Throughout history, the Dominican Republic and Haiti have at times been allies and foes due to demographic and cultural differences. The two Caribbean countries that share the small island of Hispaniola, part of the Greater Antilles archipelago in the Caribbean region, bears a brutally racialized history but has managed to persist as a space of cultural fluidity and collaboration. The 1800s saw moments of unity on Hispaniola, and the embrace of blackness in the Dominican Republic, prior to Trujillo’s tyrannically “whitening” rule.
Bordering the Imaginary: Art from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Their Diasporas, is an exhibition of contemporary artworks organized into four parts, using an array of media that interrelates the history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Curated by Abigail Lapin Dardashti, a Franco-Dominican American Ph.D. candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center and specialist in postwar Latin American art, the exhibition, sponsored by Goya, brings together Dominican and Haitian artists based in both the island and in the U.S.
Through the exhibition, accompanying catalogue, and public programs, Bordering the Imaginary investigates definitions of nationhood as it relates to these two countries, their tradition of cultural and social exchange, and the racism and social injustices that have long impacted the people of both nations, creating a vivid visual narrative and opportunities for discourse that reconsider differences and commonalities between the distinct but intertwined communities of these two Caribbean countries that share a single island.
“We’re very excited to present a rich cross-cultural dialogue that underscores the possibility of exchange, interaction, and open borders,” said Elizabeth Ferrer, BRIC’s Vice President of Contemporary Art. “Focusing on the vital artistic contributions of artists of Haitian and Dominican descent, this exhibition amply reflects BRIC’s mission to reflect the creativity and diversity of Brooklyn as well as to make cultural programming genuinely accessible and relevant to a broad public.”
Bordering the Imaginary features artwork by Edouard Duval-Carrié, Vladimir Cybil Charlier, Patrick Eugène, iliana emilia garcia, Scherezade Garcia, Leah Gordon with André Eugène & Evel Romain from atis rezistans, Fabiola Jean-Louis, Tessa Mars, Pascal Meccariello, Groana Meléndez, Alex Morel, Raquel Paiewonsky, Raúl Recio, Freddy Rodríguez, Julia Santos Solomon, Nyugen E. Smith, and Roberto Stephenson.
The first, of the four-part exhibit, Revolutions and Unifications: The Contemporary Resonance of 19th Century History, explores how both Dominican and Haitian contemporary artists repurpose images and ideas from the 19th century in order to recover the history of cultural and socio-political exchange during this period, up until the murderous anti-Haitian Dictator Rafael Trujillo.
In the works here, artists like Freddy Rodríguez and Vladimir Cybil Charlier take up subjects such as the Maroons—Africans who escaped slavery and lived in hiding in the island’s mountainous regions, who managed to organize and insurrect. Other artists explore the 1791 slave revolt that evolved into the Haitian Revolution. The latter is illustrated in work by Tessa Mars, whose self-portraits see her envisioning herself as various Haitian revolutionary leaders.
The second part of the exhibit, Borders, Fragmentations, and Intertwinings, explores the border itself, a political demarcation that has been both the site of violence and porous exchange between Dominicans and Haitians. Dominican artist Pascal Meccariello’s installation Mapping on Broken History, for instance, uses fragmented maps and pages from Dominican and Haitian history textbooks; he covers his fluid rendering of the island with images of Trujillo, at once demonstrating the remnants of colonialism and the endurance of fluidity despite it.
Edourd Duval-Carrié’s acrylic work, El tigere y el congo, pictured above, depicts, on either side of the river that runs along the border, concepts of masculinity and power in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Another work, the film Ti tonton bat tanbou (Little Uncle Plays the Drums), made by Haitian artists André Eugène and Evel Romain and British artist Leah Gordon, is an artistic gesture towards the transcendence of the borderline, and a transnational Hispaniolan sensibility, documenting wooden figurines made in the artists’ studio crossing the border and being sold to tourists in the Dominican Republic. The works in this section depict how the identities of residents in Hispaniola and the diaspora intertwine and crystallize, forming new characteristics that go beyond those assigned by the nation-states.
Bodies Transformed, the third section, features works that reject traditional portraiture while representing identity through commonplace objects specific to Hispaniola in order to challenge race-based definitions of identity. Responding to this idea, Dominican-American artist iliana emilia garcía contributes a major, site-specific installation, The Sage and the Dreamer, composed of handmade wood and straw chairs sold throughout the countryside in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Wrapped around a pillar in BRIC’s gallery and approximately 20 feet tall, the chairs resemble a tree and act as a symbol of individuality, domesticity and communal exchange between Haitians and Dominicans. Also drawing on objects’ ability to elicit the complexities of a place, in his Made in Haiti series, the photograph below depicts how photographer Roberto Stephenson collects handmade objects from the streets of Port-au-Prince and sheds new light on their intricate detail and the creative ingenuity of people who make do with so little.
The final section of the exhibition, Memories of a Utopian Island and the Future, is a collaboration between Haitian-American artist Vladimir Cybil Charlier and Dominican-American artist Scherezade Garcia to be presented in BRIC’s Project Room. It features animated videos and installation that addresses various contemporary issues related to the diaspora. One such video is Conversation Thread, which sees the artists speaking French, English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole as their silhouettes intertwine. Lapin Dardashti writes, “Memories of a Utopian Island does not claim a sameness between the two countries. Indeed, numerous works in Bordering the Imaginary express distinct aspects of each nation … The countries maintain different cultures and modes of self-definition, but also share many cultural, economic, and historical notions that complicate the kinds of identities constructed by political powers.” Bordering the Imaginary aims to challenge these historically embedded categories, wrought as they often are by racist ideologies, through creativity and collaboration.
In conjunction with Goya’s lead sponsorship of the exhibition and as part of the company’s Goya Gives initiative, BRIC will facilitate an artist residency at the Orfanato Niños de Cristo orphanage in La Romana, located on the Dominican / Haitian border, and founded by Henry Cardenas and Marc Anthony of the Maestro Cares Foundation.
“We are honored to be the lead sponsor of the new BRIC exhibition and value organizations like BRIC who share the same mission in bringing communities together,” said Rafael Toro, Director of Public Relations of Goya Foods.
Exhibiting artist iliana emilia garcía will travel to the Dominican Republic to spend time with the children and deliver hands-on art workshops over a number of days, with the sessions culminating in a group project for public installation. BRIC’s community investment begins in Brooklyn through our Arts for All approach but extends far beyond.
Free Public Programs
Coffee & Conversation: Bordering the Imaginary
Saturday, March 17, 12:00-1:00pm
The event features a gallery talk with curator Abigail Lapin Dardashti and exhibition artists Vladimir Cybil Charlier, Scherezade Garcia, Fabiola Jean-Louis, and Freddy Rodríguez, who will provide an in-depth discussion of the context surrounding the exhibition; free coffee included.
Facing Contemporary Hispaniola: Panel Discussion
Wednesday, April 4 at 7:00pm
Curator Abigail Lapin Dardashti moderates a panel discussion with exhibition artists Patrick Eugène, iliana emilia garcia, Alex Morel, and Nyugen E. Smith, who will discuss their work and offer perspectives on the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Free Tours for Groups & Individuals
Wednesdays, 10:30am & 11:30am
Visit BRICartsmedia.org/exhibitiontours for more information.
Haiti-NYC-DR: Reflections from the Diaspora
Saturday, April 28 at 4:00pm; Part of BRIC OPEN: Borders (April 26-29, 2018)
Four leading voices of from the Haitian and Dominican diaspora—including Suhaly Batista-Carolina, Edward Paulino, Albert Saint-Jean,and Ibi Zoboi—discuss their personal experiences of the relationship between the countries, the legacy of their intertwined histories, and the unique character of the Haitian and Dominican life in NYC, through a public program and essays. Essays available at bricartsmedia.org/Haiti-NYC-DR.
This program is presented in partnership with the Haiti Cultural Exchange.
Conference: Art and Literature in Contemporary Dominican Republic, Haiti, and their Diasporas
Thursday, March 15, 1:00-8:00pm at The Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center, CUNY, 365 Fifth Avenue, Room C198, New York, NY
This conference, organized by Abigail Lapin Dardashti, explores the production of literature and visual art by contemporary artists and writers in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and their Diasporas. More info at https://www.centerforthehumanities.org/programming
Bordering the Imaginary: Art From the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Their Diasporas
Abigail Lapin Dardashti, Guest Curator
On view: March 15 – April 29, 2018 at BRIC House
Located at 647 Fulton Street (at Rockwell Place)
Opening Reception: March 14, 2018, 7-9pm
Sponsored by Goya