Painting the Body Politic

Haiti tumbles. Haiti reels. Haiti tears itself apart. And Eduoard Duval-Carrie, one of Haiti's premier painters, chronicles the island's chaos on his canvases.

In works that are like surrealist political cartoons, Duval-Carrie pays "homage" to the revolution with a series of historical scenes painted in primary colors. A row of members of the Army of the Republic of Saint Domingue (Haiti's former name) are posed on round pedestals like toy soldiers. Several other paintings feature a group of nine slaves: in one, the proud-postured Africans contentedly spearfish from a wooden boat; in another, they are shackled together as they shuffle dismally through a jungle. Toussaint L'Ouverture, the former slave who wrote Haiti's first constitution and died in a French prison after the uprising he led against France's attempt to reestablish slavery was quelled by Napoleon's army, is shown stepping on a snake as he grasps his decree. In another painting, he stands in a boat surrounded by crocodiles.

Brightly colored oil barrels are piled up in a far corner of the Little River Service Center in Little Haiti. Painted with idyllic tropical scenes by local Haitian artists, they're meant to function as garbage cans in a litter campaign proposed by the center's administrator, Fedy Vieux-Brierre. The barrels, which look too lightweight to withstand hurricane season, have not been approved for use by the city. So for now they're being used to liven up the office.

Duval-Carrie did not want to paint a garbage can. He is, however, involved in another project with Vieux-Brierre, serving as vice-president of the recently formed Haitian American Artists Association. This will lead, Duval-Carrie hopes, to the founding of a Haitian Arts Center, which the artist envisions as a place that could offer residencies to both exile artists and those who still live on the island. Additionally, the center could host serious exhibitions of Haitian art that later could travel to Haiti when the situation there stabilizes.

Vieux-Brierre seems to have a more touristic function in mind for the arts center, establishing a place that would display handicrafts as well as art. (The art-center proposal is moot for the moment anyway. Little Haiti, whose businessmen rely on trade with Haiti, is suffering as a result of the current embargo. Artistic projects there are not a current priority.)

Similarly, Duval-Carrie has had to put his plans for returning to Haiti on hold. So he's settling into Miami, and waxes enthusiastic about the city's possibilities as an outpost for Haitian culture.

"I feel that this is an extension of Haiti. For the first time in Haitian history the Haitians have an enclave outside of Haiti. Even in New York that does not exist. I think that decisions will be made here," he says optimistically, while acknowledging that building a strong Haitian community will take time. "What happens in Haiti happens again here. You have the Haitian intelligentsia, the upper middle classes, who are moving to places like Kendall, and you have the Haitian people here in Little Haiti." Duval-Carrie says he looked for a house in Little Haiti, but opted for Miami Beach instead because the school system there has a better reputation.

Last spring the Aristide government-in-exile invited the ousted president's supporters to celebrate the second anniversary of the new Haitian constitution at a reception at the headquarters of the Organization of American States, in Washington, D.C. Duval-Carrie created a site-specific installation for the occasion at the hosts' behest.

Although the Duval family in Haiti has supported Aristide, the artist says he is not interested in party politics A or in political statements, for that matter. His name is absent from a petition signed earlier this month by 22 Haitian musicians and visual artists protesting U.S. intervention in Haiti. Duval-Carrie's view of the situation is a little more complex.

"It's not that I want the intervention. But something has to happen," he stresses. "If the world community has decided to take on the cause, they have to do something about it." In any case, he's not very interested in signing petitions.

"I am not a politician," Duval-Carrie cautions. "I am not a crusader, and I am not an activist. Activists have told me, 'Edouard, your art speaks for itself.'

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