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5/2010 - "Beyond the Biennale" by Toni Pressley-Sanon, Ph.D.

Beyond the 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".

A lifetime ago I was in Haiti celebrating. It was a magical, revolutionary moment that lasted two weeks from November to December 2009. A conference that wasn’t really a conference, The Ghetto Biennale, brought together a ragtag group of artists and scholars from Haiti and lòt bò (abroad) to make and discuss art. The conference was inspired by the work of a small group of artists who have been quietly transforming their environment of downtown Port-Au-Prince for years. This group of artists call themselves Atis Rezistans. Their young protégés who range in age from five to twenty are called Timoun Rezistans. They take detritus, much of it imported from the United States, combine it with local waste and make beautiful, provocative, oftentimes haunting works.

When the conference participants said goodbye to each other on the last day--some of us hopping into taxis or tap-taps heading to other parts of the city or the country; others of us hopping onto planes bound for other parts of the world—we made promises to see each other again soon or at least at the next gathering of what was to become a biannual tradition.

“See you for Carnival! We’ll share a couple of Prestiges!”

“Wi, see you this summer, frè’m, sè’m (my brother, my sister)! I’ll stay the full two months”.

The earthquake, nicknamed goudougoudou, an onomatopoeic approximation of the sound the earth made when plate tectonics violently shifted and toppled buildings like dominoes, made some of us into liars. At least three of the people whom we’d hugged and said, “see you later” to just three weeks before perished when the buildings they were in collapsed.

"anba dekomn" (or "under the rubble")...a post-earthquake artpiece.

"anba dekomn" (or "under the rubble")...a post-earthquake artpiece.