Manuel Mathieu

One Lucky Bird

In order to talk about my experience I have to define what the Caribbean means to me. The Caribbean is a group of islands that are sharing a similar past, and struggling to embrace a common future.  I grew up in Haiti and around me we never had a strong understanding of being part of the Caribbean, I guess the everyday problems made it hard to see the bigger picture.

I didn’t know about Caribbean Linked but when I was invited and got familiar with the concept, I understood it came from a necessity to generate bonds and confront certain narratives.

Because of our particular trajectory, every island has a very particular culture and relationship to the world. I don’t think we see each other as “the Caribbean”, because of our sense of nationalism we see ourselves as individual units. The same way a French doesn’t present himself  to the foreigner by saying  he is from Europe someone from the Caribbean usually don’t present himself saying he is from the Caribbean, but precisely from the particular island he or she is from.  My understanding is that together we represent a force but could it be the opposite? Could it contribute to the preconceived perceptions of the other/foreigner? It makes me think of my encounter to my first English teacher – he asked me where I was from, I said Canada and he said “ah, from America”.

Radical! Leasho said. I love his accent or maybe it’s his words. I haven’t managed to speak Kreyol since I’ve got here. We are all using a transitory language in order to communicate. I wonder how many of our thoughts and ideas get lost in translation.

After talking and presenting our work, I realised we were all dealing with the same problems. On the first hand, the lack of institutional support. When the institution gives support  it does so intermittently  and/or doesn’t give long term financial support. This national recognition definitely affects the prestige of the artist. It suggests a certain quality, therefore maybe financial interest from…. This gets me to the second common problem:  the lack of investment/interest from the private sector.  I hear people saying they are mostly not educated enough to appreciate, understand and therefore buy the work. I am not proud to say that my buyers in Haiti are buying objects, as opposed to a vision. It is strange because I don’t believe I make objects.

We must educate them! More than 58 % of people in my country are under 24 and the illiteracy rate is about 56%. I personally don’t think the middle class and or the richest 1% of my country needs to be educated in art. We need to sit down and think about civic duty and rethink the oligarchical structure that is running the country. Some idealists will say we can do that through art, but I have never seen art recreate a society. Politics, drastic actions, fights and blood wrote history. Could a Leon Golub series about Vietnam stop the war?

Lets keep going. What exactly do we need to educate them about? Contemporary art. What is contemporary art ? I remember during the exhibition at the Grand Palais in Haiti there was a round table, with over 20 Haitian artists and the question of what contemporary Haitian art was came up. The discussion was agitated, there was a clash of generations, ideas,  words like universality, voodoo, roots were flying around. As the voices were getting louder and louder I felt smaller and smaller. What exactly were they fighting about ?

Being in this context, surrounded by artists from the region, I can say Caribbean Linked helped me to sharpen my thoughts and understand that regardless of our differences we are all facing the same realities therefore it is important to nurture these reunions in the future.

About Manuel:

Manuel Mathieu was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in the year of the Haitian revolution that marked the end of the Duvalier era. He was named after the novel Gouverneurs de la rosée (Master of the Dew) a Classic of Haitian Literature. He completed his Bachelor degree in Visual and Media Arts at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) in December 2010. He currently lives in London where he is doing a Master in fine arts at Goldsmiths University of London.Mathieu’s work has been exhibited in Haiti, Montreal, the United States, France and in several international fairs. In 2012 he presented the exhibition Premices/Open Ended at MAI, and published his first monograph, Abysse/Abyss. His work has also been presented at the Museum of the Americas in Washington, the Museum of Civilisation and more recently at the Grand Palais in Paris. Mathieu lives and works between Montreal and London.