Circling the Cosmograms: Feminist Art, Vodou, and Dyasporic (Re)turns to Post-Quake HaitiPublic Deposited
Circling the Cosmograms marks the first full-length study of second-generation feminist and/or queer art and performance in the Haitian Dyaspora (Haitian Kreyòl spelling) following the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Through archival research, visual and performance art analysis, and in-depth interviews, I document the ways feminist and/or queer Haitian-American artists use a Vodou aesthetic in their art practice to “circle the cosmograms,” to “(re)turn” back to Haiti physically, artistically, and spiritually. I animate the contemporary aestheticization of Vodou by feminist and/or queer 1.5 and second-generation Haitian-Americans to chronicle how Vodou has made it possible for a group of people, having been historically marginalized both in Haiti and in Dyaspora, to (re)turn to Haiti, and by extension Ginen—ancestral Africa in the Vodou tradition. Performance is used to frame the everyday and aesthetic applications of Vodou in the lives and art works of women in the post-quake Haitian Dyaspora. I attend to how Vodou simultaneously performs itself and is performed by artist—how Vodou serves as a philosophical, moral, and aesthetic praxis. By attending to performance—in the everyday and in art—I archive the ways Haitian-American artists creatively share their own experiences witnessing the earthquake while simultaneously attending to the shifts in their political commitments as well as their art practices pre- and post-quake. In documenting these female and/or queer artists’ aesthetic, transnational, and political shifts, I crystallize art as a means of indexing the effects of the earthquake on Haitian-American cultural practice, subject-formation, and feminist/queer interventions and organizing both in Haiti and the larger Dyaspora. I theorize circling the cosmograms—the return to Haitian Vodou—through a discussion of five artists and their works: Rejin Leys (b. 1966, mixed-media and paper artist); Lenelle Moïse (b. 1980, poet-playwright); Régine Romain (b. 1974, photographer); Gina Athena Ulysse (b. 1973, scholar-performer) and my own work as a storyteller-dancer-visual artist. Through these artists and our works I investigate the four tactics of “circling the cosmograms”: 1) seeing dyasporically; 2) a Dyasporic lakou praxis; 3) the aesthetics of the lwa; and 4) crossing pedagogies, bridging the sacred and the scholarly. The performance of each individual tactic structures how these artists use their given mediums to intervene, critique, and/or challenge representations of women, Haitian people, and Dyaspora both within and beyond Haiti.