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After Revolution: Versions and Re-visions of Haiti

Leah Gordon “Chal Oska” (1998) from the series “Kanaval,” courtesy of the artist. Artist’s description: “Eugene Lamour as Chaloska – a satirical recreation of the military commander Charles Oscar, who was torn to pieces by the people of Haiti after taking advantage of political instability to kill 500 local prisoners. Chaloska has since come to represent various government figures held in contempt.”

Upcoming conference ‘After Revolution: Versions and Re-visions of Haiti’ (9-10th July 2015), organized by scholars from IBAR and the University of Liverpool, takes the centenary of the US occupation as an occasion to explore Haiti’s history, politics and culture since its 1804 Declaration of Independence. While the Haitian Revolution remains a key reference point, this conference hopes to trigger debates and discussion which will interrogate uni-dimensional visions and versions of postcolonial Haiti as the “poorest country in the Western hemisphere” and explore alternatives to them. In doing this, it aims to generate a fuller picture of Haiti’s rich history and vibrant culture beyond the current focus on its revolutionary origins.

We have assembled an exciting interdisciplinary programme that includes leading international scholars of Haitian history, society, politics and culture, Haiti travel guide writer Paul Clammer and renowned photographer and filmmaker Leah Gordon.

Prof. Matthew J. Smith (University of the West Indies), an expert in Haitian twentieth-century history, and the anthropologist and performance artist Prof. Gina A. Ulysse (Wesleyan University) will deliver the keynotes.

Moreover, IBAR’s co-director, the artist Prof. Lubaina Himid MBE will give a public lecture on her artistic engagement with Toussaint Louverture.

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Report by Andrea Sillis

In July this year, IBAR hosted a conference entitled ‘After Revolutions: Versions and Re-visions of Haiti.’ The conference was organized by Raphael Hoermann, Marie-Curie Intra-European Research Fellow based in IBAR at UCLan, in collaboration with Kate Hodgson, Charles Forsdick, Wendy Asquith and Jack Webb, scholars from the Centre for the Study of International Slavery in Liverpool. The conference brought together a multidisciplinary group of international delegates to debate old and new narratives on Haitian history, politics and culture since its Declaration of Independence in 1804.

_DSF0137The first day opened with a keynote presentation by Professor Matthew J. Smith, from the University of the West Indies, who gave an extremely interesting and informative paper on ‘Caribbean Reflections on Haiti’s Long Nineteenth Century.’ This was followed by nineteen speakers giving papers across six panels.

In a panel entitled ‘Haiti on Screen and in Performance,’ which was chaired by Christian Høgsbjerg (independent scholar), Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall (California State University San Marcos) gave a paper entitled ‘An Unthinkable Plot? Filming and Gaming the Haitian Revolution. The second paper, by Jude Ulysse, (University of Toronto), was on ‘The Haitian Revolution and Cinematic Representation.’ Hannah Durkin (University of Nottingham) then spoke about the ‘Visions and Voices of Vodoun: Maya Deren’s Haitian Recordings,’ and Philip Crispin (University of Hull) presented on ‘Aimé Césaire’s Caribbean Crucible: La Tragédie du Rou Christophe.’

In a parallel session, entitled ‘Internationalism and Diplomacy: Haiti in the World,’ which was chaired by Julia Gaffield (Georgia State University), Sean Mills (University of Toronto) gave a paper entitled ‘Haiti, Quebec and the Politics of Exile.’ The second paper, by Regine O. Jackson (Agnes Scott College), was on ‘Post-Independence Haiti and the Project of Black Internationalism.’ Then Jack Webb (University of Liverpool) spoke on ‘The Travelling Travel Narrative: The Communication Circuit of Spenser St John’s Hayti or the Black Republic.’

The next pair of parallel panels were on ‘Rethinking Citizenship’ and ‘Visualizing Haiti.’ The former was chaired by José Manuel Ferreiro Gomez (Lancaster University), and the first speaker was Jeanette Ehrmann (Goethe University, Frankfurt & Hanover Philosophical Research). Jeanette’s paper was entitled ‘From “Man” to “Moun” to “M”: Queering Citizenship in Haiti.’ The next paper was by Fee De Hoog (WISE, University of Hull) on ‘Children’s Rights and Adult Duties: Challenging Assumptions of Responsibility on behalf of Haitian Women.’ This was followed by Eve Hayes de Kalaf (University of Aberdeen), with a paper on ‘Making Foreign: From Citizen to the New Haitian Other in the Contemporary Dominican Republic.’

The panel on ‘Visualizing Haiti’ was chaired by Jack Webb (University of Liverpool), and the first paper, ‘Contesting Visual Taxonomies: Sartorial Resistance and Re-Appropriation among Women of Colour in Colonial Saint-Domingue and Beyond,’ was given by Nicole Willson (University of East Anglia). The next paper was by Leah Gordon (visual artist and curator), who spoke on ‘Vodou and Art: A Museology Between the Altar and the Market Place,’ and the final paper, entitled ‘Estime’s Extravaganza: Visualising A New Haiti for Audiences at Home and Abroad in the Mid-Twentieth Century,’ was given by Wendy Asquith (University of Liverpool).

The final parallel panels of the day were on ‘Contestation and Citizenship: Haiti in the Nineteenth Century’ and ‘Writing Haiti.’ The former was chaired by Alyssa Sepinwall (California State University San Marcos). It featured talks by Carolyn Fick (Concordia University) on ‘Competing Sovereignties and Nation Building in Revolutionary and Post-Independence Haiti: Legacies of an Incomplete Revolution’; Kate Hodgson (University of Liverpool) on ‘Abolitionist Translation and the Haitian Code Rural of 1826′; and James Forde (Griffith University) on ‘ Haiti in British Radical Imaginations (1820-22).’

The panel on ‘Writing Haiti’ was chaired by Alan Rice (University of Central Lancashire). The first paper was given by Mariana F. Past (Dickinson College) on ‘Uneasy Relations: Fictions of Haiti and the Hispanic Caribbean.’ The second paper was by Alasdair Pettinger (independent scholar), and was on the theme of ‘Earthquake Writing and the Everyday.’ The third paper, by Kasia Mika (University of Leeds), was entitled ‘The Afterlives of the Revolution: 1804 and 2010 in Nick Lake’s In Darkness (2012).’

Scenes from the Life of Toussaint L'Ouverture:5

Lubaina Himid, ‘Scenes from the Life of Toussaint L’Ouverture: 5′

Lubaina HimidThese panels were followed by a Public Lecture by Lubaina Himid MBE, Professor of Contemporary Art at UCLan and Co-Director of IBAR. Lubaina gave a fascinating illustrated talk on a series of annotated watercolours, which she made in the 1980s, about the imagined everyday life of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution.

The first day closed with a wine reception and book launch for Marlene L. Daut’s Tropics of Haiti: Race and the Literary History of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1789-1865. This event was sponsored by the publisher, Liverpool University Press.

On the following day there were a further seventeen presentations across another six panels. The opening panels were entitled ‘Remembering the U.S. Occupation: Culture and Politics’ and ‘Vodou, Prejudice and Constructions of Race.’ The former was chaired by Raphael Hoermann (University of Central Lancashire), and its first paper was given by Louise Fenton (University of Wolverhampton), on ‘The White King of La Gonave, Black Bagdad and Cannibal Cousins: Representations of Haiti and Vodou in the US Military Imagination. ‘This was followed by a paper by Christian Høgsbjerg (independent scholar), entitled ‘Reflections on C.L.R. James and the U.S. Occupation of Haiti.’

The panel on ‘Vodou, Prejudice and Constructions of Race’ was chaired by Karen Salt (University of Aberdeen). It started with a paper by Lesley S. Curtis (Wellesley College), entitled ‘Black Magic Turned White, or Countering Prejudice against Haiti.’ This was followed by Natalie Armitage (University of Manchester) on ‘Popular Constructions of Haiti and Vodou: Negative Depictions and the “Superhuman Bias.”‘ The panel concluded with a paper by Marlene L. Daut (Claremont Graduate College) on ‘Haiti and the Romantics: Enlightenment and Color Prejudice After the Haitian Revolution in Alexandre Dumas’s Georges (1843).’

The fifth parallel session featured two panels, one on ‘Contemporary Politics: Legitimation, Reparation, Neo-Colonialism,’ and one on ‘Rethinking Dessalines: Politics, Reparation, Neo-colonialism.’ The former was chaired by Hughes Séraphin (University of Winchester), and the first paper, ‘Diasporas and Development: Lessons from Haiti,’ was delivered by Indianna D. Minto-Coy (University of the West Indies). This was followed by Sophie Watt (University of Sheffield), who presented a paper on ‘Aristide versus Debray: An Insight into France’s Neo-Colonial Culture and Practices.’ The final paper of the panel, on ‘Hollande in Haiti: The Politics of “Moral” Reparations,’ was given by Nicki Frith (University of Edinburgh).

The panel on ‘Rethinking Dessalines: Politics, Reparation, Neo-colonialism’ was chaired by Claire Bourhis-Mariotti (University of Paris 8). It started with a paper by Julia Gaffield (Georgia State University), which was co-written with Philip Kaisary (University of Warwick), and which was entitled ‘”From freedom’s sun some glimmering rays are shed that cheer the gloomy realms”: Dessalines at Dartmouth, 1804.’ This was followed by Nathan H. Dize (University of Maryland), who spoke on the subject of ‘Reprising Jean-Jacques Dessalines: Massillon Coicou’s Prophetic Vision of the Past in L’Empereur Dessalines: Drame en deux actes, en vers.’ The panel ended with a paper by Raphael Hoermann (University of Central Lancashire), entitled ‘Langston Hughes’ Play The Emperor of Haiti: Re-casting Revolutionary Leadership in the Black Atlantic.’

In the final parallel session, the panel on ‘Travel, Tourism, Anthropology: Haiti and the External Gaze’ was chaired by Wendy Asquith (University of Liverpool). It started with a paper by the travel guide writer, Paul Clammer, who gave a paper entitled ‘”Haitian Holiday?” – Travel guidebooks for visitors to Haiti during the US occupation and beyond.’ This was followed by Hugues Séraphin (University of Winchester), speaking on the subject of ‘Tourism: A Modern Form of Colonialism in Haiti?’ The final paper was by Antony Dalziel Stewart (Newcastle University). It’s title was ‘Joachim’s Possession, 1934: The Mind of an Anthropologist’s Informant, and an International Debate on Haitian Psychology, Vodou and Mental Health.’

The panel on ‘Nineteenth-Century Haiti: National and International Frames,’ which was chaired by Marianna F. Past (Dickinson College), was opened with a paper by Emmanuel Lachaud (Yale University) on ‘Imagining the Haitian Nation-Family: From Domestic Patriarchalism to State Authoritarianism, 1801-1843.’ The second paper, entitled ‘Navassa Island: Eco-governmentality and the Threat to Black Sovereignty,’ was presented by Karen Salt (University of Aberdeen), and the third paper, by Claire Bourhis-Mariotti (University of Paris 8), was on ‘Black Diplomats to Haiti in the Post-Bellum United States (1869-1891).’

Gina_Ulysse_Charles_Forsdick - Copy (2) - CopyThe conference closed with a keynote presentation by Gina A. Ulysse, poet, performance and multi-media artist, and professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University, Connecticut. Gina gave an exceptional performance, entitled ‘Why Haiti Needs a Higher Love VI: Meditations on VooDooDoll.’ In the background a slideshow of images of one of her family’s temple was projected.

In their opening and closing comments, Professor Alan Rice (Co-Director of IBAR) and Professor Charles Forsdick (University of Liverpool), both remarked on the breadth of international and interdisciplinary perspectives brought together by the event. This conference certainly provided a highly productive forum for a wide range of diverse yet interconnecting creative and critical responses to ongoing narratives of Haitian history and experience. It has undoubtedly opened up fruitful new opportunities for dialogue, and laid foundations for many future collaborative projects and relationships. It demonstrated the ever increasing momentum of Haitian Studies, including its interactions with Black Atlantic research.

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