“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Audre Lorde
La Lucha (which translates to The Struggle) Quisqueya and Haiti, One Island is an exhibition centered on the political turmoil that has caused decades of rift amongst neighboring countries the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It’s denial of culture and history has created years of pain and anguish amongst its habitants. Twenty-seven artists from both sides of the island united with the purpose to educate patrons on its history and enlighten those not privy to the current political stance. This exhibition was also a collaborative effort with the Haiti Cultural Exchange, a nonprofit organization established in 2009 to develop, present and promotes cultural expression of the Haitian people. They seek to raise awareness of social issues and foster cultural understanding and appreciation through programs in the arts, education, and public affairs.
For decades, and more specifically within the last few years, the Dominican Republic has gone under fire for ruthless tactics of stripping away human rights and identity to those born on their soil. According to the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal those born in the Dominican Republic and are of Haitian decent have gone into what could be declared citizenship limbo. D.R’s government has declared Dominicans of Haitian decent and undocumented Haitians alike as non-citizens regardless of their years of residency. These individuals are now being deported to Haiti and forced to live in a country that is essentially foreign to them. This outrageous ruling has zero logic and has yet to determine in full detail as to how or why does ancestry determine your eligibility for citizenship? However, this agenda is not new to this current divide – for decades it’s always been a plan of implementation as early as the Trujillo era (D.R.’s most infamous and bloodiest of dictators) and has currently found its loophole (or rather its scapegoat) to coax its divide. Haiti has recently endured the most disastrous of hurricanes in 2010, crippling its economy – and despite numerous donations from the U.S., the country has yet to recover its losses. Taking that factor into account has now provided a window of opportunity for D.R.’s government officials to exercise this inhumane ruling. (To follow this story and further updates, please hit link.)
In wanting to bring this controversy to the forefront, 27 brave artists used their talents as a platform to voice their opinions aesthetically. The group show took place at Northern Manhattan’s Rio Gallery (in the vicinity of Washington Heights) where local artists and spectators alike could gather in a safe and artistically inclined environment. I was one of the lucky few that arrived early, but soon found myself in an unsettling moment. I walked in and signed in as you normally do at these functions, when all of sudden two boisterous elderly gentlemen walked in – and let’s just say, your typical art reception turned soar rather quickly.
Both men walked right past organizers and were insistent on going up to the penthouse where the show was taking place. The elevator door opens; I hop in with my friend, and unfortunately, these two gentlemen. My friend being very observant could tell that these two were up to no good and before I knew it, an argument ensues. Turns out that these two men were opposed to this art show and thought it would be a great idea to impose onto patrons their propaganda. They were carrying booklets and pamphlets filled with what I can assume the “pros” on the current ruling in the Dominican Republic. Now, when I look back, I wished I had snagged a pamphlet so I could have verification of their persistence – but going based their reaction and obnoxious behavior, I drew my own own conclusions.
One lady organizer that managed to cut through the crowd and corner one gentlemen, shouted (and rather proudly might I add), “I’m of Haitian decent and very proud let me tell you! You two have to go! You don’t come in a safe space where these artists have the right to express their views however they so choose… we are a democracy! Show them some respect and please leave.” Both men were in a huge huff, yelling: “we’re both Dominican and can do what we want! Que viva la Republica Dominicana” as they were escorted out. I have to admit; it was a little unnerving to have witnessed such a scuff when the show’s intent was of a peaceful nature. Unfortunately, these old and very ignorant beliefs are still very much alive; for instance, the recent attacks that occurred at a magazine publication in Paris, France over satirical political cartoons. Now, don’t misinterpret my statement above; I don’t believe I was really in harms way, but the volume and aggression that boiled over can definitely make one pensive of the possibilities. Regardless of that small disruption, I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying the exhibition. The show resumed to a peaceful state post their exit. In my opinion, it was a show deeply immersed in an ominous history that unfortunately overshadows a beautiful culture that bred from all that imposed pain. A shared history that one would assume would unite, but has done the contrary. Old world views die-hard and have cultivated a blind faith that continues to plague this small island. Some may say that it isn’t a racist issue at all but rather an economical issue – but if that were true, then explain that last 50 years and the resentment and cultural appropriation that has crippled the island.
In attending, I also got a chance to have see the work of my artist friend Carlos Dominguez Martinez, aka Feegz173. Carlos is of Puerto Rican and Dominican decent and most of his artwork is a reflection of his culture through a controversial lens. He is one of the few artists that I know of whose pieces are very much politically charged and compelling to spark introspective debate. For being outspoken and as well-versed in controversial topics, he has garnered the attention of prestigious art shows such as El Museo del Barrio’s 6th biennial exhibition ‘The (S) Files” – and, his work has traveled the world exhibiting at reputable galleries and museums such as El Museo del Barrio, Centro Leon in the Dominican Republic (equivalent to MoMA here in the States) – and that’s just to name a few. Carlos’ work encompasses a wide array of mediums; but this show he opted for an eye-catching installation piece with a heavy hand on the social, political, and racist implications of the ruling. His piece is of a black oxide statuette semi-covered in white paint drippings with a crucifix hovering over it. When asked about his inspiration behind his installation piece titled “Entre mas lejos de lo negro y Haitiano mas pura” (translation: As far away from the black and Haitian the more pure) his response was the following: “this piece isn’t necessarily about Haiti or the Dominican Republic, but rather how we’ve [as a society] tried to hide our blackness in the Dominican Republic which always links back to Haiti anyway. In trying to deny our identity, no wonder it’s created this wedge of separation. If you’ve noticed, my piece features a crucifix tied up covered in white paint and dripping onto the statuette to indicate the whitewashing of our culture – and one of the major vehicles for that whitewashing has been Christianity.”
When asked about the night’s controversial outburst, his response was: “oh, I thought it was hilarious that these men felt the need to come and protest the show. Most of these controversial shows will bring out the worst in these old Dominican men defending the lies of the Trujillo era and the era of his right-hand man Joaquín Balaguer – but that’s another layer to the controversy.
Using Trujillo as a scapegoat and thoroughly believing that this anti-Haitian campaign started with him and ended with him is just completely wrong. It actually started with the founding of our country – so its no wonder that these older gentlemen are still very much set their ways when they see these movements – it sparks controversy because we’re mirroring back to them the 60 years worth of brainwashing. A brainwashing imposed upon its citizens not only by our leadership but also by the Catholic Church. In my piece, I wanted to showcase what this “white” Jesus has done to our society and how it’s played a major role in how we relate to our own blackness and how we’ve treated our neighbors/brothers in Haiti.”
When pressed about the possibility of this outburst turning violent, he thought: “although in the past we have seen reported cases of physical attacks against Haitians, I can’t recall seeing a level of violence that parallels of those seen last month in Paris, France.” Playing devil’s advocate, I mentioned the harsh criticism that outspoken writer Junot Diaz received after he unapologetically disagreed with the ruling and was even labeled “traitor” by government officials, and his response was the following: “yeah, but being called a traitor isn’t like being surrounded by extremists ready to take aim. And in a way, I don’t mind being criticized for my work because I feel it opens the forum for dialogue. These two gentlemen tonight were yelling not attacking, so I think it’s a false equivalency.” Aside from participating in this show, Carlos is also working on a group show with Dominican York Projecta Grafico. The developing project is being curated by Pepe Coronado with the working title “Consequential Translations” – show will exhibit in the Dominican Republic early May. Mr. Martinez’s second project, a group of talented street artists/muralists of Dominican origin and/or decent is also in the works. This group of artists are collectively known as Murcielagos Fumando, (translating to The Smoking Bats) and have already made their debut this past summer at El Museo del Barrio. Murcielagos plans on making a big splash (pun intended) in La Quisqueya sometime in late 2015. Stay tuned to RBATC for updates to this story; you won’t want to miss out.
La Lucha: Quisqueya & Haiti, One Island is currently on display at Rio Penthouse Gallery from now till February 27, 2015. Rio Penthouse Gallery is located at 10 Fort Washington Avenue, New York, NY 10032. Gallery hours are from Monday thru Friday from 10am to 4pm and by appointment.
Addendum: There has been an update regarding the protest that took place. If you’d like to inquire more over this hot topic, please click here.
By Roz Baron