First ‘Ghetto Biennale’ held in Port au Prince

What happens when first world art rubs up against third world art? Does it bleed?

The world’s first ‘Ghetto Biennale’ will be held in the Grand Rue neighbourhood of Port au Prince in December 2009. We are calling for proposals from fine artists, film-makers, photographers, musicians, academics, theorists etc to take part in this ground-breaking project.

The Grand Rue Sculptors are a community of artists living in a downtown slum neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. This is the newest art community to have emerged in the last ten years. They have produced art that reflects a heightened, Gibsonesque, Lo-Sci-Fi, dystopian view of their society, culture and religion, and have dragged Haitian art into the 21st century. Jean Herard Celeur, Andre Eugene and Guyodo are at the core of the movement, which contains seven or eight other younger artists, all producing powerful sculptural works. Their work has opened entirely new vistas into the creative possibilities of the Vodou-inspired arts of Haiti. Their muscular sculptural collages of engine manifolds, computer entrails, TV sets, medical debris, skulls and discarded lumber transforms the detritus of a failing economy into deranged, post-apocalyptic totems.

In 2009 the ‘Sculptors of Grand Rue’ plan to hold their first ‘Ghetto Biennale’. They are inviting fine artists, filmmakers, academics, photographers, musicians, architects and writers, to come to the Grand Rue area of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, to make or witness work that will be shown or happen, in their neighbourhood. In the words of the writer John Keiffer it will hopefully be a “’third space’…an event or moment created through a collaboration between artists from radically different backgrounds”. ‘

‘The artists use all the detritus of a post-industrial global economy which uses Haiti as a dumping ground. They return the compliment, creating astounding bricolages and assemblages which express both the despair and the seemingly endless creativity of Haiti and Vodou. I have visited their ateliers on Haiti’s Grand Rue on several occasions over the last four years. I have had a chance to see their sculptures as they were being wrought from their desperate materials in a scrap yard on this wreck of a street, in this wreck of a city, in this wreck of a country. Saying all that, I would also have to add that, like Haiti, their sculptures seem to express the boundless creative energy of a people who are simultaneously the economically poorest, and artistically richest culture in the New World.’ Professor Donald Cosentino, World Arts and Cultures, University of California-Los Angeles.

Forging a successful arts career is difficult for a downtown Haitian. Refused US entry visas, the Grand Rue sculptors were excluded from a private view of their work in a major museum in Miami. A lack of government support makes them economically excluded from all major biennales. The artists have responded by hosting the ‘Ghetto Biennale’, the first arts festival located in a shantytown in the developing world. The event will explore what happens when artists from radically different backgrounds come together. When first world art objectives encounter third world artistic reality, and when Western artists try to make art in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haitian artist, Andre Eugene says, ‘the Ghetto Biennale represents positive change in my area and gives us the chance to show another face of life in the ghettos of Port-au-Prince. I think we have much to offer and much to learn.’

Malaysian artist, Simryn Gill, has said of her potential involvement in the ‘Ghetto Biennale’. ‘The making of things, in the way that you describe Haitian artists doing, is very energising and attracting for me. Sometime it feels like we have left so behind us the acts of actually making, forming, transforming materials with passion and courage, and art has become a kind of domain of cleverness, even timidity, in case we somehow show ourselves up in too much eagerness or insufficient wit or skill by making forms.’

Kathy Acker, Andre Breton, Maya Deren, Katherine Dunham, Graham Greene, Jerzy Grotowski, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, & Genesis P.Orridge have all visited Haiti and made work inspired by their visit.

Check the website for information, submission details and resources.