Masthead Photography

Cities: Jacmel

Why on earth would I tell you that you should make Haiti your next vacation destination? A country you have no doubt heard from the media outlets is dirt eating poor and rife with politically motivated violence? Some of what you have heard about Haiti is true, but usually yanked out of context. Look at the poverty and political corruption of the US government before you let yourself be frightened away . . . No wait let me start that again, on a more positive note this time ...deep breath...exhale... Can you imagine being in a community where being an artist is considered an honest and valued career choice? I am pleased to say I have found that community in the small seaside town of Jacmel, Haiti – the first free black republic. Jacmel (or Jakmel) is widely considered to be the “cultural capital” of Haiti. It boasts many artists and artist-run initiatives that together make Jacmel an exciting and worthwhile destination for visual artists, musicians, performers, and activists. In addition to the large community of Haitian-born artists, there is a welcomed and growing community of European and American expatriate artists as well. (Maybe you will you be looking for a new address if we - God forbid - have another botched election?) Just about everyone I meet in Jacmel is excited about the projects he is busy working on. The projects are usually collaborative or supportive of others in the community. For example, Paula Hyppolite, who works for the film festival in town, has also started Kafe Kap Wouj, a women’s cooperative selling local, fair-trade goods and sustainably-grown coffee and chocolate. Hyppolite is an artist in her own right, whose gorgeous Vodou-inspired painted calabashes and stones can be seen and acquired at the FOSAJ craft shop. Then there is Maksaens Denis, a Haitian-born video artist who lived in France for many years and exhibited all over the world, but came back to Jacmel to open a home for street kids. Also Patrick Boucard, a sculptor and painter who turned his family’s old coffee factory into an art center. These are the kinds of artist-driven projects that inspire me and give me hope for art and humanity. The only thing Jacmel still lacks are adventurous foreigners. Tourists. Receptive people who can come with a sense of openness, who are ready to have conversations, to collaborate, and to learn from this proud and fertile country. This kind of responsible tourism not only helps to improve the economic situation in Haiti, but also helps destroy rhetoric and stereotypes that seek to drive a wedge of misconceptions between our cultures. So for God’s sake leave your missions, agendas, and preconceptions at home. I know what you might be thinking: But is it safe? Well I don’t blame you for worrying, if you read the US state department’s warnings about kidnappings in Port Au Prince. (Hey, wait a minute – didn’t the US government kidnap Aristide from Port Au Prince in 2004?) But I have been to Haiti four times since 2004, and once I got over feeling as though I shouldn’t feel safe, I felt safe. As an only partially-passing tranny, I definitely feel safer in Haiti than in any rural US rest stop. In fact, queers are quite tolerated here, as compared to some of the other Caribbean nations. For your first time here, you could hire a good guide while you get your bearings, to get the most out of your sightseeing and so people will stop hassling you to hire them as guides. (I recommend asking Team Beps, profiled below.) So if you like trees full of ripe mangoes, looking at and/or eating goats, swimming in the crystal blue ocean where the beach is made of pink bits of conch shells smoothed by the tide, you should come for a visit to this supposedly “poorest country of the western hemisphere” that masquerades as an artists’ paradise. I’ll be busy doing my thing in Jacmel, if you want to find me. GOOD PLACES TO GO FOSAJ 200 rue St Anne The Foundation Art Center of Jacmel is the best place in town to see art and meet local artists. Located in an old coffee warehouse next to the downtown beach, the center was founded in 2002 by Haitian Artist Patrick Boucard (the warehouse was once used by his family coffee business) and South African artist Kate Tarratt Cross. It houses an impressively spacious gallery space with frequently changing exhibitions and a gift shop featuring local fair trade crafts. Upstairs are the studios of approximately twelve resident artists. Don’t be shy about asking for a studio tour. If you are lucky, Destin Domond will be there. He’s the oldest of the resident artists, and his paintings and logic are completely hypnotic and riveting. There is a visiting artist program that brings people from abroad to do projects and workshops with the resident artists. The center also spawned the Jacmel film festival (now its own entity, see below) and the Jacmel Music Festival ( Plans are underway for a café, a daycare center, a permaculture project in the courtyard, and a pilot visiting student program so foreigners can study from Haitian artists, craftspeople, and mentors. (Full disclosure: this writer is scheduled to be the new creative director beginning September 2008) Alliance Francaise Avenue De La Liberté Every time I visit Jacmel, I attend events at this outdoor performance space. Music, poetry, dance, performance art, theater. All that I have seen was avant-garde and Vodou-y, though I’m sure it varies. There is also a small fine art gallery. While you are in town, make sure you find out what is going on by going to the building and seeing what is posted. It’s also a great place to take your date. KROMA KROMA is a home for street kids founded by video artist Maksaens Denis (see profile below). Many FOSAJ artists have worked with these kids. They are a very skilled group who often end up teaching a thing or two to the artists who come to teach them. Festival Film Jakmel November 22 - November 29, 2008 The film festival is one of the biggest event in Jacmel, and since 2008, it is a biennial occurrence. While the festival attracts films and audience from all over the world, its emphasis is on films that can be appreciated in French and Kreyol. So the film festival staff actually spends a lot of time between festivals, dubbing and subtitling films into Kreyol for the local population. This exposure to the world of film (much of it independent) is vital to a community that does not have access to travel. Even when a Haitian can afford to travel, getting a visa is nearly impossible. A selection of the films from the festival is then sent on the road to screen in Port au Prince, Les Cayes, and Cap Haitian. Le Centre Culturel PianoPiano (509) 3761-9393 +(509) 3417-5194 If you don’t mind being a bit out of the way in Cyvadier .you could stay at Le Centre Culturel Piano Piano. A beach-side restaurant, piano bar, and bed and breakfast (a bit pricey for Haiti, but extremely charming). It’s run by an Italian expatriate named Francesco Fantoli, who also publishes a glossy four-color magazine called Vues d’Haiti, which he can show you and sell you. Fantoli also regularly screens films, so get on his email list to kept abreast of films and events. GOOD TIMES TO GO Any time of year is a good time to go, but if you want to be there when the town is full of festive spirits, check out: Kanaval season – February (for official dates, see Papier-mâché animal masks, wild costumes, people covered in mud and molasses, and dancing and music in the streets. A week of wild revelry. Fet Ghede – 1st week of November Vodou’s version of Day of the Dead. If you are coming for some Vodou, come at this time as there will be lewd and playful ceremonies almost every night. In honor of all the dead, don’t forget to bring a bottle of five star “Babancou” rum to the presiding Houngan or Mambo. Film Festival – November 22-29, 2008, and every other year after that. GOOD KREYOL WORDS TO KNOW Mesi Anpil – Thank you very much Ki Kote ... ? – Where is ... ? Bagay – Object, thingy, or sex Mwen Rele ... – My name is ... Kombyen pou sa a? – How much for that? Anfom – all good Bonswa – Good evening [but works all day long] Pa konprann – Don’t understand Eh Blan! – Hey you white foreigner! [You should wave and smile. It’s not usually meant as a racial slur] Li – all-purpose, gender-neutral pronoun Mwen – Me, my, I Common gestural greeting with acquaintances: Fist bump, and then bring your fist up toward you to bump against your heart. Once you have these Kreyol words down, you will be fine getting along with any combo of English French and Spanish you have access to. TRAVEL TIPS Jump on a 90-minute flight from Miami to Port au Prince, and either go directly to Jacmel or stay the night in Port au Prince at the tropic-gothic Hotel Oloffson. (Charles Addams based his drawings of the Addams family house on this very structure.) Negotiate with a driver from the hotel to take you to Jacmel (to save gas and money, ask around the hotel if others want to go with you). Or if you are on a really tight budget, go to the tap-tap station, but you will be squished to the point of total and complete sweaty immobility for two-plus hours, depending on traffic. Once you are in Jacmel, any of the big hotels are nice and safe. INTERVIEW: Team BEPS Team Beps (Baya Jean Bernard (Beps), Louis Ebby Angel) What does Team Beps stand for? Now it means Baya and Ebby Production Studio, but at the primary school I went to, the principal was from Belgium and every time he was calling for a student in the yard he said Heps ! (Like Hey!) But he sounded like he was saying Beps !!! So the students were always laughing at that, I said Beps all the time to call my classmates and finally everybody started calling me Beps too. Later people were trying to find a signification of Beps, I said there isn’t any, it’s just Beps, and someone say its Ebby and Bayard we just said yes. Ebby was not at the same primary school like me, but we were at the secondary school together. As a team, how do you two divide up the work? How do you see the collaboration working? I start the ideas I talk to Ebby, make contacts and emails he edits and refines he makes it better and finishes. Favorite occupations? Cinema, video art installations, and performances. We work as technicians for shows at Alliance Française of Jacmel, FOSAJ, and Festival Film Jacmel. What are you working on right now? Right now we are working on a new movie called “No Cigar No Job” we shot it last year at FOSAJ and it’s about a big exhibition of collages, sculptures, paintings made of found objects in Jacmel. It was a way for the American artists: Chris Lawson, Orenda and Todd Fink, and all the residents artists of FOSAJ to find themselves in a creative energy exchange in Jacmel. Where can readers see your work/projects? Readers can actually see our work at: (1) A traveling show in collaboration with American artists [full disclosure: this writer was involved]. (2) There, you’ll find a biography of me and a short movie that won a prize for the best fiction with: “Soup Joumou” (the pumpkin soup). (3) (4) How long have you been in Jacmel? We were born in Jacmel, we live here. Sometimes we go to other countries for art projects and workshops, but our future projects are planned for Jacmel. Why are you guys so committed to Haiti and Jacmel when so many other people your age desperately want to leave? We stay in Jacmel while all the other youth are going away because we’ve got to do something here. Honestly, we would love to go away like everyone else and make magics too, but after every trip outside the country we realize that it’s up to us to do it here in Jacmel, and we don’t want to go and struggle in a stranger’s land, without family, job and money, we are not trying to be the kings of all the rich people, we like the way we are, we just need better situations to live at home. If you can’t be a king in your own land, you’re not a king. There are many people who can do things in the big countries – what we are trying to do here, so we think it’s better stay and do it at home where the people really can’t find it. Why do you think so many creative people find themselves in Jacmel? Jacmel is a little town situated by the sea in the south-east of Haiti; it’s from 2 hours by car and 15 min by plane from the capital Port-au-Prince. It’s a quiet place with a lot of hospitality; people can work and go to the beach at lunchtime and back to work later. The traditional market is in the heart of the town, Jacmel is less polluted than the other towns of Haiti and everyone knows everybody. Life is easy going here, that leaves people more time to enjoy it here, that’s why I think that so many creative people find themselves in Jacmel. What is the biggest struggle for you right now? Looking for a studio space and a place to live with electricity. Money for DV tapes so we can keep shooting a documenting what is happening.bay What do you recommend a visitor do when visiting Jacmel? Jacmel is reputed for it’s old colonial houses and, gingerbread designs that remind people of the French quarter in New Orleans. The waterfalls “Bassin Bleu” and the carnival masks are also iconic of Jacmel. I think that people should visit The Cathedral of Jacmel and the iron market, the art center of Jacmel FOSAJ and several “papier-mâché” shops in town. “Moulin Price” a mill with one of the first iron machines from the Industrial Revolution, for the sugar cane treatment. Fort Ogé, an anti colonial resistance fortress up in the mountain of Cap Rouge, The first Hydro-Electric Central in Caribbean “Jet d’Eau” in Kay Jacmel, and all those “Kabik and Ti Mouyaj” beach. So many things to see and enjoy like the carnival of Jacmel, Vodou ceremonies, life in the countryside . . . the best thing to do is to come and see for yourself. From what you are saying here, and from personal experience working with you on the “Jakmel Mwen Fou Pou Ou” (“I’m Crazy About You, Jakmel”) show, I know you are perhaps Jacmel’s biggest fans, and thus the perfect guides. Can I plug your services as guides? I know you need money, but do you have an artist rate? I’m used to guiding people in Jacmel for TOUR HAITI, they pay me $50 USD a day. Now we are talking about art and artists in this article, so if it’s exchange for art, ok, we can rate exchange as payment. We are not living in Jacmel to try to attract people for us personally, it’s for the development of the town but we started with our friends and hope in the future more positive people will join us. INTERVIEW: Maksaens Denis and KROMA How long have you been in Jacmel? For 3 years. Favorite occupations? Make video Art, and work art with children. What are you working on right now? With some Jacmelian artists, Drummers and actors, and foreign artists like the Jamaican saxophonist Douglas Ewart, French performer Fred Koenig, the Haïtian dancer who lives in Cote d’Ivoire Jenny Mezile, we made an experimental performance in the public square in Port-au-Prince in Champs de Mars, and it was wonderful. We really like this performance and we are working to make other experimentation that mix Poem, Performance, Slam, Video, in Jacmel. I’m also working on another video project for the Havana Biennale where they invited me to come March 09. Where can readers see your work/projects? For the moment if you type my name: Maxence Denis or [Kreyol spelling] Maksaens Denis on google, you can find some info about me, but I don’t have any website for the moment. Can you expand on being an artist who also works with children? What is the relationship for you? For me it’s important to give and teach to children what you know, what you learn in all domains, especially in my country where there is not a lot of opportunity for children or young people to learn. I lived in Paris for 17 years but when I found this opportunity to make the house for street children I wasn’t certain I should do it, but I love children and watching them grow up over the past 3 years, and make big progress in a lot of areas. Seeing their talent, sometimes I’m really proud like a father. I think that we live in an individualist and “egoist” society, where people are very scared to engage in social projects, I am tired of seeing Christian associations coming to kill our culture, and I’m also angry to see how so many people have such a narrow vision of mankind. Everyone says your kids are amazingly talented and I myself have seen it. Is it because they are working with you and the other FOSAJ artists? Or were they chosen because of their talents? I’m the first person to be surprised when I see the talent of a lot of my children. I think it’s because a lot of good artists come to KROMA and enjoy working with them, and I really take care to not give just one vision of art, that could be my vision. Also I give them lots of encouragement, and give them compliments when they work hard on something, where other people might tell them what they did was ugly. The children have the chance work with FOSAJ’s artists all year long that give a serious education in art and techniques. No I didn’t make them take an art test or choose them for their talent. In Haiti art is important and they culturally learn a lot ever since they were little and, street children especially have particular experience in life before coming in our house. You have enjoyed a lot of success showing and traveling. What are your struggles as an artist in Haiti right now? And for the KROMA kids? It’s very hard for me as a video and multimedia artist to work in a place where there is no electricity and no internet [ED: Only in downtown Jacmel is there internet and part time electricity]. They are my first materials and it makes me go slowly in my work, and always late. The rich people have inverter system or generators. But gas is expensive and not ecological. Nothing is easy to find here or are very expensive. So it’s difficult for me to create and you never finish with the little problems. For the House and for the children it’s a problem of money. Sometimes we have to stop all the sport or art activities to give them food. We don’t get enough help. How can readers help? Go to and make a donation. You could also bring kids stuff when you visit. Why do you think so many creative people find themselves in Jacmel? I think that some artists like Jacmel because it’s calm in a certain way; the city is one of the prettiest city in Haïti, and the Jacmelians like parties. Sometimes there are some interesting cultural projects with FOSAJ and the French Alliance. The places around [outside of town] are quiet, with a beautiful nature. What do you recommend a visitor do when visiting Jacmel? Lakou Nouyok Cap Rouj Ti Mouillaj Vodou ceremonies Cyvadier Plaj INTERVIEW: GARIBALDI JEAN Favourite occupations? Painting, I love to dance, making installations. I would like to start a workshop for street kids and then start a studio with artists from other countries. What are you working on right now? I’m working on an installation using big metal oil drum lids, I found covers in the trash and as they are round like the earth I am trying to say that trash is everybody’s problem “Trash that goes around comes around” Where can readers see your work/projects? In the FOSAJ Gallery. How long have you been in Jacmel? I was born in and still live in Jacmel. Why do you think so many creative people find themselves in Jacmel? Because Jacmel is appealing and original. What do you recommend a visitor do when visiting Jacmel? Especially the Cyvadier and Kabik beaches. INTERVIEW: Jean-Michel Lapin Favorite occupations? Painting, Installation, performance, poetry, music. What are you working on right now? I have written a novel and I’m making plans for a film projection in a solo show with an installation, poetry, music, video, and photos. Next I would like to make a documentary film on the Creole culture in New Orleans. Would this film be for a Haitian audience? The film is not only for a Haitian audience, it is for any audience that is interesting on the Creole culture of Haiti and the Caribbean. Do you have any sense of how that culture has been affected since Hurricane Katrina? Since Hurricane Katrina, this culture has been affected by losing some historical pieces like documents, works of art that represent that culture. Where can readers see your work/projects? In my room at my mother’s house. What struggles are you facing right now? I am struggling right now to find means to have my own place (I’m at my mother’s now), and the means to work on my art projects. How long have you been in Jacmel? I was born here and I live here. Why do you think so many creative people find themselves in Jacmel? Lots of creative people come to Jacmel because where one can live in a beautiful environment along with lots of artists and artisans, plus it’s a lot calmer than the other towns in Haiti. What do you recommend a visitor do when visiting Jacmel? Many people are supposed to see Basin Bleu, the beaches, the old houses on the Rue de Commerce, especially take a little walk in the countryside and in the mountains take in the beautiful view of the town. by Flo McGarrell Proximity Column End Marker