As an American artist living and working within a contemporary Haitian context, I create work that investigates how my Haitian peers define their identities at the intersections of spirituality, sexuality, race, and culture. Similar to how Haitian culture itself is the result of a multitude of global historical influences, my art too combines a variety of influences from cultures around the world. I have spent my career traveling, researching, and experimenting around the world with different artistic traditions and techniques to see how people in different places and cultural moments find ways to express the most essential parts of their identities. Now having lived full-time in Haiti since 2007, I portray the Haitians around me who have played a role in developing my own identity over the years. I combine traditional approaches to figurative painting and portraiture with unconventional applications of mixed media including sequins and bogolan mud-painted textiles, incorporating spiritual and cultural motifs relative to the Haitian experience.
The choice of media used in my work is intended to draw the viewer into a supernatural experience with the artwork itself. Sequins have been traditionally used in the creation of Haitian vodou flags which are used in ceremonial rituals to bring practitioners into a trance-like state as they take on possession of the spirits. In my work the sequins serve a similar purpose to activate an experience that reaches beyond the simple visual interpretation of the work. This not only is a direct inclusion of the subjects’ culture, but also serves to challenge the narrative of who Haitians are typically perceived to be. As international media and institutional charities portray Haitians as victims of poverty, violence, natural disaster, and political corruption, my work exists to show these specific Haitian individuals in a different light. My portrayal of the subjects elevates the subjects beyond the stereotypes of victims and shows them full of divinity, humanity, and power. In a culture where Haitians are accustomed to having their images exploited, I craft images where their individual agency and dignity is paramount. Within Haitian culture itself there are also a number of narratives that my work challenges such as the expectations of gender expression and the role of colorism in defining one’s self image. By accessing the individual stories of the subjects through the paintings, space is made for a more nuanced interpretation of all of the different aspects that determine their identities. As we access those nuances, the work invites the viewer to also interrogate their own relationship to the subject and rethink their initial impressions.
I paint bodies, but create compositions that are about everything beyond and within the body. The art is not so much about the body but about the universe that we each embody.