Posted by: posthaiti | January 23, 2010

the grande rue, a tour

it’s a bit strange to realize that i was one of the last new people flo would meet. i wonder if he learned something from me? we had dinner together my only night in jacmel: me, barnaby, zaka, and flo — lovely travel companions, and just what i needed. barnaby, for moral support and stimulating conversation; zaka, for his creative energy, haitian warmth, and ease in the world; and flo, for his companionship and knowledge of both the jacmel and PAP arts scenes. before i go further, here is my fave pic of zaka, against the backdrop of one of the ateliers on the grande rue (which i get to later in the post):

i met flo and barnaby moments after they arrived from miami. it was dinnertime sunday night, my first of two nights at the hotel oloffson, an expat and artists’ hangout, and they came to sit with me and david morel, the ex-NYT photog who has since taken some stunning photographs of quake victims around PAP. we became friends within minutes. they were headed to jacmel the next day and convinced me within one beer’s time to tag along.

the next morning came fast. at breakfast, i realized how NICE it was to have english-speaking travel companions! after a week in the small town of leogane, speaking mostly french, i was ready to joke and use my adult vocab and slang. first, though, flo and zaka, his assistant at the gallery he ran in jacmel, wanted to show barnaby the ‘grande rue’ ateliers, or workshops, located in the heart of the downtown ghetto. barnaby teaches art at a college in dallas, and he had recently spent nine months in togo and was here at flo’s invite to give a weeklong workshop on making natural pigments to the students at fosaj gallery.

the grande rue has gotten a lot of press, as it turns out — it even has several paragraphs devoted to it in my DR/haiti LP guidebook. however, i knew nothing of it or the artists. leave it to flo to know all the players — and, have the generosity to take us to meet them. set up inside the ghetto, literally, the artists range from sculptors to weldsmen to woodworkers. as you enter the area, you notice that people actually live there, too; winding along through the slight corridors, you can peek inside the shacks and see people bathing, cooking, hanging around. there’s colorful graffiti on the walls. you say bon jour and bon soir as you pass. it’s just like any other ‘hood, but everything is crammed tightly into a small space that houses not only people, but collected trash of all sorts as well as the artists’ creations.

at the heart of the movement are three local artists: jean herard celeur, andre eugene, and guyodo. their space is called the ‘e. pluri bus unum’ art museum, and they’re on the web as ‘atis rezistans.’ from the atis rezistans’ web site:

The artists Celeur, Eugène and Guyodo all grew up in this atmosphere of junkyard make-do, survivalist recycling and artistic endeavour. Their powerful sculptural collages of engine manifolds, TV sets, wheel hubcaps and discarded lumber have transformed the detritus of a failing economy into bold, radical and warped sculptures. Their work references their shared African & Haitian cultural heritage, a dystopian sci-fi view of the future and the positive transformative act of assemblage.

that day, i met andre, luoco (another artist in the group), and the infamous guyodo, who flo informed us has unofficially broken ties with the other artists. word has it (or had it, since who knows what is now left of the ghetto) that guyodo is no longer on speaking terms with the others (and/or vice versa), but somehow they manage to keep making art just feet away from one another.

here’s guyodo, who reportedly is never seen without a pair of shades:

the sculptures are unlike any you’ve probably ever seen; one of the first you encounter is this giant:

most of the sculptures resemble odd, alien-like creatures who may have just crawled out of any one of the dried up rivers that are now overflowing with plastic bottles, discarded metal, scraps of aluminum and tin, old tires, auto parts, old food, shit, piss, and everything in between — literally, a haitian dump made into art.

many pieces use human skulls taken from the nearby cemetery and infuse an ironic (or maybe it’s truthful) worship of the penis, sexuality — perhaps fecundity in general — and vodou.

still, there’s a beauty to the inventiveness, resourceful(less)ness that makes your heart feel a prick. it pricks even more when you meet the students. their main man is luoco, a gentle, guiding teacher who ate dinner with us the night before at oloffson; he had a huge plate of pasta and poured hot sauce all over it (i noticed because that’s what i would have done). he’s a member of the collective and instructor; word has it that he did NOT survive the quake. i have no idea if the boys, the work, or the space did either.

here’s luoco and his first student, alex:

as part of a way to explore their art, the world’s reaction, and lack thereof, atis rezistans hosted what came to be known as the ‘ghetto biennale‘ in PAP last year. flo was a part of it with a film project titled, ‘kathy goes to haiti.’ sadly, the truth is that many haitians have to have connections to expats, typically family members or other “important” people, to get visas to leave the country, whether it’s to go to college or exhibit their art. so, the GB hosted an event at home, where haitian artists could actually exhibit; it also served as a place to MAKE art alongside other haitian and international visiting artists. according to their web site, the GB is “the first arts festival located in a shantytown in the developing world. The event will explore what happens when artists from radically different backgrounds come together.”

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Responses

  1. As Flo’s mother, you can imagine how fiercely I welcome your words and images. Your memories keep Flo and the remarkable people who surrounded him alive for me. Ten days have passed since Flo perished in the collapse of the Hotel “Peace of Mind” in Jacmel. His mortal remains still await repatriation.
    When I wrote Barnaby a few days ago to tell him Flo’s body had finally been freed from the rubble, he wrote back, “I am glad to know that Flo is free now. He always was.” We weep.
    Ann, James & Andrew McGarrell

    • i am so relieved for you. now, the healing can begin. don’t try to do it alone; i will keep writing and posting pictures, as there is so much to embrace in remembering flo, in remembering what he did and what his work presently continues to do for haiti’s people. stay in touch. with love,
      jeanene

  2. […] with all the destruction in the wake of this quake? probably made something extraordinary…(i wrote about the grande rue artists here; the pics are some of my favorite from the […]


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