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Haitian sculptors are a big hit with English audiences

By Charles Arthur

London, 5 Apr. 07 [AlterPresse] --- Three artists from the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, have been
making a big impact during a month-long visit to England. Jean
Hérald Celeur, André Eugène, and Frantz Jacques Guyodo - known
collectively as the ’Sculptors of Grand Rue’ - have thrilled audiences
with their dramatic creations assembled from rusted vehicle chassis,
car tyres, steering wheels, oil filters, brake drums, and other
discarded items, AlterPresse observed.

The Sculptors of Grand Rue (a street that runs through the centre of
downtown Port-au-Prince) were originally invited to England to help
launch their massive ’Freedom Sculpture’, a work commissioned by the
Museum of Liverpool and the British development organisation, Christian
Aid, to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade
in the UK.

The launch took place of 26th February but then, when the British
solidarity organisation, the Haiti Support Group, provided some funding
and found some additional funding from other sources, they decided to
stay on in London for a few more weeks. The Haiti Support Group’s Leah
Gordon provided them with accommodation and found them a temporary
workshop in east London. There the sculptors created new works from
discarded items found in the streets nearby.

They also shared ideas with a number of internationally-respected
artists also working on the same studios, including Cat Barich and
Tania Stanic who this summer are due to show at Documenta - one of the
world‘s most important exhibitions of modern and contemporary art which
takes place every five years in Germany. "The best memory that we take
back with us is of all the friendly British artists and musicians who
we have met and worked with here", said André Eugène.

The new creations assembled at the Hackney Wick studios – together with
some smaller pieces that they brought with them from Haiti – went on
display for two weeks at the end of March at Hoxton’s trendy bar and
gallery space, The Foundry. The exhibition space was offered to them
after the centre’s joint owners, Jonathan and Tracey Moberly, had read
an article and seen photos of the sculptors’ work in the monthly arts
magazine, Dazed & Confused.

During the show at The Foundry the artists took part in a performance
of drumming to commemorate the abolition of the slave trade in Britain,
and spoke at length on The Foundry’s own radio programme on Resonance
FM. Tracey Moberly said, "It was splendid and symbolic to be marking
the abolition of the slave trade by exhibiting Haitian artists, and the
atmosphere was particularly electric on the day and the evening of the
25th March when the artists and their friends performed Vodou

She added, "The Foundry looked fantastic because the artists, as well
as showing their sculptures inside, had decorated the outside of the
building with sculptures and paintings. The building’s exterior was
photographed by everyone that passed by. By hosting this exhibition we
are hoping to dispel the negative myths surrounding Haiti and it’s
religion, Vodou."

At a Haiti Support Group reception for the sculptors at Four Corners
arts centre in Bethnal Green, a full house watched a UK-premiere
screening of the short film about them – ‘E.Pluribus Unum’ directed by
Maxence Denis – and later quizzed the artists about their work and
experiences in Haiti.

There was also a very positive audience response when the sculptors
showed the same film and participated in ’Illusions of
Disempowerment’ - a six-day festival of documentary films and talks on
activism from the Global South, organised by the Solidarity Not Charity

The sculptors were also invited to give a talk and show their film to
masters degree students studying film arts at the Chelsea Arts College,
one of the most prestigious institutions of its kind in Britain. There
was a considerable turnout of students to see the film and take part in
a question and answer session afterwards. Later, the students showed
the artists around their studios. Jean Hérald Celeur
remarked, "We have no real arts facilities like this in Haiti."

The artists themselves also took in a lot of the culture and art on
offer in England. They found time to visit the Tates Modern, Britain
and Liverpool ; the Hayward ; the British Museum, and many of the new
contemporary galleries in London’s East End. "I am so surprised," said
Guyodo, "There are no galleries in Haiti that would take a risk and
exhibit work of this kind."

Reflecting on the visit, Leah Gordon said, "This has been a great
chance for the cross-fertilisation of ideas about art and creation -
many artists and students have been quite intensely inspired by their
work and culture, and I feel that the scupltors have benefited from
their unique snapshot of the British arts scene."

Gordon added, "Gone are the days when we can want - or expect - Haitian
artists to be ’naïve outsiders’. It’s important that all artists
experience a wide spectrum of artistic influences."

The impact of the ’Sculptors of Grand Rue’ will continue to be felt
around the country as their ‘Freedom Sculpture’ – a mass of burnt-metal
bodies, arms and hands - will be going on show in various locations
before returning to Liverpool where it will remain on permanent display
in the new International Slavery Museum that opens on 23rd August.

David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, said "This
remarkable sculpture is an important work of art in its own right, but
it also symbolises the links between the historic transatlantic slave
trade and contemporary issues of freedom, enslavement and global
inequalities. It is fitting that its permanent home will be in the
International Slavery Museum, due to open on the anniversary of the
revolution which created Haiti, the world’s first independent black
republic." [ca gp apr 05/04/2007 00:30]