Plunder and Play: Édouard Duval-Carrié's Artistic Vision
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Plunder and Play:
Édouard Duval-Carrié's Artistic Vision

Ships and seas constitute central imagery in the mixed-media work of Édouard Duval-Carrié, a Haitian-born, Miami-based artist. It is perhaps due to his own nomadic life that his work shows such a keen sensibility for the diasporic experience of Haitian migrants. Duval-Carrié escaped the brutality of the Duvalier dictatorship for the sanctity of Puerto Rico in the 1960s. Since then, he has lived in Canada and France, eventually moving to the United States in 1993. Although his work was not shown in Haiti until after the collapse of the Duvalier regime, Haiti has always been present in his paintings, installations, and sculptures. His art constitutes a visual form of oral storytelling that merges religious motifs with political references, the sacred with the profane, often with an ironic sense of humor toward the tragedy that is Haitian history.

Duval-Carrié's colorful paintings—with their vibrant figures that practically leap from the canvas—tap into the pulse of Haitian people. He incorporates into his art the visual language of Vodou that pervades everyday life in Haiti. Vodou, which means "spirit" in the Fon language of Dahomey (now Benin), is a religious practice of West African origins that was secretly practiced by slaves. The lwas or spirits are depicted in vèvès, which are line drawings made with flour or ashes to summon the spirits and which could easily be erased when exposed to the prying eyes of the law. They also manifest themselves in Vodou temples and homemade alters, which plunder the world's cultures for relics. Erzili Dantò, the lwa of motherhood, is represented in the Black Madonna of Czestochowa (introduced into Haiti during the revolution by Polish soldiers) as well as a black Barbie doll attired in the plain denim or blue and red calico dress of Haitian peasant women. Baron Samedi, the lwa of death, is often dressed in funeral attire consisting of a top hat, tuxedo, and sunglasses. François "Papa Doc" Duvalier refashioned himself in the image of Baron Samedi—an image that frequently appears in Duval-Carrié's paintings—for terrorizing the Haitian population.

Duval-Carrié's art pays homage to the syncretisms of the Haitian lwas even as it borrows from European, African, and Asian religious art for constructing a sacred shrine for them. In his work, the lwas are simultaneously the Mystères and the Haitian people, as is evident in their all-too-human demeanor. The Landing, the third panel of the Migrations triptych (1994)—the first of his migration series—depicts a group of lwas standing on a causeway as they prepare to make a dignified entry into Miami, whose city lights sparkle across the water. The second panel of his Milocan ou La Migration des Esprits (Migration of the Spirits) (1996) shows prominent Haitian (rather than ancestral African) lwas like Erzili Freda and Baron Samedi sitting alongside Africans packed tightly into a small wooden boat. The [End Page 561] boat is reminiscent of slave ships as well as the improvised crafts used by Haitian boat people. This doubling suggests multiple crossings that transform the meaning of diaspora into an active and ongoing process. The forth panel depicts Erzili Dantò disembarking a U.S. coast guard ship off the Florida coast. Strapped to her waist is a tiny baby, the sign of future generations of Haitians that will grow up in the United States.

Duval-Carrié's paintings offer powerful social commentary on Haitian history through their ironic doubling of time and space. Each picture tells the fragment of the story of a dispersed people, but the combined images raise more questions about diasporic identities rather than coming together into an easily-identifiable answer. I spoke with Duval-Carrié in April 2006 in his Little Haiti studio, a former warehouse that is now crowded with the artist's collection of sculptures, statues, paintings, and masks. As we sat chatting on that balmy Miami day, I was reminded of how migrants have transformed American cityscapes into transplanted replicas as well as utopian possibilities of the countries from which they...