Shereen Ali reviews Tessa Mars


In “Tessa Mars: full free / Closeup” Caribbean Beat features Haitian artist Tessa Mars, saying that she “is influenced by her country’s revolutionary history as much as her own family’s intellectual tradition, and her lifelong fascination with riddles.” Shereen Ali writes that “her colourful paintings often feature a semi-autobiographical character named Tessalines—and deal in complex ideas about identity and freedom.” Here are excerpts from Shereen Ali’s article; read more at Caribbean Beat:

Ideas ripple like silent barracudas beneath the surface of Tessa Mars’s paintings. And those ideas — about identity, womanhood, and Haitian culture — are challenging some conventions of what it means to be a free woman in Haiti.

In one painting (Dream of Freedom, Dream of Death, 2016), a naked woman with red horns and blue-green scales on her arms and legs stares at you squarely in the face, while she holds a machete plunged between her own breasts. Mysterious stars radiate from behind her back. This startling image is perhaps Mars’s best known. The figure, whom Tessa calls “Tessalines”, is based on a stylised, magical version of the artist herself, merged with Vodou references and memories of the revolutionary figure of Jean-Jacques Dessalines (1758–1806), the first ruler of an independent Haiti. And you’d better beware: because Tessalines is a free warrior woman, with two enormous bull’s horns on her head, wielding a sharp cutlass she is unafraid to use.

“This character of Tessalines I first created in Trinidad, where I spent three months at a residency at Alice Yard in 2015,” says Mars, speaking via Skype from her home in Port-au-Prince. “Tessalines is an alter ego, a fusion of myself and characteristics of the father of the Haitian revolution, Dessalines. So she is about finding my hero, my revolutionary side, and trying to place myself in Haitian history”, Mars explains.

“What does freedom mean for us in contemporary Haitian society?” asks Mars. “We have historical freedom from the coloniser, but we are facing new forms of dependency from outside, whether economic or political . . . I also started to think about the freedom of self-expression, which is the freedom to express your identity to the fullest, and the risks that are associated with that, because whatever you may choose to express that is outside of what people consider the norms, there is potential for [a kind of] death to come with it, due to misunderstandings or rejection of what you show to the world.”

[. . . ] “I was born and raised in Haiti,” says Mars. “I grew up in Port-au-Prince. I still live in the same home where I was born, which has been in our family for multiple generations. I grew up in a family of thinkers in Haiti, and the family name is associated with literature.” [. . . ]

For full article, see

See artist’s page at

Also see Caribbean Beat Magazine — People | Culture | Lifestyle | Travel Destinations

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