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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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