PÒTOPRENS: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince brings together the work of nearly 15 sculptors currently working in the Haitian capital. The exhibition highlights Port-au-Prince’s many diverse centers of cultural production, informal street life, religious heritage, and mythologies to create a compelling portrait of a historically significant and intensely complex city in flux. Co-curated by Haitian-American artist and curator Edouard Duval-Carrié and British artist and curator Leah Gordon, PÒTOPRENS features a diverse group of sculptures including sequined Vodou flags, stone and wood carvings, and found object assemblages, most of which have never before been seen in the United States.
Port-au-Prince is a polyphonic city declaring its cultural history via multiple voices. While its infrastructure is deeply compromised, the gap between rich and poor is immense, and the 2010 earthquake destroyed many of its major buildings, Port-au-Prince continues to be one of the most vibrant and creative cities in the Caribbean. Hence, PÒTOPRENS is not simply a survey show, nor is it a comprehensive snapshot of contemporary Haitian art. It is an exhibition that uses the city of Port-au-Prince as a lens through which to view the chaotic intersections of history, music, politics, religion, magic, architecture, art, and literature—to enable the viewer to reflect upon the past and speculate about the future of this vital city and its country.
The exhibition mirrors the organization of the city itself by highlighting specific districts in Port-au-Prince where art is produced—each with its own particular subjects, forms, and materials. The neighborhood of Bel Air, situated on a hill that rises behind the remains of the Catholic Cathedral in downtown Port-au-Prince, has a rich concentration of Vodou flag artists and sequin sculptors—a tradition alleged to have originated from the royal flags and banners of Benin. Rivière Froide is a community of sculptors living on the banks of the river that passes through the city’s Carrefour neighborhood who carve their work from limestone rocks and other detritus found at the water’s edge. At the southern end of Grand Rue—the main avenue that runs north to south through downtown Port-au-Prince—is a close-knit community sited in the area that has traditionally produced small handicrafts for the ever-diminishing tourism market. Taking readymade and recycled materials from the makeshift car repair district nearby, the Grand Rue artists make assemblages that transform the detritus of the world’s failing economies into apocalyptic images.
Additionally, a section of the exhibition is dedicated to the artwork of Port-au-Prince’s barbershops and includes a recreated barbershop where visitors can get a haircut typical of the city. The installation of sculptures from the popular zones of production in Port-au-Prince is contextualized by an exhibition of photographs, archival documentation, maps, and architectural plans on the second floor. A curated program of films, from art film to documentary and spanning many decades of the city’s history, will be on view on the third floor.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a forthcoming publication and extensive programming that will take the form of performances and concerts by Haitian artists and musicians, artist talks, and film screenings.
Pioneer Works has established partnerships with organizations working with artists and writers in Haiti as well as with the large Haitian community in New York City. PÒTOPRENS was born out of a 2015 collaboration between Pioneer Works, the 4th Ghetto Biennale in Port-Au-Prince, and Clocktower Radio that resulted in Radyo Shak, a pirate arts radio station in Port-Au-Prince. Radyo Shak produced over 100 radio programs in Haitian Kreyòl and English. All recordings are archived and available for listening on the Clocktower website.
Funding for PÒTOPRENS: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince is generously provided by the Jerome L. Greene Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.