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Haiti’s “Pòtoprens” artists brought to Brooklyn in new photobook

The Haitian Times
By LARISA KARR

NEW YORK — On a late Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn, spectators filed into an industrial warehouse-like space not too far from the waters of Red Hook’s piers, to view the newly-released book of photography Pòtoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince.

Pòtoprens
Pòtoprens: The Urban Artists of Port-au-Prince.

Inside Red Hook Labs, the scent of diri djon djon, legume and other Haitian foods filled the air as small groups gathered around a large display showcasing copies of “Pòtoprens.” The newly-released 416-page coffee table book features the works of 25 artists based in neighborhoods around Port-au-Prince.

Pòtoprens
Pòtoprens

The book is the culmination of years of research and documentation by editors, authors and curators, according to the book’s co-editor, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. The essays accompanying the photographs of the artists’ work are printed in Creole and English, which editors said added an extra year of work to the creation process.

exhibition
“It was an opportunity to turn an incredible exhibition into a beautiful book worthy of the artists and worthy of the city,” said Jelly-Schapiro. “It was about celebrating the incredible contributions of the artists of Port-au-Prince and placing them in a deeply contemporary, vital frame.”
performance
“I’m personally exhausted with the stigma and the narrative that’s been circulating about Haiti since I’ve been here,” said Haitian-born artist and singer Sheila Anozier. “It’s been a challenge having people understand the beauty that comes from Haiti, the beauty that I know, from the language to the songs.”

The book features artists from a 2018 art exhibition of the same name at nearby art gallery Pioneer Works, which worked alongside Brooklyn-based nonprofit Haiti Cultural Exchange. The exhibition featured sculptures, photographs, paintings and films from the Port-au-Prince-based artists.

Pòtoprens

The performers in attendance also said it was important to hold an event like the book’s release party to showcase another side of Haiti not shown in the mainstream media.

Pòtoprens
“It’s time to celebrate the truth of who we are and our beautiful sound that they try to stop,” said Tiga Jean-Baptiste, a musician who accompanied Anozier on drums. “It’s time for us to embrace the sound because without it, we cannot move forward.”

For Jennifer Celestin, who performed poetry in English and Creole, the book’s launch motivated her to create new work specifically for the audience.

Pòtoprens
“It’s nice as a writer to see an exhibit, experience it and then try to transpose it into words,” Celestin said. “Anytime I get to play with words, to show all of our hidden histories and traumas, I always want to do that because these words themselves have a life.”

“Pòtoprens” is available for purchase via Powell’s Books and Pioneer Works

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