Haitian-born artist Morel Doucet was introduced to ceramics at Miami's Lake View Elementary School. His teacher, Ms. Goldman, gave the class an assignment: Create an animal that resonates with you and represents your characteristics. Doucet chose a snail.
"As a child, I had an innate curiosity with snails. I would place them on the palm of my hand and watch the trail of mucus lubricate my skin," Doucet recalls. "The project was an opportunity to explore the structure of the snail and use clay as a building block from the snail's terrain and natural habitat. I still remember a few weird facts about snails, like snails have no backbone, most snails live two to five years, and snails are hermaphrodites having both reproductive organs."
The school had an arts enrichment program set in place by the principal and teachers. "Growing up in the '90s in Miami, there was a renaissance and citywide buzz of magnet arts programs," says Doucet, now 28. He went on to benefit from that movement and learn from other arts programs, including at New World School of the Arts High School. He later attended the Maryland Institute College of Arts in Baltimore.
The child of Caribbean immigrants, Doucet grew up translating for his parents and helping them navigate the American cultural landscape. Art was an escape for him, though his family expected he would become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. "I've always been an artist and cultural practitioner of my environment," he says. "Being an artist and maker is all I know."
That white snail still sits on the mantle of his father's home in Haiti. His parents divorced when he was young, and his father became the mayor of Pilate, Haiti, in the mid-2000s. His mother, who suffered trauma from living under the violent regime of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, returned to their homeland only for visits and raised her three sons in Miami.
Doucet is now a full-time artist who works primarily in ceramics and as a teaching artist at museums, formerly at Pérez Art Museum Miami and now as the curriculum and tour coordinator at the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami. It was one of his high-school teachers at New World, Susan Banks, who inspired his decision to stick with clay and develop his whimsical and otherworldly artistic works that often resemble corals.
"Her love for the oceans and environment had a lasting impact on me. We would have long conversations about her sea dives, scuba diving, and travels throughout various part of the world while in class. She solidified my love for ceramics as a material, craft, and natural compound," he explains. He calls the medium "hands-on, intimate, and visceral. Too much water and the clay is sticky, not enough water and the clay is rough and groggy. Clay as a material is delicate as it passes through your hands. If you taste it, you can often tell what minerals are present in the compound mix."
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His sculptures are enchanting and intricate, fragile and fantastical yet earthy. "Beauty and the grotesque, fragility and masculinity, cultural identity versus assimilated values — these are a few themes that have resonated and changed throughout my work," Doucet says. "I consider many of my pieces to be double-edged swords, enticing and luring the viewer with beauty while reminding them of their destruction and complacency of the dying environment."
Doucet was recently named a winner of Locust Projects' prestigious WaveMaker Grants for his solo show "White Noise: When Raindrop Whispers and Moonlight Screams in Silence," which will open in spring 2019 at the African Heritage Cultural Center on its 25th anniversary. "To date, my work is changing and is starting to incorporate the black figure and consciousness of the black diaspora, which has been previously secondary or absent from my work." This project links the relationship between the destruction of the planet's ecosystems and the experiences of those in the African diaspora, with a focus on the Caribbean. "'White Noise' is an evolution that stems from four years of field research, conversation, and exploration on the topic of coral reef bleaching, seawater rise, and ecological metaphors of black fragility, skin bleaching, and colorism that is prevalent throughout the Caribbean."
In his roles of teaching artist and community organizer, he nurtures the children of this city in emotional ways while teaching them how to make and appreciate the arts. "My interest is grounded in immersing young audiences in personalized experiences that instigate curiosity, visual literacy, and practical senses as learning tools. I believe through collaborative and explorative learning, students can develop critical-thinking skills and abilities to assess their understanding of the world around them," he shares. "I work primarily with students of color, so I encourage them to view the arts as an alternative to traditional sports like football and basketball."
Most of all, he says, he enjoys introducing his students to the many possibilities that art provides and to show them what they can achieve "with passion, drive, and motivation" — three qualities Doucet has in abundance.