Spooky: The Haitian child

By Manuel Mathieu Monday, February 4th, 2013 Categories: Features, Updates
 

When I first discovered art, I saw artists as free thinkers with no constraints. I began to crave that freedom, and I still do. It took me time, experiences, and maturity to realise that what was happening in the studio was very intimate while the perception of the work as well as where it comes from, can, sadly, have more weight than the piece itself.

A couple of years ago I met a Black American artist living in the states. The first thing that he made me feel was a brotherhood, seeing me as part of his community. This triggered thoughts because I had never felt or faced these considerations. I grew up in a country where white people were living among us, not the contrary. Moreover, I realised that realities such as geography, history, etc. inevitably affect the way one perceives art—in what context it is presented, how it is shared, and how idolized the artist is.

Manuel Mathieu’s Spooky. Materializing across Haiti in 2013

Manuel Mathieu’s Spooky. Materializing across Haiti in 2013. All images by Monsiieur Coms.

I was familiar with the history of the black community in the States, but it was not mine. My quest to understand my heritage started thereafter. I became conscious of the fact that Haitian artists were carriers of a different reality; a reality that wasn’t American or African but uniquely Haitian. I don’t believe in this notion of an artist belonging to a particular place—the categorization of being a Haitian artist or Chinese artist, for instance—but I can’t avoid the fact that we perspire, at varying degrees, the heritage of the land that we come from. As soon as I understood that some people, both inside and outside of Haiti, have certain expectations towards Haitian art and culture, expectations that are influenced by numerous social, economic, and political factors, I wondered how this could inform my practice.

Manuel Mathieu’s Spooky. Materializing across Haiti in 2013

Manuel Mathieu’s Spooky. Materializing across Haiti in 2013

From that point on, I felt that the only way to unlock the treasures of my heritage was to be more aware of it, to be more conscious of my relation to it, and to consider my heritage as an artistic asset. Being creative and inventive with my heritage proved challenging, especially when it is so easy to succumb to elementary and arbitrary interpretations of culture. In the end, I discerned that I did not have to agree with or fully understand these interpretations; I recognized certain conventions and stereotypes that were perceived as aligning to Haitian culture, like the voodoo doll, for example, and resolved to approach them to redefine this commonplace.

It is in this state of mind that Spooky came to me—a big iconographic voodoo doll head. I decided to play with culture like Yue Minjun did and exaggerate stereotypes and clichés, so much so that the initial perception becomes twisted or grotesque. This creates a grey zone where dialogue becomes possible, and the viewer learns to perceive again, overcoming previously held notions, and then consciously agreeing or disagreeing with whatever they are witnessing.

Manuel Mathieu’s Spooky. Materializing across Haiti in 2013

Manuel Mathieu’s Spooky. Materializing across Haiti in 2013

By wearing this extravagant head, I am also saying what I am not.  I believe Spooky is a contemporary approach on my culture. You will find him this year walking around Haiti rediscovering his homeland.

Manuel Mathieu
Manuel Mathieu

Manuel Mathieu obtained a bachelor’s degree in visual and media art from UQAM (Université du Québec à Montréal) in 2010. While today he expresses himself in a variety of media (installation, photography, video), his international recognition is above all a result of his work in painting. His work has been exhibited in Haiti, Montreal, the United States, France and in several international fairs. In 2012, he took up a residency at Studio Béluga; had a solo exhibition of his work, PRÉMICES/OPEN-ENDED, at MAI; and will be part of a duo show at the Musée du Montparnasse in Paris. Despite his young age, his work is found in several private collections. Manuel Mathieu was born in Port-au-Prince,he lives and works in Montreal.