ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
The ideas and drives behind the foundation of the Centre d’Art
in Port-au-Prince in 1944 had little in common
with those which precipitated the literary break with France in 1917.
Books on Haiti and the Caribbean
Hubert Cole. Christophe: King of Haiti. New York: The Viking Press, 1967.
C.L.R. James. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938)
Josaphat B. Kubayanda. The Poet’s Africa: Africanness in the Poetry of Nicolas Guillen and Aime Cesaire (1990)
Myriam J. A. Chancy. Framing Silence: Revolutionary Novels by Haitian Women (1997)
Paul Laraque and Jack Hirschman. Open Gate An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry (2001)
David P. Geggus, ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. University of South Carolina Press, 2001.
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Experiment in Haiti
By Dewitt Peters
A few years ago it was frequently argued by intellectuals that Haitians had no creative ability in the plastic arts. After 140 years of independence nothing of consequence had been achieved in either painting or sculpture. Vestiges of the rich artistic tradition of Africa were almost non-existent, weak and pathetic. The real explanation lay in the fact that, in almost a century and a half, the Haitians had only succeeded in evolving a feudal type of master-servant society, dominated by a French-speaking, often cultivated, small minority, in which the masses, were kept in a quasi-benevolent subjection.
The culture was predominantly French, but second-hand; anything imported must be good, nothing native could conceivably be accepted. for many years Haiti lay isolated, closed and secret, preoccupied with its increasingly unstable local politics, a dangerous game played by upper echelon experts. The period from 1910 on was the most turbulent in Haitian political history, government following government in rapid succession, and in 1915 United States Marines were landed and occupied the country.
About 1917, as a protest against the American occupation, a wave of nationalism swept over the land, expressing itself in a revolutionary new literature. For the first time since the heroic and violent days of their liberation from the French a small group of Haitian intellectuals and poets turned to themselves and to Haiti for inspiration and direction. It was not until 1944 that another and differently motivated liberation took place, this time in the realm of painting and sculpture.
Jasmin Joseph (Born in 1924 in Grande Riviere du Nord)
The ideas and drives behind the foundation of the Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince in 1944 had little in common with those which precipitated the literary break with France in 1917. Where one was a nationalistic movement of protest involving the prise de conscience of a restricted group of intellectuals and writers the other was motivated by an idealistic, somewhat fanatic, desire on the part of an American and a few Haitian confreres to do something about the plastic arts in Haiti.
The earlier literary revolt had moved with channeled rapidity and power whereas the movement instigated by the Centre d’Art developed more slowly and tentatively. But in the long run a far greater number of individuals were drawn into it and affected by it. Two factors were largely responsible, one was that the new institution was to be democratic–the only criterion for membership is the possession of at least a modicum of talent–the other was that it is not essential to be able to read and write in order to do creative work in the plastic arts.
Philome Obin, 1891-
Seneque Obin1893 (Cap Haitien) 1977
As an experiment in democracy the Centre d’Art has been only partially successful. An extended and organized education of the people is necessary to make democratic ideas work. In a country with one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world it is not surprising that excitable self-interest should often win out over reason and respect for others. During its thirteen years of existence the Centre d’Art has given an equal opportunity to several hundred individuals, the great majority from the so-called lower class.
A few of them have seized it, becoming in the process good and individualistic artists and greatly improving their social and economic positions. the fact that by far the larger percentage of these artists came from the hitherto submerged and exploited class has been the greatest contribution of the Centre d’Art to Haitian culture and to Haitian society.
Since the inception of the art movement in Haiti, paintings and sculptures of Christian religious themes have turned up sporadically. The late Hector Hyppolite, a voodoo priest, generally regarded as the nearest approach to an artistic genius yet produced in Haiti, did a number of paintings of religious subjects.
In 1946 Wilson Bigaud, then fifteen years old, was “discovered” by Hyppolite through a small statue of the Virgin which he had carved with a penknife out of a soft local stone and subsequently tinted with watercolor; Castera Bazile, a former houseboy now one of Haiti’s top self-taught artists and her greatest natural moralist, began his career with a small painting of a a religious procession.The point to be made is that in a country where the cult of voodoo is widely practiced purely Christian art is being produced, often by known voodooists. Hyppolite’s “Virgin Surrounded by Saints” is a major example. This what might be called “split allegiance” is not only manifest in a good deal of Haitian art but it is to be found in many aspects of the country’s life. It is not at all unusual for a Haitian to lose himself in the frenzy of a ceremony on Saturday night and to turn up at an early mass in the Catholic church on Sunday morning.
This dangerous duality is further complicated by the adoption by voodoo of many of the Christian concepts and symbols. No houmfor altar is complete without a figure of the Christ Child, a statue of the Virgin and a chromo of the Archangel, all now transposed and representing various deities of the cult. There are, however, certain Haitian painters who rigorously avoid voodoo subject material and whose occasional religious paintings are strictly in the Christian tradition.
Seneque Obin’s recent “Nativity” is a good example, and at the same time a work of charming, fresh originality. Gabriel Leveque’s “Crucifixion” is a sincere if somewhat idealized concept in this vein.
It was not until toward the end of 1949 that the Haitians were given the opportunity to focus on a large scale communal religious art project, the decoration with monumental murals of the Episcopalian cathedral in Port-au-Prince. By this time a group of nine “primitive” painters (Toussaint Auguste, Castera Bazile, Rigaud Benoit, Wilson Bigaud, Prefete Duffaut, Adam Leontus, Gabriel Leveque, Plilome Obin, and Pernand Pierre) had sufficiently developed and crystallized their personal styles to be entrusted with this vast project. What they accomplished still remains the greatest achievement in Haitian religious art.
“Nativity” by Seneque Obin
The two outstanding sculptors of haiti, both of whom frequently produce work of pure religious quality, are Jasmin Joseph and Andre Dimanche. As personalities they are dramatic opposites. Joseph is a peasant, secretive and vocally inarticulate, only just able to write his name. Dimanche is an intelligent, volatile ex-pharmacist now the well-paid superintendent of a large essential oils plantation in the mountains.
Joseph’s medium is that same clay which up to a few years ago he was fashioning into commercial building bricks for a few pennies a day; Dimanche is a master wood carver, gifted with an extraordinary ability to breathe life into dead wood. It is these totally different artistic personalities who have collaborated recently on a project of peculiar importance to the evolution of Haitian religious art, the chapel of the Petits Seminaristes in the impressive new building of the College St. Martial in Port-au-Prince.The chapel, exclusively the work of Haitian workmen artisans and artists, is severely simple, lighted by louvered glass windows running the length of both sides. surmounting the altar is a “Crucifixion” by Dimanche.
“Crucifixion” by Gabriel Leveque
Two other wood sculptures by Dimanche flank it, a superb “Head of Christ” and a “Madonna and Child,” this latter curiously reminiscent of the early Italian Renaissance. Simply framed in black, the fourteen small terra cotta Stations of the Cross by Joseph are hung above eye level at well spaced intervals along the side walls and the rear wall. High above the street on the upper floor of its massive mother building and with its views of sky and distant mountains the small chapel provides a removed and quiet setting for its purely Haitian sculpture.
Catholic laymen here have reacted overwhelmingly in favor of the religious art in the chapel. There has, however, been some criticism leveled against the work of Dimanche, mostly from an anatomical point of view. But, as the enthusiastic young Haitian priest who showed us though summed it up, the patent sincerity, religious feeling and good taste which imbue all these works of art far more than redeem them from criticism for any shortcomings in classical proportion.
For more than a decade the Catholic Church has stood aloof from the vital young art movement in Haiti. With the realization of the chapel in the College St. Martial an important victory has been won by the artists of the country and by the more liberal elements in the Church itself.
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The chapel of the Petits Seminaristes at the College St. Martial in Port-au-Prince is an example of what Haitian artists and workmen can do. One floor of the new building of the college is devoted to the uses of the seminarians; on this floor is the dormitory study hall and chapel (left) for about fifty young students for the priesthood. The chapel is the combined work of Father Grienenberger, superior of the establishment, and architect Hermann Charlot who designed the building. the crucifix over the main altar as well as the head of Christ (left) and the Madonna (right) which decorate the chapel are the work of Andre Dimanche, and are sculptured in native woods.
The Stations of the Cross (above) are terra cotta executed by Jasmin Joseph. The altar was made at the Centre d’Education de Carrefour; the candlesticks by Gerard Dunois. Piere Monosiet of the Centre d’Art assisted the arrangement of the sanctuary. in effect all the ornamentation of the chapel has been realized by Haitians
DeWitt Peters was the director and founder of Le Center d’Art in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He was the son of Charles Rollo Peters, distinguished Romantic painter of nocturnes, and a frequent writer on subjects concerning art.
Source: Books on Trial (June-July 1957)
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By Laurent Dubois and John D. Garrigus
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For July 1st through August 31st 2011
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By George Lamming
First published in 1960, Season of Adventure details the story of Fola, a light-skinned middle-class girl who has been tipped out of her easy hammock of social privilege into the complex political and cultural world of her recently independent homeland, the Caribbean island of San Cristobal. After attending a ceremony of the souls to raise the dead, she is carried off by the unrelenting accompaniment of steel drums onto a mysterious journey in search of her past and of her identity. Gradually, she is caught in the crossfire of a struggle between people who have “pawned their future to possessions” and those “condemned by lack of learning to a deeper truth.” The music of the drums sounds throughout the novel, “loud as gospel to a believer’s ears,” and at the end stands alone as witness to the tradition which is slowly being destroyed in the name of European values. Whether through literary production or public pronouncements, George Lamming has explored the phenomena of colonialism and imperialism and their impact on the psyche of Caribbean people.
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America.
This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens.
Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By George Lamming
Political philosophy, Literature, Caribbean history, Language studies. According to Prof. Anthony Bogues, The Sovereignty of the Imagination gives us that capacity for language and therefore the ability to name and establish categories. But this is not just a literary capacity; it allows us to define freedom. George Lamming recognizes the centrality of the quest for freedom for the social group that he calls ‘this world of men and women from down below.’ George Lamming is an illustrious Caribbean novelist and cultural critic from Barbados. His novels and volumes of essays and literary criticism offer insightful analyses on history, western philosophy, racism, colonization, education, literature and Caribbean independence.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 2 August 2012