I am visual artist who will be traveling to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to write an art review of the 3rd Annual Ghetto Biennale. During my week-long stay, I will interview participating artists and artistic collectives from all around the world as well as the Biennale co-founder and curator, Leah Gordon. I will then write an article about the collaborative art projects based on my observations and the interviews and submit it for publication in relevant art review journals.
My name is Sam Fein, and I am a visual artist with a background in the social sciences. I have previously conducted research in Cuba, Argentina, and the Philippines on topics having to do with the arts, global culture, and social issues.
In September, I was pleased to learn that my paper proposal was accepted for presentation at the Critical Information Graduate Student Conference, hosted by the School of Visual Arts MFA Program in Art Criticism and Writing. Critical Information is an interdisciplinary conference, which explores current scholarship at the intersection of art, media, and society. My research will discuss the ways in which Haitian artists express and interpret their experiences through the iconography of Afro-Carribean spirituality. Over the months of research, I became engrossed in this subject. I conducted Skype interviews with curators, emailed galleries and cultural centers, and scoured the libraries. I concluded that in order to continue in my writings on Haiti, I would need to visit the Ghetto Biennale firsthand.
Haiti is a nation represented by Western media through the single narrative of degradation and victimhood. Yet such a reductive viewpoint does not account for the island’s rich breadth of artistic production—which has persevered despite the catastrophic 2010 earthquake. For this reason, I am interested in exploring a counter narrative, one which explores the ways in which Haitian artists direct their creative practice to reconstruct alternative identities. Specifically, I explore the use of spiritual iconography from the Afro-Caribbean belief system of Vodou. From the drapo (Vodou flag) artists to Pierrot Barra’s “mojo boards” to the Grand Rue sculpture collective, Haitian artists draw upon Vodou spirit entities (known as lwa) to create pieces that express and interpret the lived experience in Haiti.
"What happens when first world art rubs up against third world art? Does it bleed?" --The Ghetto Biennale
About the Ghetto Biennale
The Ghetto Biennale launched in December 2009 in Port-au-Prince Haiti. It was founded by the Atis-Rezistans, a collective of sculptors living in the Grand Rue area, and UK-based photographer and curator Leah Gordon. It began in response to the fact that several of the Atis-Rezistans were denied visas to their exhibition in the United States. Since they could not go abroad to see the art, they decided to bring the international art world to them.
Now in its 3rd iteration, the theme for this year's biennale is "Decentering the Market and Other Tales of Progress." 45+ artists from Haiti and around the globe will come to complete creative projects dealing with globalization, the dynamics of inclusion/exclusion, and the politics of race, class, and global development. Different from other biennales, artists arrive in Haiti to construct a project on site. They must use materials available locally and work within the constraints of the surrounding environment. They are also strongly encouraged to collaborate with community organizations and local Haitian artists.
What will I be doing?
I will be in Haiti the week of December 9th, 2014. I will be staying at a hotel with international artists participating in the Ghetto Biennale. During the day, I will travel to the Grand Rue area where the Biennale is being held. I will use audio and video recording to document my interviews with artist participants, curators, and members of the surrounding community. My questions will focus on the successes and struggles of collaborative projects between Haitian/Western partnerships. In an increasingly globalized art world, how do inequalities across race, class, and gender play out? Can these creative projects supersede the victim/donor dynamics between first and third world participants? What are the challenges of a Biennale of this nature, and how are these challenges addressed?
On December 15th there will be a Congress during which participating artists will present their work in the neighbourhood to an audience of local people. This includes Port-au-Prince neighbourhood communities, arts collectives and arts organizations. I will stay in Haiti through the end of the Biennale, during which time I will interview Biennale curator Leah Gordon on her perspective of the event.
What happens when I get back?
Once I return to the United States, I will examine the data and transcribe my interview findings. I will then write an 2,500-5,000 word article describing my experiences at the Ghetto Biennale. The full written piece will be submitted to various art review journals for publications. A condensed version with pictures will be made available to read online.
Why do I need your support?
Your pledge will help me pay for the following expenses:
- Airfare, accommodations, and transportation in and around Port-au-Prince
- Daily living expenses
- A translator and guide to accompany me to the project sites
- Traveller's insurance, antibiotics, and other items to insure my safety while abroad
- Expenses relating to documentation and data-gathering
In return for your contribution, I am offering my original artwork at greatly reduced prices.
This is an example of the type of framed mixed media piece you would receive from me for contributions of $150.
For a select few lucky contributions of $500 or more, I am offering to paint you a Sam Fein original oil painting. You may commission me to paint an 18' x 24" canvas on any subject of your choosing (babies, animals, and desert scenes are always an excellent selection), or I will give you a choice between the oil paintings I have already completed in my collection. This is far less than what I normally charge for commissions, and it's my way of thanking you for allowing me to carry my project into fruition.
Risks and challenges
The biggest challenge is securing enough funding to complete my project. Remember that Kickstarter is ALL OR NOTHING. That means that unless I reach my funding goals, I will be unable to receive any of my pledged contributions. So please, make a pledge, and tell your friends!
Doing research in a foreign country always presents itself with challenges. These challenges include language barriers, lack of familiarity with the area, and cultural differences. I am planning to overcome these obstacles by having a professional Haitian guide and translator with me to assist in navigating the area. Having successfully completed research projects in foreign countries previously (Cuba, Argentina, Philippines), I am confident that I have the skills needed to achieve my stated goals.
While I will do everything in my power to ensure that there are no setbacks in fulfilling my project goals, some situations are out of my control. This includes natural disasters or extreme political upheaval. If such a situation were to arise, I would leave Haiti to ensure my safety, and suspend my project for a later date.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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