In an earlier post (23/12/15) I mentioned an incident that occurred during the penultimate night of the Ghetto Biennale in which a young man from Lakou Cheri, Gerard Masalen, died after a fight with another man. I think it is important to write something here about the circumstances surrounding Gerard’s death within the broader context of GB IV, the political tensions in the streets of Port-au-Prince at the time of the biennale and the experiences of some of the participants and guests that have not been widely discussed or publicly shared. The main issue I’m trying to tease out here has to do with the complex relationship between the actual and perceived risks for artists participating in the biennale, the implicitly economic and often fraught nature of inter-personal relations between visitors and locals, and how the perceptions and realities of such are understood, represented and managed by the GB organization.

My own contribution to this year’s biennale was a “gossip wall” hung within Lakou Cheri, the main site of the biennale, on which local people and visitors were invited to write anonymous stories about what was going on “off-screen” as it were. I would collect any gossip at the end of each day, then wipe the canvas clean ready for the following one. The idea was to create a kind of local gossip column that would potentially give voice to dissenting or critical opinions about the biennale. This was part of a broader project conceived as a means to gather material for an essay in the forthcoming Ghetto Biennale catalogue that would be based, in part, on the opinions of people outside the biennale’s inner circle. I mention this to frame my comments here in terms of the broader project I was involved in during the biennale. That being said, my account of the circumstances leading up to and following the events that night is primarily a personal one, supported by details gleaned from conversations with biennale guests during and after the event, witnesses, members of the organizational team and people who knew Gerard personally.

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More Zen

January 4, 2016

Here are some more statements gathered during the Ghetto Biennale. Many thanks to Joseph Constant for collecting these from the Lakou Cheri community and to Alex Louis for the translations.

  1. Yo te kenbe Nadege avek mari moun yo – I saw Nadege with her man
  1. Le’w kon’n fè mange tan kou’m wap gen mari – The better you cook, the more men you get
  1. Nataly toujou app rete rad nam men zanmi – Natalie’s always borrowing clothes from friends
  1. Yap pale nap travay – They’re talking, we’re working
  1. Yok poupè, nou pakapè yo – Everyone’s afraid, I’m not afraid
  1. Ti machoun’n a yon dola ou fé sòs – With one dollar we can make a sauce
  1. Se annepye ki pou ba wou enpotans twal kay – A centipede can teach you the importance of an old rag
  1. Mete dlo nam diven’w – Put some water on your fire
  1. Sigen paròl pyej gen repons dyan’m – Difficult questions need a firm answer
  1. Chak pen gen fomaj yo – Every bread has its own cheese
  1. Chodye frete pa bouyi pwa chèche – When you borrow a pan you shouldn’t cook dry beans
  1. Range bretèl soutyen’w – Fix your bra strap (Pull your socks up)
  1. Tou nouvo, tou dous – Everything new is sweet (in romance)
  1. Kòmanse rasi bay degoutans – When things start to get stale it’s disgusting
  1. Mat lot sou ou, bay militon’w koulè – There is a woman who is with another woman’s man, so you better give more colour to your vegetable stew
  1. Se nan chemen jenen yo kenbe chwal malen – It is embarrassing the way they keep difficult horses (in the traffic)
  1. Parol pa tach – Words are not spots (bad words don’t hurt you)
  1. Chat konnen rat konnen bayik mayi a rete la – Cats know, rats know the corn pot will stay here
  1. Lè ti poulet cho, se mafini kidèyè – When the little chickens are excited, the hawk is coming
  1. Kenbe you’ni kenbe tout – To keep one is to keep all
  1. Bat chen an tarin met li – You beat the dog and wait for the owner (everyone has someone on his back)
  1. Jan chat mache se pa konsal peche – The way cats walk is not the way they fish
  1. Koule chen an, se koule gren n li – The colour of the dog is the colour of his dick (The way you act is the way you are)
  1. Sak pa gen dan yap manje chan m chan – Those without teeth have to eat the corn starch (Poor people have to eat anything)
  1. Pale pale w ou paka fèm anyen – You can talk all you want, but you can’t do anything to me
  1. Ou fin dim nou ren men, e pi wap trip sou mwen – You told me that you loved me, then you start to play games with me
  1. Kiyès ou ye pou’w gen yon fan’m pou kow? – Who are you to have a woman by yourself? (No matter who you are, your woman probably has another man)
  1. Mennen koule lekòl se you’n fèl chita se 2 – Bringing a snake to school is one thing, making it sit down is another (You can change a person’s life but not their personality)
  1. Pagen pryé ki pa gen amen – Every prayer has an amen (Every problem has a solution).
  1. Labouyi mwen pat konnen si ou t esho – I didn’t know the porridge was so hot (You underestimated someone)

GB IV ZEN 19/12/15

December 23, 2015


Final Wall (cropped))

Ho ho ka ka sa santi – Oh oh, this shit stinks
Pou ki Haïti mouri? – Why is Haiti dead?
Gerald, Nou pap bliyem – Gerald, we will never forget you

The final message on the gossip wall is a reference to the death of a young man from Grand Rue, Gerard Masalen, who died after a knife attack during the final celebrations of the Ghetto Biennale IV on Saturday night. I will blogging about the circumstances of his death, its meaning and implications for the GB, and my general reflections on the overall event in the coming weeks. 

Many thanks to Henrike Naumann from the Museum of Trance crew and Willmond Guillaume for ensuring that the gossip wall canvas was returned from the Grand Rue in safe hands.

GB IV ZEN 18/12/15

December 21, 2015


Men bon zen! Gen yon nèg ki ap dòmi – This is a good  bit of gossip! There is a man sleeping
Connais tu toi même? – Do you know yourself?
Gen moun ki pwan pen patat plizyè twa – Some people take the potato-bread many times
Pa okipe saf yo non – Don’t worry about them being greedy

Chinese (untranslated)

GB IV ZEN 17/12/15

December 19, 2015


Vive est obligatoir, mais grandir est un choix – Living is obligatory, but growing up is a choice

Pa bliyè onè ak respé – Don’t forget honour and respect
Gen moun ki sou tròp tablo nan Ghetto Biennale la! – Too many people in the Ghetto Biennale write that on their paintings
Ou tripotay vre kisa map chèche la? – Why are you looking for gossip here?
Se yon zen m’ap chèche menn wi saw di anko – Of course I’m looking for gossip, what about it?
Nan kasse pwa fen veye cheni – When you shell the beans watch out for the caterpillars.
La jounen an vwayaj penitans make jou – A bad journey marks your day.

GB IV ZEN 16/12/15

December 17, 2015


Here’s yesterday’s installment:

Fok ou ta la pou’w ta wè 3 blan ki al nan mache jis Petyonvil sak pi bel la ki saw panse yo al achte? Yo al acchte plim poul – You had to be there to see three white people going all the way to the market in Petionville just to buy chicken feathers
Gen yon ti moun ki di yon blan li grangou epi blan an di li tann li pral dèyè manje. Lè li tounen li tounen ak yon grenn Marinad…(lol!!!!) – A little child says to a white person “I’m hungry” and the white person says “wait for me, I’m going to get you some food”. The man comes back with one little patee…(lol!!!)


GB IV ZEN (15/12/15)

December 16, 2015


I am currently making some work at Ghetto Biennale IV that I will be keeping a record of here. I had originally intended to produce a fanzine for the Ghetto Biennale that would document stories about the event as told by the local community and visitors. This would be written primarily in Kreyol, one of the three curatorial themes of this year’s event (along with “Lakou” – a particular form of Haitian communal organization – and “Vodou”) which would be translated, in-situ, into French and English. The project was to be called Zin after the Kreyol word for unfounded rumour, or gossip, playing on the Zin/Zine connection.

After asking several Haitians what they understood by the word “Zin” they seemed unsure. Eventually I was told that the correct spelling should be “Zen”, and that it did indeed mean “gossip” (or “badmouthing”). Kreyol is a phonetic language, so the subtle auditory difference between different pronunciations of words can be the cause of much misunderstanding. As I was informed by a very learned Haitian scholar at the bar of the Oloffson on my second night here – the journalist, writer and historian Georges Michel – the root of the word “Zen” came from the French word ain (fishhook), hence les ains (the fishhooks). The relationship between fishhooks and gossip however remains a mystery for now.

 It has become something of a truism about the GB that whatever project one comes here with will have to change once the visiting artists arrive in Grand Rue. And this project is no exception. The logistics of making a fanzine here would mean a lot of negotiations between different parties, the languages of Kreyol, English and French, and between three currencies: the Haitian Gourd, the (virtual) Haitian dollar and the US dollar. Moreover it would require the dedicated assistance of a Kreyol speaker who could set up these negotiations. Having been to two GB’s before, and knowing how complex and frustrating these things can become, I decided to simplify the project. So, using a blackboard painted canvas that I brought with me, I have set up a temporary “gossip wall” in Lakou Cheri where local people and visiting artists can write anything they want about the GB. At the end of each day I will be photographing the messages before cleaning the canvas off for the following day.

Above is the first iteration of the GB IV “Gossip Wall”, shortly before it was hung in the lakou. The tag-line “KI  TRIPOTAY OU GENYEN” means “What Gossip do you have?” (thanks to Georges Michel for that formulation).  Here are the translations:

Samson ka’p lave Enoz – Samson is washing Enoz
Ti Mari kap souse yon zo san mewl – Little Mary is sucking a chicken drumstick without a brain
Tout to krab pa fé legim – Not all small crabs make a vegetable stew
Tripotay pa dyòb – Gossip is not a job
Kote ki gen kou pa gen chenn! – Those who wears chains don’t have necks
Mayi a griye pus a sa ki gem dam – The corn is cooked for those who have teeth
Bondye ka change la viw – God can change your life

x=y=Nul ne’st méchant voluntairement – No one is bad voluntarily
Les gens qui vote ne decide rien, ce sont ceux qui comptent les vots qui decides tout – The people who vote decide nothing, those who count the votes decide everything

Ghetto Biennale Catalogue

November 23, 2015

The curators of the Ghetto Biennale just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a catalogue of the first four events.

Ayiti Foto Konbit

November 22, 2015

I was made aware of this project to create a refreshingly positive collection of images of Haiti made by young Haitians via a recent article by Alexandra Fuller on the National Geographic website:  ‘Showing Haiti on its Own Terms‘. The article itself gives a very clear “nutshell” overview Haitian history that is unusually free of outrage, sentimentalism or sensationalism. And many of the images are great too!


I just received a link to this Kickstarter documentary project via the Corbett Haiti list. It would be great to see the project completed: