text by Eddie Arroyo

I recently returned from a brief trip to the west coast by way of Los Angeles. Certainly, it has been mentioned L.A. and Miami are similar and I can attest to that. Eerily familiar when consuming Huevos Rancheros for breakfast at a diner east of the city; a multiverse to Hialeah and many parts of North Miami. Basically, the Cubans and Haitians had been replaced by Mexicans in population. I saw it in the tricked out boxy commercial business spaces, the modified/ rigged cars, and palate choice in domestic housing and design.

Upon returning to Miami, driving down north east second avenue past fifty second street, I realized what makes Little Haiti unique to Miami. It’s beyond the simple grittiness that exists in other metropolitan cities and resides in the form of an ethnic enclave. It shapes a place’s identity as a neighborhood.

And so there I stood, in what was once a church and is temporarily known as the Little Haiti Country Club. A group exhibition of 30 artists who live and work in the area which is currently moving through transition. Marked by new galleries such as Guccivuitton and Space Mountain – gaining notoriety within the art community. Many of these artists were relocated from Wynwood because of the lack of affordable studio space and housing as the cost of living increased due to gentrification.

Ricard Mor wrote in the Miami Herald that local artist Bhakti Baxter helped to select the artists involved in the exhibit stating, “The show marks a point of transition for the neighborhood”. Which raised the question, “What is Little Haiti?”.

The conversation was held in the narthex, composed of a panel of artists and thee developer, David Lombardi. He proposed what direction the neighborhood should evolve into. A vision which included renaming the area to the Maker’s District. Another artist proposed that it didn’t matter what a neighborhood is called – citing the actual history of the Allapttah District and the Little River District.

Baxter also stated the method of naming the show Little Haiti Country Club derived from a previous effort by another group of artists who had a space years ago. It was the Little River Yacht Club where artists presented their work in an experimental approach. Baxter invited business owners to attend the meeting but only one was present and did express an interest in this social practice as to the prospect of increasing revenue. It was speculated that schedule difficulties may have hindered other entrepreneurs to attend, many who work 10 to 12 hours a day.

Earlier, I moved along the space witnessing the show itself; struck how much of the work had nothing to do with Little Haiti. A country club is a private club, often with closed membership and very much exclusionary in nature. The irony in naming the show Little Haiti Country Club representing none of its ethnicity was alarming.

Apparently, something which had not escaped artist’s awareness and was included in the discussion but defended poorly. Noting, that there is enough Haitian artists recognized in Miami – citing Edouard Duval Carrié, Rick Ulysse, and Adler Guerrier who currently has a solo show entitled Formulating a Plot at the Perez Art Museum Miami. The effort was to announce that artists are to be included in the change which is to come.

However, by excluding the Haitian component they had successfully taken the role of the developers who had relocated them. I found it quite cathartic.

There was this notion of change which was consistent in the conversation but growth was not given any attention. This was not surprising. To discuss growth one has to recognize regional identity, a concept which is still very much dead in the contemporary art community with few exceptions.

The reason for this is obvious – the risk would transform a piece of artwork to a memento, keepsake, or far worse, a souvenir. To do that would eradicate the monetary value of an object and this makes sense in an art market which has been increasingly homogenized.

This tendency is apparent when the global art community refers to abstract expressionism or impressionism instead of stating it as the New York School or French Impressionism. It was not so long ago, I was at Et al. gallery in San Francisco and spoke to a designer who mentioned impressionism as an aesthetic. Its method of color and light.

This is true, however, they also contextualize the work by monumentalizing contemporary life in France. Apparent, in Renoir’s, Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, Monet’s Woman with Parasol, and Degas’ L’Absinthe. It was not simply to capture light and color but a way of life as well, a culture.

The strength of conceptual art is the liberation of materials to focus not just on an aesthetic but on content and context. Demonstrated by Kara Walker’s A Subtley or the Marvelous Sugar Baby presented by Creative Time in the soon to be gentrified Domino Sugar Factory.

I suppose Baxter and friends would had benefited in following Lombardi’s proposal; to perhaps name the show the Makers Country Club – for it would had been more accurate to the exhibit itself. But then it would have missed an opportunity to engage the community in a dialog about regional identity, gentrification, and hopefully urban renewal.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Back in ’75 or so, I remember walking into a ramshackle Haitian restaurant directly across from the McArthur Dairy facility on 2nd ave. I was obviously the first Blanc to set foot in the place. They had a few tables inside, and traditionally, a nice patio outside under a tree. I ordered the poul ak diri. There was a small group playing rara music. It was fantastic. I asked them to come play on the radio. Koleksion Kazak.
    The next day a call went out to my friend, the poet Jeffrey Knapp, to tell him about the place. What Jeffrey and I loved was the sound of the Creole and the colors and the fresh painting and the way they dressed and the way they walked. And Jeffrey loved the food. In short, what we loved was the Haitian people and their culture, their culture.
    Culture, like a city or a neighborhood, is organic. It is the result of countless years of coalesced minute preferences; a hundred million choices that become an identity. It is not something decided in a meeting with developers, businessmen and artists.
    This is the fundamental mistake made over and over in Miami – the idea that a city or a culture or an identity can be manufactured at will. It is a manifestation of the boundless hubris of the European industrial mindset; a mindset that says ‘We can put a new Europe anywhere we want, and we want to put it everywhere.’
    I don’t call that homogenization. I call it genocide.