Bordering the Imaginary: Art from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and their Diaspora. Photo Credit: Vania Andre

By Vania Andre

Two communities with distinct differences and similarities were brought together through the arts at one of Brooklyn’s cultural mainstays Wednesday night.

On Thursday, March 14, BRIC arts media hosted the opening reception for Bordering the Imaginary: Art from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and their Diaspora. The exhibition curated by Abigail Lapin Dardashti, a Ph.D. candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center, features the work of 19 Haitian and Dominican artists, whose pieces reflect the shared history of the two countries that make up Hispaniola.

The artists’ work is inspired by their experiences that expose the inequalities and stereotypes of race, gender, and sexuality; issues that have all plagued the island for centuries.

In one piece titled Madame Beauvoir’s Painting, the artist Fabiola Jean-Louis highlights the strength and fortitude of women, while providing subtle commentary on the spectrum of the Black identity.  Madame Beauvoir’s Painting is inspired by 18th-century French portraits of elite, white women. However, instead of a white woman pictured in the ornate dress, Jean-Louis inserts Madame Beauvoir – a black woman.

“This piece is really about ownership,” Jean-Louis said. “Madame Beauvoir is not a victim of the past. She’s a reminder of the past and how the African experience is nonlinear, and that even in 2018, we’re still dealing with things that have to do with our past and that we need to face it.”

In the piece, Madame Beauvoir is pictured looking at the iconic and troubling image of “A Slave named Gordon” that depicts a runaway slave from 1863 with gruesome scars on his back as a result of repeated whippings.

“It’s not a painting of a person who’s a victim,” she said. “She’s the owner of a piece and she’s standing in her glory while telling the viewer she belongs where she is and to remember who she is.”

For 24-year-old Haitian American Ritza Francois, the exhibit was “very powerful and very genuine.”

“I feel very empowered,” she said. “It feels very comforting. I definitely can relate to many of the images and especially the ones that display colonialism, racism and the dynamics between Haiti and the DR. I felt like many of the pieces were well informed, well researched but also well thought out.”

The exhibit is organized into four parts.

The first, Revolutions and Unifications: The Contemporary Resonance of 19th Century History, explores how both Dominican and Haitian contemporary artists repurpose images and ideas from the 19th century in order to recover the history of cultural and socio-political exchange during this period, up until the murderous anti-Haitian reign of Dominican Dictator Rafael Trujillo. The 1800s saw moments of unity on Hispaniola, and the embrace of blackness in the Dominican Republic, prior to Trujillo’s tyrannically “whitening” rule. Works in this section also look into the religious impositions of colonialism, the sexual economy of slavery, the exploitation of black bodies in the creation of white wealth, and the Dominican Republic’s independence.

The second part of the exhibit, Borders, Fragmentations, and Intertwinings, explores the border itself, a political demarcation that has been both the site of violence and porous exchange between Dominicans and Haitians.

Bodies Transformed, the third section, features works that reject traditional portraiture while representing identity through commonplace objects specific to Hispaniola in order to challenge race-based definitions of identity.

The final section of the exhibition, Memories of a Utopian Island and the Future, is a collaboration between Haitian-American artist Vladimir Cybil Charlier and Dominican-American artist Scherezade Garcia to be presented in BRIC’s Project Room. It features animated videos and an installation, and addresses various contemporary issues related to the diaspora.

Bordering the Imaginary, which is a collaboration between BRIC and Haiti Cultural Exchange, will be on display until April 29.

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