We left Haiti Monday morning after a short press conference with Haitian news outlets about our trip. The conference focused on the students responses, but at one point, they wanted everyone, including me, to share what stood out the most to us.
What stood out to me was the responsibility of the artist, modeled especially by Philippe Dodard, who took time out of his busy schedule to share the art and culture of his country. He introduced us and made it possible for us to meet all kinds of different Haitian artists, from the street artists, to the artists of the Grand Rue, Saint-Soleil Movement and Croix-de-Bouquets. Within every single one of these groups, there is a commitment to passing on the practice to young people.
Andre Eugene, one of the Grand Rue artists, is an internationally known artist who represented Haiti at the 2011 Venice Biennale and whose work has been compared to Damien Hirst of the diamond skull fame (both who stretch, on opposite ends, what no-budget art-making means). Eugene works with found skulls, as well as other materials that are on the streets. Yes, found skulls. Human skulls, that he finds on the street. He uses these and other materials that he finds to create his sculptures. This is the epitome of no-budget art making. But more important is the work that he lauds when you visit his studio, the work made by the children of the Grand Rue. He regularly works with them to teach them to find their way into that place of creativity, using similar techniques that he does, more because that is what they can afford–whatever they find on the street.
What I take away from this trip as an artist and a teacher, is my responsibility to continue to share what I do, and to inspire creative expression, through my teaching.
I was reminded of an experience as a Jesuit Volunteer that continues to formulate many of my life choices, the hunger banquet. Some of you readers may have participated in one of these at some point in your life. You draw a number at random, a one, two or three. I drew a one. Your number got you a ticket into the first, second or third world. The first world sat down to a ridiculously elegant meal, with meat and all the trimmings. The second world got bowls of rice and beans. The third world got a big pot, no bowls, plates or serving utensils. I remember not wanting to accept my lot in life, being very frustrated, wanting to somehow do something to help the others, change the system, something. On many levels, I felt very powerless–in spite of the fact that I supposedly have so many opportunities at my fingertips. This thought still comes in and out of my mind.
As I thought about that in Haiti, a conversation that comes up between me and Doug surfaced: how do we end up in our families, in our countries? Am I really lucky to have been born to middle-class parents in America? What is it that I am supposed to learn in this family/path of mine? What is my responsibility as a citizen of the Earth?
How does this relate to art? When I studied religion and art at Yale, I read Paul Tillich, and embraced his argument that art is an expression of an ultimate concern. (Read a great essay about it by him here.) The above plus all of his arguments are beginning to come together to help me define the next direction that I want/need to take as an artist, mainly asking how do I address the political in my art. And not political in the sense of work that offends or shocks, but work created with purpose. Work designed to ignite conversation and engage the viewer to action, whether that is action in their hearts, mind or in the world. So this is where I am, how do I take what I do already and engage my world in a different way. I don’t know. But I will explore this through 2013. Stay tuned.
Bon Soleil! Happy New Year! Enjoy the pics below my favorite images from Haiti.