents protested the planned government demolition of many homes in their community for flood danger reasons, potentially affecting the wealthy suburbs nearby, without government construction of any other houses for the displaced of Jalousie.[52] The post-earthquake “modernization” of this Port-au-Prince neighborhood, via the cynical use of one kind of Haitian aesthetic practice to further enrich Haitian elites and western corporations with NGO money has been actively rejected by the residents of Jalousie, who claim their urban space both socially and aesthetically. Using Lefebvre’s terms, these movements constitute the social production of space by those who live within it.

Grand Rue’s “Ghetto Biennale”: Détournement?

Grand Rue, the downtown Port-Au-Prince community of sculptors, more particularly and directly exhibits a conscious resistance to the external perception of this bidonville as an impoverished urban junkyard. The neighborhood was known previously only as a small market area for handicrafts for ever-decreasing groups of tourists. In this neighborhood, survivalist re-cycling has been a way of life. The practice became essential to the artistic creativity of the self-taught Atis Rezistans, who live and work here in an area no larger than a city block. The sculptures and collages of the Atis Rezistans incorporate what co-curator of the Ghetto Biennale, Leah Gordon, describes as "computer entrails, TV sets, medical debris, skulls." As she puts it, the "detritus of a failing economy... [transforms into] deranged, post-apocalyptical totems with a Cyberpunk aesthetic."[53] The aesthetic of self-trained artists André Eugène and Celeur, initiators of this artistic community, is rooted in the materiality of this bidonville. Grand Rue is filled not only with scrapyard materials but also with the literal remnants of life, in the form of the bones and skulls from La Cimetière. In the large and dramatic sculptures of skulls with light bulbs in eye sockets or atop broken hub-caps—often with the presence of the big phallus of the lwa Legba, the crossroads spirit—the performative space of vodou ‘in-betweenness’ is apparent. The simultaneity of life and death is also always evoked in the works of the artists in their training program, as it is in the vodou altars in the homes/ateliers of the Atis Rezistans, who define themselves as oungans (priests).

This urban space occupies the realm of what Lefebvre envisioned as a détournement, a diversion from the new neoliberal framing of the city, (and also from the old elite framing of the city) by an artistic intervention determined by the inhabitants of the space in which they live. This "slum" is being re-formulated otherwise by Atis Rezistans, as a re-invigorated neighborhood. Children of the neighborhood, the group "Ti Moun Rezistans" (Children of Resistance), who have a studio at the Atis Rezistans art school, where they learn from the adult sculptors, are (and this has continued since the earthquake) exhibiting their own works and selling them through their own email addresses and websites.[54]

The "bourgeois" Haitian artist establishment actively disapproves of the work of Atis Rezistans while the global art world denies them entry, mimicking the political- economic system that is coming to build a "new Haiti" after the earthquake.[55] While globalization seems to be promoting non-Western venues for biennales[56] or grand art exhibitions (a European invention), expressing what art critic and curator David Frohnapfel calls the "anthropological turn" in curators' attention, Leah Gordon argues that the largely elite art world, nevertheless, reproduces a global class structure and excludes artists like those of Atis Rezistans for purely economic reasons. For instance, André Eugène, whose work was to be exhibited in the show Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou at the Nottingham Contemporary, was refused a visa to enter the U.K. because he didn't have enough money in a bank in Haiti.[57]

To counter these currents in the art market, the Ghetto Biennale has been inaugurated by a collaboration between the artists of Atis Rezistans, particularly Eugène and Celeur, and European curators, crucially, Leah Gordon, who has worked as a photographer in Haiti for 15 years and maintains helpful connections with the British art world. The postcolonial asymmetries of class and race in this collaboration are clearly significant. Gordon herself has commented on her awareness of her complicated status as a white woman involved in the politics of representation both in her photography and as a co-curator of the Ghetto Biennale, recognizing that this is an ongoing conversation as the Biennale continues. [58]

The Ghetto Biennale called for artists to come to Haiti to both produce their art in the conditions the Grand Rue community experiences, and show it in a collaborative fashion with Haitian artists who were involved in "autonomous curating." This was challenging for young Western artists who expected to bring work from their own Western studios in the standard biennale manner, and were discomfited by the conditions in Port-au-Prince.[59] In the first Ghetto Biennale after the earthquake (2011), there was an uncomfortable "Westerners saving the poor Haitians," atmosphere,[60] so the 2013 Biennale responded directly in the following formulation. Calling itself "Decentering the Market and Other Tales of Progress," the "strapline" of this Ghetto Biennale was "What happens when First World art rubs up against Third World art? Does it bleed?" All participants in this event had to create their work in Haiti in collaboration with Haitian artists and show the works to local neighborhood audiences. This was a 'lensfree' event,' to avoid the “ethnographic gaze and the accompanying commodity fetishism”.[61]

The results of the 2013 Biennale were complicated and interesting. Frohnapfel, one of the curators with Gordon, Eugène and Celeur, commented on the young Western neo-Marxists participating who wanted to be utterly removed from the commercial world and were shocked when some of the Atis Rezistans wanted this Ghetto Biennale to allow them entry into that larger art world from which they had been excluded, albeit on their own terms. This would include paying them fairly for their art works, thereby improving material conditions in Grand Rue. Class negotiations around aesthetic definitions and re-evaluations of clichés about the "urban poor" that ensued at the event were fruitful, even though there was some danger of what Frohnapfel referred to as a potential "slum vacation into the tristes tropiques," because Westerners stayed for a relatively brief period of time in Port-au-Prince. The Atis Rezistans demanded that for the next Ghetto Biennale all foreign artists must stay at least a month in Haiti. While the impact of this event is still unfolding, the whole experience may nevertheless be called what Frohnapfel termed "globalisation from below."[62] The extent of that kind of achievement, which will be ongoing, from a space conceived as a slum junkyard of the poor in a "progress-resistant" country, is most difficult to underestimate.


Jalousie and Grand Rue are producing participatory urban spaces in ways that are markedly different from each other in relation to aesthetic expectations (local and global), and to socio-political responses to the post-earthquake re-construction models supported by Western nations and Haitian elites. The community of Jalousie has little interest in the manipulative use of nationally acclaimed and internationally acknowledged artist Préfète Duffaut's idealized vision of a "colorful city on a hill," to further the neoliberal development in their community for the benefit of wealthy neighbors, or to (partially) fix their bidonville in the mode of the picturesque for outsiders' viewing. Instead, they are consciously claiming an everyday space with running water, among other amenities, in an imagistic mode consistent with the performative spirituality of vodou.

Grand Rue, on the other hand, is carving out a space, specifically with original art forms, that juxtaposes the broken remnants of urban modernization and Haitian vodou life-in-death fragments. Outside of any economic model of outsourced low wage labor or development benefiting Haitian elites, the Atis Rezistans provide programs for local young people in this neighborhood of high unemployment, to make an income from their creative work. Concurrently, they are devising what Frohnapfel terms "globalisation from below" via their Ghetto Biennales, countering a global art market from which they have been excluded. Instead of being curated "anthropologically," as in some global mega-exhibitions, which as Nigerian curator Okwui Enwesor notes, still refuse any notion of aesthetic modernism outside of a Western model,[63] they are bringing Westerners to Port-au-Prince to experience art making under the conditions of their own street, that is, within a space of Haitian equivocal modernity.

Both of these bidonvilles are, in their own way, producing an ongoing correction of the so-called inevitably tragic Haitian story. While Jalousie residents resist the trajectory of Martelly's paint-infused project of destructive neoliberal re-development, self-taught sculptors in Grand Rue turn their battered urban world of the dead and dispossessed into a space of dramatically commanding figures made of old car parts and bones, echoing Ezili and the Gédé, those powerful lwa specifically figuring life and death.[64] In either case, Port-au-Prince, in the aftermath of the terrible 2010 earthquake, can certainly still manifest what Michel-Rolph Trouillot, speaking of the Haitian Revolution, termed the peculiar characteristic of being "unthinkable" even as it happens.

[1] Chiamaku Nwosu and Jeanne Batalova. "Haitian Immigrants in the United States," MPI Migration Policy Institute, May 29, 2014.

[2] George Packer, "Suffering," The New Yorker, January 25, 2010: 2

[3] Laënnec Hurbon, Voodoo: Search for the Spirit, trans. Lory Frankel (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995), 42-43.

[4] Laurent Dubois, The Aftershocks of History (NY, Picador, 2012), 3, citing David Brooks, "The Underlying Tragedy," New York Times, Jan. 14, 2010.

[5] "Novelist Edwidge Danticat: 'Haitians Are Very Resilient But That Doesn't Mean They Can Suffer More Than Other People,'" Democracy Now!, Jan. 12, 2011.

[6] Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), 73.

[7] See Dubois for an excellent historical treatment of these issues in Haitian history. The documentary, Aristide and the Endless Revolution, dir. Nicolas Rossiter, 2005, provides a clear presentation of the two coups against Aristide.

[8] Dubois, 137.

[9] Paul, Jean Elie, "Haïti-Culture: Le Cente d'Art renait au printemps de ses 70 ans," Alter Presse (14 mai, 2014), 1. Both gallery and school since 1944, the Centre d'Art has promoted the varied schools of Haitian art and is in the process of being re-constructed since the earthquake destroyed the building and its holdings.

[10] See notes from the 1997 Corbett Haiti Discussion Forum re: "Haitian Art Before and After 1944 and DeWitt Peters", including a post from Michel Rolph Trouillot.

[11] W.T.J.,Mitchell, Landscape and Power (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 2002), Preface, ix-xi. Mitchell's description of Lefebvre's triadic conceptual organization of space in Henri's Lefebvre's The Production of Space.

[12] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson- Smith (Oxford: Blackwell Publications 1991), 4-11.

[13] Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had a painting of Duffaut's in her collection, sold for $6,900 by Sotheby's on April 25, 1996. See Galerie Macondo, "The Artists of the Grand Rue: Musée d'Art," March 2005

[14] Royal Oasis, Haiti, here a "Junior Suite" costs USD350.00 per night.

[15] For excellent photos of the tombs and routes through La Cimetière, see Justin Ames, "Visiting the Grand Cemetery of Port-au-Prince," Velvet Rocket (April 1, 2011).

[16] Myron Beasley, "Vodou, Penises and Bones: Ritual performances of death and eroticism in the cemetery and the junk yard of Port-au-Prince," Pweformance Research (London: Routledge, 2010) 15:1,I 41-47

[17] Ghetto Biennale.

[18] Dubois, 19-21, and Ramsey Clark,"Haiti's Agonies and Exhaltations," in Haiti: A Slave Revolution, edited by Pat Chin, Greg Dunkel, Sam Flounders and Kim Ives, (N.Y.: International Action Center, 2004), 2.

[19] Charles Arthur and Michael Dash, eds. A Haiti Anthology: libèté (Princeton: Marcus Wiener Publishers, 1999), 35.

[20] Dubois, 54-65.

[21] Dubois, 43.

[22] Dubois, 104-115.

[23] Dubois, 7. Though later reduced 60 million francs, the cycle of debt simply got worse.

[24] Clark, 7-8.

[25] Dubois, 276.

[26] See the 2005 film Aristide and the Endless Revolution, dir. Nicolas Rossier

[27] Dubois, 263.

[28] "We Made a Devil's Bargain: Fmr. Pres. Clinton Apologizes for Trade Policies that Destroyed Haiti's Rice Framing," Democracy Now!, April 1, 2010.

[29] Dubois, 367.

[30] James O'Brien, "International Community Failed Haiti Reconstruction, Brought Cholera." Institute for Justice and Democracy for Haiti (Feb. 17, 2014) 2

[31] Dubois, 368.

[32] Georgiana Nienaber, "Who Owns Haiti's Future?" The Huffington Post (6/26/2013): 2

[33] O'Brien, 3.

[34] Personal communication with Sacha Christianson, daughter of a close friend, who worked in an orphanage outside Hinche, Haiti in the rural Artibonite region in 2014. Visiting an American acquaintance working for an American NGO in Port-au-Prince, she was shocked at the fortress-like housing for NGO workers and the elegant night club scene in Pétionville where such workers spent a good deal of time.

[35] Because Lefebvre had disagreements with the Situationists as to the aesthetic vs. everyday life role in détournement," see Guy-Ernest Debord and Gil J Wolman. "Mode d'emploi du détournement," Biblioteque-Virtuelle. Appeared initially in Les Lèvres Nue N.B., May 1956.
Another useful article re: this concept is "Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space," Not Bored

[36] Hurbon, 51-63. See his discussion of U.S. Marine's 1931 La White King of La Gonaive and the 1941 American film I Walked With a Zombie.

[37] Hurbon, Chaps. 1, 2, 4.

[38] Hurbon, 82-83. The twin lwa (marassa lwa) repeat the androgynous double gods Mawu-Lisa and symbolize primeval harmony or dangerous jealousy.

[39] Leah Gordon, Don Constantino, Richard Fleming, Kanaval, Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti (Soul Jazz Publications, 2010)

[40] Nicole Willson, "A New Kanavalesque: Re-Imagining Haiti's Revolution(s) Through the Work of Leah Gordon," HARTS & Minds: The Journal of Humanities and Arts, Vol. 1, No.1, (Spring 2013) And see Edwidge Danticat, After the Dance (New York: Crown Publishers, 2002), 143.

[41] Hurbon, 43-46.

[42] Inhabitants of Jalousie commented repeatedly about this "sacredness" when interviewed for "Life in Haiti After the 2010 Earthquake," BBC World Have Your Say, June 18, 2013

[43] Amy Wilenz, "Urban Botox in Haiti" (April 9, 2013).

[44] Duffaut's "Jacmel School," a form of "primitive" or "naive" art from Haiti, was embraced by American and European collectors in the era of the 1970's, and is a part of permanent galleries in the New York Museum of Modern Art, among others.

[45] Wilenz, "Botox."

[46] Jeb Sprague, "Michel Martelly, Stealth Duvalierist" Haïti Liberté Nov. 27- Dec. 03, 2013.

[47] Amy Wilenz, "Letter from Haiti: Life in the Ruins," The Nation, Jan. 28, 2013.

[48] David McFadden, "Haiti protesters again rally to demand president's departure," charlotte, Jan. 16, 2015.


[50] Patrick Villaire, born 1941 in Haiti, is known for his work in ceramics and sculpture which re-consider vodou for the contemporary world. p [51]:"Lav tête - literally "wash the head," in springs and rivers is part of a vodou experience to cross over to the ancestors or greet the lwa. See Hurbon, 118-119.

[52] "Haitians protest home demolition plan," Al Jazeera June 26, 2012.

[53] Harold Szeemann, "The Biennial Questionnaire: Leah Gordon," Art Review, 2.

[54] "Arts of Resistance in Haiti," Waves of Change, January 12, 2011.
See also "Maxim's News Network: Haiti's Atis Rezistans," an excellent short video in Kreyòl, which gives a good view of both the look and activities of Grand Rue, with specific attention to the children artists of the community.

[55] Szeemann, 2-4.

[56] Okwui Enwezor, " Mega Expositions: The Antinomies of a Transnational Global Form," Other Cities, Other World: Urban Imaginaries in a Globalizing Age, ed. Andreas Huyssen (Durham: Duke UP) 2008), 147-180.

[57] Szeemann, 2-3.

[58] Willson, p. 2 and personal communication with Leah Gordon, Spring, 2013.

[59] Carine Fabius, "Creating and Bleeding at Haiti's Grand Rue at the Ghetto Biennale," Repeating Islands (Dec, 20, 2011).

[60] Personal communication with Leah Gordon, Spring, 2013.

[61] Ghetto Biennale

[62] David Frohnapfel, "The 3rd Ghetto Biennale 2013: Decentering the Market and Other Tales of Progress," Artlink Issue 34:1 (March 2014). 1-2.

[63] Enwezor,, 147-180.

[64] Hurbon, 74-79.


"Arts of Resistance in Haiti." Waves of Change, January 12, 2011. Accessed March 14, 2015.

Ames, Justin. "Visiting the Grand Cemetery of Port-au-Prince," Velvet Rocket, April 1, 2011. Accessed Dec. 23, 2014.

Arthur, Charles and Michael Dash, eds. A Haiti Anthology: libèté Princeton: Marcus Wiener Publishers, 1999.

Beasley Myron. "Vodou, Penises and Bones: Ritual performances of death and eroticism in the cemetery and the junk yard of Port-au-Prince," Performance Research London: Routledge. Vol. 15, No. 1 (2010): 41-47.

Clark, Ramsey. "Haiti's Agonies and Exhaltations." In Haiti: A Slave Revolution, edited by Pat Chin, Greg Dunkel, Sam Flounders and Kim Ives, 1-15. New York: International Action Center, 2004.

Corbett. Haiti Discussion Forum re: "Haitian Art Before and After 1944 and DeWitt Peters.,"" (December 1997).

Danticat, Edwidge. After the Dance. New York: Crown Publishers, 2002.

Debord, Guy-Ernest and Gil J Wolman. "Mode d'emploi du détournement" Biblioteque-Virtuelle. Appeared initially in Les Lèvres Nue N.B., May 1956. Accessed March 10, 2015.

Dubois, Laurent. Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. NY, Picador, 2012.

Paul, Jean Elie. "Haïti-Culture: Le Cente d'Art renait au printemps de ses 70 ans," Alter Presse, 14 mai, 2014 1-2. Accessed March 12, 2015. p Enwezor, Okwui. "Mega Expositions: The Antinomies of a Transnational Global Form." In Other Cities, Other World: Urban Imaginaries in a Globalizing Age, edited by Andreas Huyssen, 147-180. Durham: Duke UP 2008.

Fabius, Carine. "Creating and Bleeding at Haiti's Grand Rue at the Ghetto Biennale." Repeating Islands Blog. Dec. 20, 2011. Accessed Jan. 4, 2015.
Frohnapfel, David. "The 3rd Ghetto Biennale 2013: Decentering the Market and Other Tales of Progress," Artlink Issue 34:1, March 2014:1-2. Accessed Dec. 28, 2014.

Gallerie Macondo, "The Artists of the Grand Rue: Musée d'Art," March 2005. Accessed Feb. 20, 2015.

Gordon, Leah, Don Constantino and Richard Fleming. Kanaval, Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti. London: Soul Jazz Publications, 2010.

"Haitians protest home demolition plan," Al Jazeera, June 26, 2012. Accessed Jan. 4, 2015.

Hurbon, Laënnec. Voodoo: Search for the Spirit. Translated by Lory Frankel. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell Publications 1991.

"Life in Haiti After the 2010 Earthquake." World Have Your Say, BBC Radio, June 18, 2013. Accessed June 20, 2013.

McFadden, David. "Haiti protesters again rally to demand president's departure," charlotte, Jan. 10, 2015.

Mitchell, W.T.J. Preface to Landscape and Power. vii-xii. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 2002.

Nienaber, Georgiana. "Who Owns Haiti's Future?" The Huffington Post, June 26, 2013. Accessed Dec. 30, 2014.

"Novelist Edwidge Danticat: 'Haitians Very Resilient But That Doesn't Mean They Can Suffer More Than Other People.'" Democracy Now!, Jan. 12, 2011. Accessed Dec. 10, 2014.

Nwosu, Chiamaku and Jeanne Batalova. "Haitian Immigrants in the United States." MPI Migration Policy Institute, May 29, 2014. Accessed Dec. 20, 2014.

O'Brien, James. "International Community Failed Haiti Reconstruction, Brought Cholera." Institute for Justice and Democracy for Haiti, Feb. 17, 2014. Accessed Dec. 10, 2014.

Packer, George. "Suffering," 1-2. The New Yorker, January 25, 2010 p Royal Oasis, Haiti. Accessed Dec. 21, 2014.

Szeemann, Harold. "The Biennial Questionnaire: Leah Gordon," Art Review, 2.

Sprague, Jeb. "Michel Martelly, Stealth Duvalierist," Haïti Liberté Nov. 27- Dec. 03, 2013.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.

"We Made a Devil's Bargain: Fmr. Pres. Clinton Apologizes for Trade Policies that Destroyed Haiti's Rice Framing." Democracy Now!, April 1, 2010. Accessed Jan. 10, 2015.

Wilenz, Amy. "Urban Botox in Haiti" April 9, 2013.

Wilenz, Amy. "Letter from Haiti: Life in the Ruins." The Nation, Jan. 28, 2013.

Willson, Nicole. "A New Kanavalesque: Re-Imagining Haiti's Revolution(s) Through the Work of Leah Gordon." HARTS & Minds: The Journal of Humanities and Arts, Vol. 1, No.1, (Spring 2013)

Author Bio

Carolyn Duffey, PhD in Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley, is a lecturer in the American Studies Program at Stanford University and a member of the Visiting Faculty at the San Francisco Art Institute in Liberal Arts and Critical Studies in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies. She works in the field of literary and cultural studies, specializing in the Francophone Caribbean and the Maghreb, race, ethnicity and gender in literature of the Americas, postcolonial and feminist theory, and urban studies through the lens of film and literary narrative. Her recent publications appear in Ma Comère,Journal of Caribbean Literatures, Women in French Studies, and Pacific Coast Philology.

An Introduction to P[art]icipatory Urbanisms
Karin Shankar and Kirsten Larson
Research Notes from a Black Urbanist
Ronald Morrison
Ghetto Biennale and “Jalousie en Couleur”: The Politics of Post-Earthquake Aesthetics in Port-Au- Prince
Carolyn Duffey
Fugitive Moments and Public Memory: An Improvised Memorial for Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X in Canberra
Rebecca Caines
Reimagining Fluidity: Colliding Bodies and Architecture at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Ying Zhu
The “Good Death” of Buildings: Filling Gaps in Post-Earthquake Christchurch
Heidi Elisabet Käkelä
Spacehacking as Praxis: 3 Projects, 3 Perspectives: raumlaborberlin, Recetas Urbanas, Collectif Etc
Nathan John
Making of the Indignant Citizen: Politics, Aesthetics, and Housing Rights in Madrid and Rome
Andreea S. Micu
Critical Performance Spaces: Participation and Anti-Austerity Protests in Athens
Gigi Argyropoulou
Participatory Aesthetics and Makeshift Urbanism: Cases of Guimarães, Cova do Vapor and Terras da Costa
Joana Braga
‘Space to Wrestle With:’ Social Practice in Gurgaon
Alex White-Mazzarella, Namrata Mehta and Soaib Grewal
Windows on an Urban Village: Participation and Antagonism in Shaina Anand’s ‘KhirkeeYaan’
Rattanamol Singh Johal
invisible Zürichs: Multiplicity of Knowledges in Socially-engaged Artistic Practice
Cecilie Sachs Olsen
Seeing in the Dark: Unearthing Batumi’s Hidden Backyard Treasures
Lydia Matthews
Basketball Now!
Layla Nova Forrest-White
Assemblages of Difference: Place-making and Utopian Agonism on the Open-Air House Music Dance Floor
Kavita Kulkarni
‘O collective Happening’ in Shanghai: “Loose Space,” Participation, and what Sustains between Instantaneity and Permanence
Chiayi Seetoo
Squatting in Non-Spaces: Queering Art and Identity in Global China’s Guangzhou
Jenny Lin
Negotiating Informality: Social and Economic Strategies of Latino Food Vendors in San Francisco’s Mission District
Ginette Wessel and Sofia Airaghi
Beyond Bottom-Up in San Francisco: Public-Private Initiatives and the Potential for Proactive Citizenship
Antje K. Steinmuller