Little Haiti Rebirth
There's magic afoot at Little Haiti Cultural Center these days.
The once underused space has started attracting foot traffic on weekdays and is now open on weekends. It houses several resident dance companies and some arts classrooms. During Art Basel week, the place just off NE Second Avenue even hosted a preview of a new contemporary opera, Makandal, produced by New York's Harlem Stage.
Inside the gorgeous gallery space, a soaring mixed-media-on-aluminum painting by Edouard Duval-Carrié portrays the tragic moment that may have roused the center's newfound faith.
Her Saving Grace La Sirene depicts a mermaid goddess rising from the ocean depths to cradle the ruins of the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral of Port-Au-Prince. The cathedral was left smoldering with stained-glass windows punched out following last January's devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake.
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The mammoth pink church, which symbolized Haiti's religious ardor, tumbled onto parishioners, leaving many in the Caribbean nation feeling that God and the spirits had abandoned them.
Today Duval-Carrié credits the disaster for galvanizing community support behind Little Haiti Cultural Center. His representation of the powerful vodou deity who brings wealth, luck, success, and healing to those who call on her assistance, is symbolic of how the world rushed to his homeland's aid.
"It's incredible the outpouring of support such an unfortunate event as the earthquake has had in attracting attention to this place," Duval-Carrié says. "But at the same time what is most amazing is the amount of pride and interest in Haitian culture the tragedy has resulted in."
Duval-Carrié's piece is on display as part of "Global Caribbean II: Caribbean Trilogy," an exhibit that also features works by Cuban artist José Bedia and the Dominican Republic's José García Cordero. The compelling stuff reflects the rich spiritual traditions of the Greater Antilles and was curated by Amable Lopez Melendez of Santo Domingo's Museum of Modern Art. It was funded in part by the French government and a Knight Foundation grant.
In another sliding glass door-size opus titled Tainted Merman, Duval-Carrié conjures a bedazzled otherworldly spirit whose torso is covered in coral-pink, eel-gray, fish roe-yellow, and iridescent, mother-of-pearl swirls and arabesques reminiscent of deep-sea plant life. The enigmatic water spirit's shimmering, coiled blue tail bristles with a swirling constellation of pearls. The unfathomable creature's eyes are mirrored, its face wreathed with a tangle of starfish haloing navy blue lips that never speak. The being gives the impression that he is a silent witness to those lost in the bowels of the Atlantic while crossing over to our shores.
As in his other works here, Duval-Carrié enriches his surfaces with patterns of encrusted jewel-like stones that appear to be sapphires or aquamarine gems. They are actually bits of painted and hand-polished wood. The complex designs on his figure's bodies are sundry forms of commonplace bacteria the artist downloaded from the Internet and collaged as part of his process. "It just goes to show you that you can always find something beautiful in the ugliest things," Duval-Carrié says.
On a wall near the supernatural sprites, José García Cordero creates a haunting vision of a tropical paradise ravaged by an ecological disaster or man's ravenous exploitation of natural resources. A huge diptych titled Crucifixion depicts a pair of what appear to be mutating and gnarled, bleached bone trees. The leafless limbs are almost spectral, and appear to be sucking the sunlight out of the gallery space as if possessed by a sinister, unknown force. Set against a tarry black void suggesting deep space, Cordero's misshaped wood forms hint at depredation, corruption, and shadowy environmental practices.
Next to it La Envidia (Envy), another large diptych, places a rubber-lipped corporate-type wearing an ill-fitting suit. His bald pate is covered with porcupine quills in a head-on clash against a spiny desert cactus. The prickly pair of stark images strikes an unwary balance between nature and man.
In La Muerte (Death), Cordero's nightmare of an eco-global apocalypse takes full root with the hair-raising image of a leering human skull with a copse of denuded tree branches sprouting from its brain pan.
On an adjacent wall, two of José Bedia's sprawling, half moon-shaped canvases are among the most intriguing and mysterious paintings in the show.
One of them is titled Dueño de Truenos, Rayos y Granizo (Owner of Thunder, Lightning and Hail) and the other, Aviso de la Mañana (Morning's Warning).
Bedia, an initiate of the Afro-Cuban religion Palo Monte, is known for his simple graphic figures and narrative canvases. He is also versed in Native American traditions, and weaves an Ariadne's thread between the spiritual and human worlds in his work.
Both these canvases, because of their unusual bowl-like shapes, bring to mind references ranging from an inverted skull to the ocean depths to an iron cauldron for sacred rituals. Not unlike the skull, the cauldron is a symbol of the receptacle of the forces of transmutation and germination. But where the skull, with its vaulted dome, brings to mind the spiritual aspects of this process, the cauldron, being open at the top, has come to symbolize the baser forces of nature.
In the first painting, Bedia depicts a horned nature spirit firing thunder and lightning from its glowing eyes while astride a stylized steed galloping across the celestial vault.
Beneath the horse is a mottled sky, a swirl in a blinding gale. From along the bottom of the curved canvas's rim and up its edges on both sides, a modern metropolis's skyline appears under attack by the spirit's stormy wrath.
In mythological iconography, the cauldron often is emblematic of the forces of the unconscious mind. Bedia's painting of a city assailed like a modern-day Sodom or Gomorrah also seems to be raising the argument of man's encroachment on nature and lack of stewardship of his surroundings as does Cordero in his work.
Bedia's other painting places a man and the stag he is hunting on far opposite sides of a forest clearing while a flock of birds observe the unpredictable outcome from above.
The image reminds one that from the cycles of life and death, faith can always experience a rebirth.
"Since its inception, and despite all odds, this community center has managed to keep faith alive," Duval-Carrié observes.
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