The Ghetto Biennale is a cross-cultural arts festival held in two adjacent informal neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, called Lakou Cheri and Ghetto Leanne. It is hosted by the artists’ collective, Atis Rezistans, and has taken place every two years starting in December 2009. The Ghetto Biennale is attempting to momentarily transform spaces, dialogues and relationships considered un-navigable and unworkable into transcultural, creative platforms. The Ghetto Biennale has realised a ‘chaotic, amorphous, de-institutionalised space’ for artistic production that attempts to offer a vibrant creative platform to artists from wide socioeconomic classes.
This illustrated catalogue documents the first four events which took place from 2009-2015. Documentation of the projects and works produced during the Ghetto Biennales and a compendium of the local host artists and their work are accompanied by new and reprinted texts by wide-ranging writers – including Emilie Boone, Léonard Jean Baptiste, Makenson Bijou, Claudel Casseus, Rossi Jacques Casimir, John Cussans, Jean D’Amérique, Peter Haffner, Charlotte Hammond, John Kieffer, Jean-Daniel Lafontant, Elizabeth McAlister, Polly Savage & Katherine Smith.
The first strap line for the Ghetto Biennale in 2009 was, “What happens when first world art rubs up against third world art? Does it bleed?” The line is a transmutation of a quote from a book about the maquiladoras in Juárez, Mexico. The original quote, by Gloria Anzaldúa, states, “The U.S.- Mexican border es una herida abierta (is an open wound) where the Third World grates against the First and bleeds.” The Ghetto Biennale wanted to see what new practices, processes and relationships could emerge from these, often uncomfortable, entanglements.
There has been much criticism, and rightly so. It is difficult to discern whether this is gross misconduct on the side of the privileged West, an exercise in poverty tourism or a 21st century strategy to increase the visibility and mobility of majority class Haitian artists.
The strapline ‘Does it bleed?’, is no longer the primary question. It’s not relevant to assess whether the Ghetto Biennale bled or not, but more important to pinpoint where and why. This catalogue is an attempt to engage with some of these questions and assess how these ruptures, discharges and hemorrhages are going to lead us to a better understanding of how the Ghetto Biennale can be a tool to explore class and its relationship to the periphery and the centre in the global art world.
This edition is produced in two languages – English and Haitian Kreyol.
Title: Ghetto Biennale 2009-2015
Editor: Leah Gordon
Publisher: No Eraser Publishing
Retail Price: £25
Format: Paperback, 21 x 29.7cm, 232 pp
Distribution by Central Books