Edouard Duval Carrié
We are very pleased to present, in this still-sparkling new Miami facility, a group of works from a part of the Caribbean that – for lack of a better word – have been coined as “French.” For me this story starts about twenty years ago, when a group of Antillean artist friends in Paris asked me to join in an effort to present works in the lofty Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne in the city of Nantes, France. That exhibit, aptly named “Mawon, Marroon, Cimarron, Marron” was part of a larger effort initiated by the French authorities to commemorate the abolition of slavery in their colonies. In this context, the ideologies and conflicts that had allowed that perfidious human institution to flourish for centuries, and ultimately collapse, were taken down from dusty shelves and scrutinized once again. But something new was added to the discussion. Young contemporary artists were asked to join in the ongoing debates. For many of them, scars that should have been long healed was made visible in their art, available to the gaze under the medieval chandeliers of that mighty fortress. I promised myself then that I would one day work to bring their works to these shores. My only regret is that it has taken so long. This is a different group of artist than those of the Mawon exhibit, but they are animated by the same spirit. The works selected here express an exuberant will to assert their singularity. Most importantly, behind these creations lies an intellectual argument that belies the assertions made by many that belies the common assertion those somnolent islands have and can only produce works lulled by the verdant seas that bathe their pristine beaches.
Each of them has, against the odds, managed to produce work that fits the concept of “Marronnage”. Working and creating art that from a distant periphery, they address issues that are as relevant today as they were two centuries ago: how to survive and keep one’s dignity in the face of a disparaging ethnocentric metropolis. The condescension from today’s center is a pale legacy of the professed blindness that sentenced millions of deported Africans to perish in a system justified with a veneer of civilization. Some might claim that the very existence of this exhibit shows that much has changed since then. Certainly plantation slavery is gone. But its sequels are still felt today, visible in many conflicts that rage throughout our planet. Today’s conflicts have to be confronted as forcefully as slavery was attacked back then. The quest for true liberty is as central to the human spirit as the quest for economic equality. But both remain as elusive as they did in past centuries. Perhaps the concept of the maroon – a group of self-liberated slaves who took to remote mountain refuges in faraway colonies, defined by skin color and inheritors of a bloody history – cannot be applied to this group of savvy contemporary artists. And yet something remains which can only be defined as a fierce commitment on their part to persevere and develop their discourse in absolute freedom!
This historical background is important as we discuss the visual production of a small corner of this planet. But we must also understand the history of art from this region. I have secured for this exhibit the expertise of a few scholars and researchers, hailing mainly from Martinique, to help elucidate certain aspects of the development of the region’s scene. Gerry L’Etang, eminent scholar and ethnologist, addresses the historical context in which the French Antilles’s artistic expression has evolved, from the plantation system of colonial times, through the artistic production of the 19th and early 20th century. Renée-Paule Yung-Hing, an ardent promoter of Antillean art and member of the regional council of Martinique, addresses the modern artistic problematics of the region, highlighting the insertion of these territories into the framework of Post-Colonial France as full fledged “Département d’Outre Mer” (Overseas Departments). Dominique Brebion, a contemporary art critic who has recently been mounting exhibits hailing from the region, offers us her assessment of the artists presented in this selection. Thanks to her direct contact with them, she is able to illuminate the problems faced by the region’s artists in their attempts to insert themselves into a wider world of artistic endeavour.
Their contributions are invaluable for the way they shed light on this region’s artistic production. But I must add that this exhibit in no way claims to be an exhaustive survey or a comprehensive overview of the rich artistic production of the region. I wish I could have invited many more artists or – even better – have access to unlimited space either in the gallery or the accompanying catalog, so that I could give free reign to writers and artists. Alas, that is not the case….
To complement this exhibit we have partnered with the Green Family Foundation through its director Ms. Kimberly Green, whose general interest in the Caribbean and its artistic expression is clear. By making available the audio archives of the legendary American folklorist Alan Lomax, particularly the ones covering the French Antilles, she enables us to explore the region’s musical legacy in understanding the broader contexts that define the particularity of the region. The sampler of Mr. Lomax’s musical recordings from the 60’s and other documents from the region highlight the deep historical legacy shared within the French Antilles and with the larger Caribbean basin. This legacy has also permeated the continental United States, in particular South Florida.
I wish to thank profusely all of our partners all of whom have contributed considerable efforts in the production of this exhibit. First and foremost are all the artists who are toiling away in their studios and who have placed their confidence in my by entrusting their works for this production. I thank the writers for their scholarship. The prestigious Fondation Clément in Martinique and it’s president Mr. Bernard Hayot have been instrumental in the discussions and decisions which enabled this project to get off the ground. They listened to me when I made a plea to have my colleague’s work from the French “départements” be present at the internationally famous Basel-Miami art fairs. To the most dedicated staff of the Fondation Clément I cannot say enough!
I must add that the Global Caribbean program of which this exhibit is the fourth installment is an initiative of the Institut Francais. I have closely followed their guidelines, which ask that we “put Caribbean Art and Artists in commercial situation.” We hope that in doing so the visibility of the region’s artist will be enhanced!
Credit has to be given as well to the Little Haiti Cultural Center, a city of Miami facility built for the sole purpose of serving the local Haitian community. We extend our profound gratitude for their understanding that, by opening their doors to this program and its larger vision of a greater Caribbean, we also enhance the visibility of the Haitian community not only locally but in a wider sphere. It is in this spirit that we, at the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance, operate. We intend to familiarize our local youth with a larger regional context where a shared history and common concerns bind us in more ways than they might have considered.
Edouard Duval Carrié,
Artistic Director HCAA
Alan Lomax and the French West Indies/ Alan Lomax et les Antilles françaises
Music is a reflection of the inner soul of any human being, vibration, movement, emotions and expectations. Music reverberates and reflects what language limits...the
vibration of sound travels through time and earthly elements, and some believe, reaches the heavens. When the human voice feels limited in expression, it reaches for objects within reach that accompany and compliment their incantations Whether it is wood, metal, the knocking together of stones or the whisper of palm leaves against the winds above their heads...the earth and elements around them serve as conduit to connect with “the other”.
To speak about music is to speak about those by whom and for whom music is made. It is also to speak about the moments, the circumstances, and the places that give birth and meaning to music.
Musicologist, writer, and producer Alan Lomax spent over six decades working to promote knowledge and appreciation of the world’s folk music. He began his career in 1933 alongside his father, the pioneering folklorist John Lomax. In 1934, the two launched an effort to expand the holdings of recorded folk music at the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress (established 1928), gathering thousands of field recordings of folk musicians throughout the American South, Southwest, Midwest, and Northeast, as well as in Haiti, the French Antilles, and beyond. The thousands of field recordings they collected revealed a wealth of folk music throughout the world and led to the publication of popular folk song collections such as American Ballads and Folk Songs and Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Leadbelly.
Alan Lomax saw the importance of the media in cultural work. “The main point of my activity,” he said, “was to put sound technology at the disposal of the folk, to bring channels of communication to all sorts of artists and areas.” Alan lamented the increasing homogenizing effects of mass commercial culture upon local, traditional cultures worldwide. He coined the term “cultural equity” as a principle for advocating for the rights of local cultures.
Released for the first time, Alan Lomax’s legendary 1962 recordings of the rich and many-stranded musical traditions of the Lesser Antilles and eastern Caribbean include work songs, pass-play and story songs, calypso, East Indian chaupai, and steel band music, reflecting the Central and West African, French, English, Celtic, Spanish and East Indian contributions to Caribbean culture.
Caught at a pivotal moment in Martinique’s history, Lomax’s recordings feature powerful traditional singers. This collection offers an unparalleled portrait of these diverse traditions.
Martinique and Guadeloupe are the largest of the many islands that make up the Caribbean archipelago formally known as the Lesser Antilles. Officially recognized as individual overseas departments of France, the two islands are commonly referred to as French Antilles or, alternately, the French West Indies. Although they are linked historically and politically, each island has made its distinct contribution to the cultural fabric of the region. With the arrival of Europeans and Africans, who brought with them their traditions and cultures to the former French colonies, now overseas departments. The mix within the French Caribbean society gave birth to a unique form of music and dance, which is neither European nor African, but essentially Creole.
Both Martinique and Guadeloupe were colonized by French settlers in 1635 and annexed to France in 1674. Slaves were imported from West Africa to support a plantation system based primarily on sugar, rum and coffee production, which continued until slavery was abolished in 1848.
Meanwhile, many Africans were able to escape to the interior of the islands, mixing in with the remaining indigenous population, where their legacy continues in the musical traditions of chouval bwa (Martinique) and gwo ka (Guadeloupe), both of which are still performed at carnival times.
Throughout the colonial era, popular European social dances became the foundation on which locally based musical styles began to take root.
In 1962, as many Caribbean islands threw off the yoke of colonial rule, ethnomusicologist-folklorist Alan Lomax boarded a plane for the Caribbean, hauling a tape recorder and a pair of three-foot-high loudspeakers. His plan: to travel through the Lesser Antilles, the chain of islands on the southeastern edge of the Caribbean sea, and record in the field the music, rituals, and dance that survived the Middle Passage from freedom to slavery, as well as the Creole hybrids that resulted from the interactions between slave and master. He would then play those sounds back to their delighted makers and capture their reactions. When he returned, he brought back even more than volumes of musical treasures that would otherwise have been lost.
With its striking Afro-French Creole culture, Martinique nurtures a strong heritage of unique music: drum dances, work songs, quadrilles, story songs, and popular urban styles.Martinicans are continuously building up their specific cultural identity through these creative and dynamic musical processes, among others. With this in mind, thinking of music, together as a product, a process and an issue might well facilitate the understanding of the deeply imbedded reasons behind culture bearers’ choices in the expressions of their musical traditions.Whether traditional, popular or art music, the styles and modes of expression which these musics assume reflect the changes in tastes and values chosen by society, and in effect, translating a local group’s history. Moreover, in much the way of a cultural vector, music often announces those changes, which are as much on the political and social level as on a purely cultural one. Hence, it appears that musical practices must be looked at not only as a product and a process, but also and above all, as a social, political and musical issue.
Interested parties can also check out the 1100 photographs Lomax shot in the Lesser Antilles as he journeyed with his research partner, folklorist/Trinidadian Minister of Culture J.D. Elder. The Association for Cultural Equity has more on Lomax’s journeys and an absolutely huge online archive of recordings on their website.
The Green Family Foundation is a private family foundation that provides grants to support holistic programs that empower entire communities. GFF’s end goal is to enable underserved communities to achieve sustainability and self-reliance by alleviating the cycle of poverty and disease.
The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) is custodian of the Alan Lomax Archive, whose mission is to facilitate cultural equity. ACE preserves, publishes, repatriates and freely disseminate it’s collections. ACE practices cultural feedback by disseminating thousands of recordings, photos and videos through educational partners, free online resources and partners, and publishing partners; by repatriating artists’ rights and royalties to their estates and families; and, with the full participation of local institutional partners, by repatriating recordings, film, photos, with our comprehensive notes and data, to those communities.
ACE is housed at the Fine Arts Campus of New York City’s Hunter College. It was founded by Alan Lomax to explore and preserve the world’s expressive traditions with humanistic commitment and scientific engagement.
The Green Family Foundation proudly partnered with ACE in 2009 to help release Alan Lomax in Haiti: Recordings for the Library of Congress, 1936-1937 which has been nominated for two Grammys: Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes.
Kimberley Green, PhD
President of the Green Family Foundation