Haitian History and Contemporary African Photography at the Ruby
Two new cultural installations open in the arts center on February 27: Radio Haïti-Inter: Three Decades of Resistance and When I Say Africa: Photographs from the Continent.
The Rubenstein Arts Center is several venues in one—on some nights there is a talk in the Ruby Lounge, a performance in the von der Heyden theater, a workshop in the makerspace, and a screening in the film theater. This blending of artists, art forms, and audiences can be alchemy for creative collisions.
On February 27, visit the Ruby for two exhibit opening receptions presented as part of its “arts project” program. Radio Haïti-Inter: Three Decades of Resistance is curated by Laura Wagner, former archivist of the Radio Haiti archive in Duke Libraries, and presented in partnership with Duke Performances. When I Say Africa: Photographs from the Continent is curated by Kathryn Mathers, associate professor of the practice in International Comparative Studies and Cultural Anthropology at Duke University.
(It is also opening night for the lush new Nasher Museum of Art exhibition, Ebony G. Patterson . . . while the dew is still on the roses . . .)
Radio Haïti-Inter: Three Decades of Resistance
“I have no other weapon than my journalist’s trade, my microphone, and my unwavering faith as an activist for change, true change!”—Jean L. Dominique
Radio Haïti-Inter: Three Decades of Resistance tells the story of Haiti’s first independent radio station. Using photographs, ephemera, objects, and sound recordings from the Radio Haiti Archive at Duke University, the exhibit explores how Radio Haiti became a voice for democracy, human rights, and freedom of the press from the early 1970s until 2003.
Over these three decades, Radio Haiti withstood censorship, exile, and violence. Through dictatorship, military rule, coups d’état, and the democratic era, Radio Haiti investigated political repression, state corruption, and corporate malfeasance; promoted the rights of rural farmers, refugees, and other marginalized people; and showcased Haitian art and culture.
On April 3, 2000, Radio Haiti’s director, Jean Dominique, was assassinated. The powerful individuals who ordered his murder have never been identified. But Radio Haiti was not silenced. In 2013, Michèle Montas, Radio Haiti’s news edior and Dominique’s wife, donated the station’s archives to the Human Rights Archive at Duke’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, with the condition that they be restored, digitized, and made accessible to all.
Today, Radio Haiti’s entire audio archive—more than 5300 recordings, complete with trilingual description—is free and available online. This exhibit and immersive audio experience, coincides with the Duke Performances premiere of Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever (Mar 4, 5, and 6) and the twentieth anniversary of the assassination of station director Jean Dominique. Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever is a multidisciplinary performance commissioned by Duke Performances, set to new music by Haitian-American singer-songwriter Leyla McCalla (formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops).
“It is fitting, then, that Breaking the Thermometer, a performance by Leyla McCalla, Haitian-American artist with activist roots, has emerged from the Radio Haiti Archive. For Radio Haiti, music was national identity, music was resistance, music was a way to denounce and outwit the forces, from within Haiti and from abroad, that sought to exploit, crush, destroy, and suck the Haitian people dry.” Read more about this Duke Performances commission in the blog post “The Drum Never Stops Beating: Music as Resistance on Radio Haïti-Inter“
“This spring marks the twentieth anniversary of Jean Dominique’s assassination, and I feel honored to participate in these public events to commemorate Radio Haiti’s impact and legacy. I’m excited to bring some of Radio Haiti’s photos and equipment into a public space, to weave together a coherent story of the station and its role in Haitian history using these tangible objects and images. And I’m particularly excited that we will be creating an immersive space that will allow people to listen to Radio Haiti’s broadcasts while sitting in a Haitian living room,” says Laura Wagner, the exhibit’s curator and Radio Haiti project archivist (2015-2019).
When I Say Africa: Photographs from the Continent
“The West as a whole has decidedly taken Africa under its wing and has made it the perfect place for a nationwide empathy movement.”—on When I Say Africa (Eye Candy, “Feature: Stop Victimizing Africa!,” Afropunk)
This selection of photographs by African artists offers an alternative vision of Africa. By documenting the agency and self-determination of contemporary Africans, When I Say Africa: Photographs from the Continent challenges the “voluntourism” urge prompted by mainstream imagery of crisis. This exhibit is an interactive companion to the forthcoming film When I Say Africa.
The late Kenyan writer Biyavanga Wainiana demonstrated how the common tropes of representations of Africa in the west have remained consistent into the 21st century: rural; silent; musical; primordial; primitive; focused on the past or on tragedies. These images are central to the concept of charity for young Americans. They make Africa the space that young Americans are most likely to see as needing them to save.
“The documentary film When I Say Africa ends with this collection of images, chosen for their beauty, their critical lens on the worlds that matter to the artists, and the clarity of expression they illustrate about what Africa can be about. That is so rare in the images of Africa familiar to Americans,” shares exhibit curator Kathryn Mathers (associate professor of the practice in International Comparative Studies and Cultural Anthropology at Duke.) “It is so exciting to be able to take them out of the digital and virtual spaces of film and social media to offer the audiences a chance to reflect on and admire them in this great space at the Ruby.”
If photographs are doing the work of extraction, When I Say Africa aims to reframe our expectations of Africa, changing how we see the continent, and ultimately, how we engage with Africans.