dimanche 25 novembre 2012

Dondé están los haitianos?

When I was a graduate student I spent a summer in Dakar, Senegal where I did research on Haitian writers living there.  I interviewed the wonderful Lucien and Jacqueline Lemoine and had the opportunity to see one of M. Lemoine's plays at the national theater.  I conducted research in the National Archives where I discovered more details about the Festival International des arts nègres in 1966. I traveled to Touba Dialw where I saw the art of Gerard Chenet who I also interviewed and spent some time with.  This time in Dakar was my first experience with "field research" and "archival research" methods that have become increasingly integral to literary studies in the case of the latter, and less practiced but still done in the case of the former.  I began knowing exactly what I was looking for at the time, but not sure how the project was going to take shape in the future.  I began simply, perhaps somewhat naively merely asking people if they were familiar with any Haitians living in Dakar.

I share this experience now because last week at the American Studies Association in San Juan Puerto Rico, I had hoped to do similar work on "los haitianos."  Unfortunately time, conferencing and a sweet surprise visit from my beloved did not allow!  What I did happen upon, however was a "Haitian Gallery" in Old San Juan.  When I spoke to the person at the desk about its Haitianness the following interaction ensued:

Me: Wow all this art is Haitian?
Him: (shaking his head) No, of course not.
Me: (confused) Then why is it called Haitian Gallery?
Him:  Well it began as a Haitian Gallery but now we get art from all around the world, this mask is from Polynesia for example...
Me: (disappointed and slightly annoyed) Oh...welll...okay 

That being said I did get some nice pictures of the inside! I was reminded of my previous post about cultural consumption, who consumes Haitian art, when, where and what does it mean.  Haitian art is certainly well known throughout the world, what are some different ways it is being used, consumed  and represented outside of Haiti?  When we talk about "outside of Haiti" we also need to carefully distinguish between how this consumption translates across cultures.  How is Haitian art received or appreciated in Puerto Rico or other parts of the Caribbean, in Bénin, Nigeria, or other parts of the African continent, or in France and Spain and other parts of Europe?  I don't have definitive answers to any of these questions, but it is something I thought about a lot after my encounter in this Puerto Rican "Haitian Gallery."