By Zameena Mejia
The Andrew Freedman Home housed over 100 guests at the opening ceremony for “La Lucha II DOM & HTI: Visions of Tomorrow; One Island” on Friday, Oct. 9. The exhibit displays the mixed-media artwork of 28 artists of Haitian and/or Dominican descent living in New York City.
La Lucha is an organization of Dominican and Haitian artists exploring their island’s history, culture, and issues through art, curator Yelaine Rodriguez said.
“La Lucha II” explores the struggle—or “la lucha” in Spanish—Dominican and Haitian migrants face when crossing the border or leaving the island to find a better future.
Rodriguez, 24, spent most of the summer curating the exhibit and says the artists’ immigration-inspired work made the selection easier. La Lucha’s first exhibit was held during Dominican independence month in February to bring awareness to the island’s issues, “like how [Dominicans] celebrate independence from Haiti instead of our colonizers.”
The exhibit comes less than four months after the Dominican Republic began mass expulsions of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent on June 15. It also marks two years since the September 23, 2013 Dominican constitutional ruling that rendered this population stateless.
“You cannot talk about one side [of the island] without talking about the other, that’s why I created this group,” Rodriguez said. “I want to show how this issue has evolved, how it affects people now, but also to show that not all of us are in that tension. If we come together we can show how beautiful our culture is as a unity.”
John Jay College Assistant Professor Edward Paulino is a co-founder of Border of Lights, a human rights advocacy collective that promotes solidarity on the Haitian-Dominican border and abroad. Paulino says he commends the ideas that motivate La Lucha: Dominicans and Haitians in the diaspora coming to understand each other, trying to examine issues of race, class and history through the arts.
“The idea of exclusion or rejection has been a part of this narrative in the Dominican Republic that is especially driven by the elites,” Paulino said. “However, at the same time there’s another narrative that is older and stronger and it’s not of an adversarial relationship but of collaboration, particularly on the border.”
Haitian singer and artist Nadine LaFond’s “Bound by Earth and Chains: Homeland” is a print of two women in nearly symmetrical settings: each woman is bound to her respective gilded “cash crops” such as sugar cane, which are linked underneath the land by one gilded chain.
“These women can represent Haiti or the Dominican Republic interchangeably. We’re descendants of these women tied to the same land,” LaFond said. “We need to realize we are one people.”
Haitian-American designer Neith Rasuten visited the exhibit by invitation from Dominican artist Leslie Jimenez. According to Jimenez, her piece “Let’s talk hair/ Our Hair Speaks Volumes” was partially inspired by their first encounter in Washington Heights last summer.
“I saw her cute afro and complimented her dress because it looked like my grandmother’s work,” Rasuten said. “I asked where she was from. She said the DR. I told her I was Haitian. Without a word, we hugged each other as women who understood each other’s struggle and here we are now.”
The exhibit will be on display at from Oct. 9 through Nov. 6. There will also be a series of public talks, performances and other events held as part of the exhibition.