Saturday, 5 November 2011

Kanaval: A People's History of Haiti

You are warmly invited to the following seminar on Weds 9 November hosted by the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies:
Kanaval: A People’s History of Haiti
Leah Gordon, film-maker and photographer
Date: 9th November 2011
Time: 5pm
Venue: Room 103, Senate House, first floor, Malet St, London WC1E 7HU

Abstract: For the last 15 years Leah Gordon has been documenting a carnival in Jacmel, Southern Haiti using photography and the collection of oral histories. This work has recently been published in the book Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti (Soul Jazz Publishing, 2010). Each year, Jacmel holds pre-Lenten Mardi Gras festivities. Troupes of performers act out mythological and political tales in a whorish theatre of the absurd that courses the streets, rarely shackled by traditional parade. Whatever the Carnival lacks in glitz and spectacle, it makes up for in home-grown surrealism and poetic metaphor. The characters and costume partially betray their roots in medieval European carnival, but the Jacmellien masquerades are also a fusion of clandestine Vodou, ancestral memory, political satire and personal revelation. The lives of the indigenous Taino Indians, the slaves’ revolt and more recently state corruption are all played out using drama and costume on Jacmel’s streets. This is people taking history into their own hands and moulding it into whatever they decide. So within this Historical retelling we find mask after mask, but rather than concealing, they are revealing, story after story, through disguise, gesture and roadside pantomime. A selection from over 150 photographs will play on a loop whilst Leah discusses the importance of documenting the carnival, the role of folk history in Haiti and the many different mediums used by Haitian people to retell history, the implicit complexities of the visual representation of Haiti (in terms of two centuries of post-revolution Western demonisation), the on-going struggle between spectacle and narrative in a photographic project, the role of oral histories in restoring narrative to the visual and the link between the technical process, analogue photography and historic narrative. Leah will finish by reading one or two of the oral histories.

Biography: Leah Gordon is from the UK and has worked as a photographer, film-maker and curator. She visited Haiti for the first time in 1991, and has continued to have a relationship with the country to this day. As a reportage photographer Gordon covered the coup in the early nineties and then began to make work inspired more by the culture and religion than the politics. In 2006 she commissioned the Grand Rue Sculptors from Haiti to make 'Freedom Sculpture', a permanent exhibit for the International Museum of Slavery in Liverpool. In 2008 she completed a film about the artists called Atis-Rezistans: the Sculptors of Grand Rue. Continuing her relationship with the Grand Rue artists, Gordon organized and co-curated the Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince in December 2009. She has recently been involved in a range of projects as film-maker and photographer including a film documenting the colonial legacy and the museum in Maputo and a meditation on the Slave Trade and the River Thames; her photography book Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti was published in June 2010. Gordon is currently on the curatorial teams for the first Haitian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011), 'In Extremis' at the Fowler Museum, UCLA, Los Angeles (2012) and co-curator, with Alex Farquharson of an exhibition based on the Haitian Revolution at the Nottingham Contemporary (2012). Leah Gordon is represented by Riflemaker Gallery and is film tutor on the BA in Digital, Film and Screen Arts at University of the Creative Arts, Farnham.

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