Tag Archives: Early Twentieth Century

Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou

Opening  20 October 2012, Nottingham Contemporary will be presenting an insightful vision into a stream of Haitian art practices predominantly inspired by Vodou from the 1940s to the present through the exhibition Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou.

Gerard Valcin, Simbis Voyageurs (Collection GALERIE D’ART NADER)

” Bringing together some 200 works by 40 artists from the 1940s to today, and drawing from leading collections from Haiti, North America and Europe, Kafou will be one of the largest exhibitions of Haiti’s celebrated art ever held, and is unusual in presenting it in the context of a programme dedicated to international contemporary art. With few exceptions, the artists in the exhibition came from impoverished urban and rural backgrounds, and had minimal contact with the mainstream modern and contemporary art worlds. The extraordinary beauty and imaginative power of their work reflects the richness of Haitian culture and history while also contrasting with Haiti’s experience of, and reputation for, extreme poverty, political oppression and natural disaster. Kafou is curated by Alex Farquharson, Director of Nottingham Contemporary, and Leah Gordon, artist and curator of the Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince.”

“Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou will trace the history of how Vodou has been represented through successive generations of Haitian art in all four of Nottingham Contemporary’s galleries, including the work of artists who were also Vodou priests (Houngans): Hector Hyppolite, André Pierre and Lafortune Félix for example. The exhibition begins with what has been dubbed the ‘Haitian Renaissance’, exemplified by the artists that gathered around the Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince founded in 1944, which brought Haitian art to the attention of international collectors and important cultural figures. Kafou represents key figures from this ‘first’ generation, including Hyppolite, Rigaud Benoit, Wilson Bigaud, Castera Bazille, Préfète Duffaut (who lived in Jacmel in the south), and Philomé Obin and Seneque Obin, founders of the distinctive Cap Haitian school in the north of Haiti. Hyppolite, Haiti’s most celebrated artist, is represented by a large number of major works from the 1940s. They are followed by distinctive artists who followed in their wake, such as André Pierre, Celestin Faustin, Gerard Valcin, Alexandre Grégoire and Lafortune Félix, while a third room brings together examples of artists associated with the Saint Soleil movement of the 70s, 80s and 90s, whose representations of the lwa are less specific, more ethereal, and sometimes verging on abstraction. A fourth section presents several recent developments, including the Atis Rezistans group, who make arresting supernatural assemblages from recycled materials (car parts, clothing, human skulls and bones) and carved wood from their downtown neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince; the baroque and visionary depictions of Vodou spirits in sequins on flags by Myrlande Constant and Edouard Duval-Carrié’s and Frantz Zephirin’s potent fusions of Vodou and Haitian political history.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue whose texts will reevaluate the significance of seventy years of Haitian art from various cultural and historical vantage points. It features new essays by Colin Dayan (author of the seminal ‘Haiti, History and the Gods’), Alex Farquharson and a ‘trialogue’ by Leah Gordon, Wendy Asquith and Katherine Smith. A major international conference at Nottingham Contemporary will complement the exhibition by considering the many ‘Afterlives’ of the 1804 Revolution in Haiti and the Atlantic World through a wide range of disciplinary perspectives.”

To find out more about this exciting upcoming exhibition and its associated events on the Nottingham Contemporary’s webpages click here.

Ole Time Carnival in Trinidad

This week’s video feature is a series of three clips called Ole Time Carnival, 1959.

The colour footage is accompanied by the somewhat suspect ‘Ole time’ ‘authoritative’ voice of the ethnographer-journalist akin to that heard over the posthumously completed documentary footage of Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen: the Living Gods of Haiti which similarly ends with a look at Haitian carnival from 1947-1951.

Part one opens with a trio of devilish looking masks grinning out at us who give way to footage of preparations for carnival in 1950s Trinidad – we are told that participants delve into the archives to research their annual creations inspired by cultures, histories and more recent characters as disparate as the Ancient Egyptians, Ivan the Terrible of Russia and Charlie Chaplin.  Contemporary political comment too is visible not least through a large group of participants dressed as a “complete naval taskforce U.S. style” pointing guns at the crowd or hobbling around in drunken groups – the commentator prefers to see this as part of a “theatre of much-happiness” rather than a biting satire on U.S. Imperialism.

Throughout the wealth of costumes and performances shown also present the endless interweaving of histories that Trinidad and the Caribbean region as a whole embodies. Characters and dress inspired by African, European, Asian and (Native) American cultures remind us of historical migrations – forced and otherwise – the cultural clashes, and commodity flows of the transatlantic slave trade and indentured eras of the Atlantic World.  The at times problematic commentary reminds us of the discursive legacies of these systems, while the fluidity of their inter-mingling in the crowd anticipate the continuation of movements across the globe into our contemporary era and the proliferating scholarship of hybridity, diasporas, creolisation and relation.

The comments for each of these videos on Youtube also make for some interesting reading as many commenters respond strongly to the costume and performance presented, harking back to carnival of the 50s to 80s which resembled “street theatre” before the event “deteriorated into a ‘masquerade mockery’ of Brazil”. Whatever your opinion of contemporary Trinidadian carnival though, the beauty and creativity of costume and performance in these videos of “the greatest show on earth” is worth a watch.

Jack White and the Blues

This week’s video feature begins with Jack White’s mention of Cab Calloway and improvisational performance of St. James’ Infirmary Blues on BBC2’s Later with Jools Holland:

Before doing his northern Detroit version of St. James’ Infirmary Blues, White mentions that he first heard it performed by Cab Calloway as part of a Betty Boop cartoon. This great version of the song along with the original cartoon is also available online and posted below. Calloway’s performance comes about 4 minutes 20 into the cartoon and it’s not only Calloway’s voice you can hear but also his dance moves you can see too, as performed by Koko the clown. Calloway’s performance was in fact recorded and then transferred into the animation using the rotoscoping method so that frame-by-frame Koko would mimic Calloway’s unique moves. This method was also used to transfer Calloway’s move onto the screen in the Betty Boop cartoon Minnie the Moocher that we used as our first video of the week post.

Of course White has always been influenced by earlier blues artists and this continues on his first solo album, Blunderbuss, which was released last week.  Track 8 – I’m Shakin’ – features a great guitar riff and sees White covering “The Prince of the Blues” Little Willie John.

Earlier in his career as one part of the duo The White Stripes live performances often included covers of various Delta Blues artists including: Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson and as shown here below the fierce voice and guitar bashing sounds of Son House.

Video of the Week: Haitian Master Artists

This week’s videos wing their way to you from Gail Pellett Productions. These short 5 minute and under ‘mini-docs’ accompanied the exhibition ‘Haitian Art’ held at the Brooklyn Museum in 1978. Curated by Ute Stebich this exhibition was a landmark in the U.S. both in terms of its focus – as a major exhibition – on Haitian Art and its use of video within the gallery spaces.

Click the image links below to access five short videos: 1 introductory overview and 4 surviving videos out of 13 which each contain an interview with individual Haitian artists:

Haitian Art

“In 1978  the Brooklyn Museum mounted the first major exhibit of Haitian art in the U.S. — which later traveled to several other cities… Ute Stebich, the curator of this major exhibit, convinced the Brooklyn Museum to send a videographer  to travel around Haiti, shoot interviews with the artists and capture something of the world that inspired their work … the resulting mini documentaries produced were shown on monitors throughout the galleries — a controversial sensation at that time.”

Jasmin Joseph: Haitian Master Artist

Jasmin Joseph by Pascale Monnin

Jasmin Joseph by Pascale Monnin

“In this portion of the mini-doc we hear about Joseph’s early years as an artist, his transformation from sculptor to painter and his imaginative and spiritual world. He also explains why he doesn’t like the term “primitive” in describing his and other Haitian artists’ work … Joseph began making art through carving terra-cotta sculptures that came to the attention of Jason Seley, an American sculptor who partnered with Dewitt Peters…”

Continue reading

Video of the Week!

We here at the Black Atlantic Resource are happy to announce a new feature: Video of the Week. Each week we will aim to bring you an interesting video – posted here within our debate space – which we have found freely available online. We are doing this to highlight the amount of potential research material which is now digitized and accessible by a click of your mouse!

Here’s your first Video of the Week: Cab Calloway – Minnie the Moocher

Cab Calloway and His Orchestra’s hit jazz song Minnie the Moocher is used here as the soundtrack to a Fleischer Brothers’ 1932 Betty Boop cartoon. First we get to see Calloway’s signature dance moves while he conducts his orchestra, the video then cuts midway through the cartoon to a dancing ghost walrus voiced by Calloway and sporting his moves! Cab Calloway was a hugely talented American bandleader, singer and dancer who performed regularly at Harlem’s Cotton Club in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance era and later. Click here to find out more about Cab Calloway.

Aside from this the content of the cartoon, which at that time would have been produced as entertainment mainly for an adult audience, provides an interesting comment on American society of the 1930s. The cartoon’s representations of capital punishment – in light of the Powell v. Alabama ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court associated with the Scottsboro Boys case of 1931 – or what it’s depictions demonstrate about animators and audiences associations with jazz music are all telling…

If you have any suggestions for a video of the week please leave us a comment or post us another video in reply – we look forward to hearing from you!

White Anglo-Saxon Hopes and Black Americans’ Atlantic Dreams

White Anglo-Saxon Hopes and Black Americans’ Atlantic Dreams: Jack Johnson and the British Boxing Colour Bar by Theresa Runstedtler.

This article examines the controversy surrounding Jack Johnson’s proposed world heavyweight title fight against the British champion Bombardier Billy Wells in London (1911). In juxtaposing African Americans’ often glowing discussions of European tolerance with the actual white resistance the black champion faced in Britain, including the Home Office’s eventual prohibition of the match, the article explores the period’s transnational discourses of race and citizenship. Indeed, as white sportsmen on both sides of the Atlantic joined together in their search for a “White Hope” to unseat Johnson, the boxing ring became an important cultural arena for interracial debates over the political and social divisions between white citizens and nonwhite subjects.

Although African Americans had high hopes for their hero’s European sojourn, the British backlash against the Johnson-Wells match underscored the fact that their local experiences of racial oppression were just one facet of a much broader global problem. At the same time, the proposed prizefight also made the specter of interracial conflict in the colonies all the more tangible in the British capital, provoking public discussions about the merits of U.S. racial segregation, along with the need for white Anglo-Saxon solidarity around the world. Thus, this article not only exposes the underlying connections between American Jim Crow and the racialized fault lines of British imperialism, but it also traces the “tense and tender ties” linking U.S. and African American history with the new imperial history and postcolonial studies.

Read the full article at Project Muse

(Journal of World History, Volume 21, Number 4, December 2010, pp. 657-689)

The pen is mightier than the sword, but the tongue is mightier than both put together

A new profile has been added to the Black Atlantic Resource which explores the life of Marcus Garvey and the UNIA.

Marcus Garvey was a prominent black nationalist leader in the early twentieth century. In the space of ten years this unknown Jamaican, from a poor background, moved to America and lead a phenomenal political and social movement based in Harlem, New York. He remains a prominent and contentious figure in black history and was an important inspiration for later black power movements. ‘Garveyism’ was popular globally precisely because it confronted issues of ‘race’ in a new way.

Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) which promoted black pride and separatism. Charismatic and controversial, he was also an orator, writer, publisher and entrepreneur. He encouraged the black community to become economically independent so as not to rely on white America. However, there were many issues surrounding both the man and the movement. Although initially on good terms with other black leaders, his relationships deteriorated as he became more radical. A. Philip Randolph was said to be ‘embarrassed by him’ and W.E.B Du Bois called him “a grand distraction” and “the most dangerous enemy of the black race”.

Garvey is particularly significant for being a black leader in America with a more global agenda. In the 1920’s he was arguably the most loved and hated black man in the world. The UNIA eventually had 500 branches in 22 countries with millions of members, and ‘The Negro World’, the newspaper of the UNIA, at its peak had 200,000 subscriptions worldwide. He created a global African nation and left a legacy of Pan-Africanism and liberation ideology. He has had a profound impact of African nationalist movements, inspired the Rastafarian movement based in the West Indies and in the U.S. the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam, and Black Power reflected elements of Garveyism.

Whilst Garvey’s leadership was short-lived, at his peak he led the largest black movement in history constituting a vital part of black Atlantic awakening. However the debates surrounding this somewhat contradictory figure have certainly not been short-lived. They continue in current scholarship often consider questions such as; Was Garveyism racist, supremacist or liberationist? Was Garvey himself misguided, romantic, or a merely a bunglar? Even though it did not always achieve its aims practically the efforts of the UNIA were still significant in terms of black pride and consciousness.

Click here to read the full profile for Garvey and continue the debate by commenting below.