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1/2010 - "Ghetto Biennale" by Toni Pressley-Sanon, Ph.D.

Ghetto Biennale

by Toni Pressley-Sanon, Ph.D.

Toni Pressley-Sanon was a  2009-2010 ARC post-doctoral fellow whose dissertation was entitled "A Grain of Salt: Remembering the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Benin Republic and Haiti".

From December 12-19, I participated in Ghetto Biennale, an artists’ conference held in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. The conference was an experiment of sorts as artists and scholars from all over the world came together to collaborate and create. The entire city was our atelier.

The inspiration and driving force behind the conference was a group of artists who lived and worked in an area called Grand Rue in downtown Port-Au-Prince. The area is filled with the sights and sounds of men and women hard at work, squeezing a living out of almost nothing. It is a cacophony of activity. Street vendors pedal everything from lottery tickets to telephone calls. Men construct everything from spiral staircases to coffins. Women sell pepe (secondhand clothing), small bags of laundry detergent, cans of condensed milk, imported apples.

Amongst all of this activity, just a short distance from the main road and presided over by Bawon Samdi, lwa (god) of the dead, is an amazing space where a violent and beautiful creativity has taken root. The Grand Rue artists led by André Eugene and Celeur Jean Hérard, create works of art from largely American detritus. They have been creating art for years and exhibiting their works internationally. The artists who are also part of the collective, Ronald Bazile aka Cheby and Destimare Pierre Isnel aka Louko as well as the young children of the area use their art to comment on globalism, spirituality, life and death, politics and progress.

Almost every day during my time in Haiti I visited Grand Rue to see the artwork as it progressed. I witnessed people from the community who were curious about what was going on wander in and listen and look. I witnessed others wander in and pick up tools, eager to join in the process. Everyone was welcome.