A decade ago, Edouard Duval-Carrie gathered a group of Broward high schoolers to talk about Haiti. The artist, who was born in Haiti, wanted to find out what the kids knew about his homeland.
“I worked with 20 or 30 kids,” he recalls, “a lot of them Haitian and a lot of them non-Haitian, [and asked them] to tell me what they knew about Haiti, how they looked at it, and what they saw of it.” What he heard was a mix of truths, misconceptions, and “I don’t knows.” It got him thinking, he says, about the way the world sees the country. “How is history recorded, and is it accurate or not accurate, diluted over time, or what?” he wondered. “And how can we reconstruct it?”
Duval-Carrie turned the students’ renditions of Haiti into an art installation, “The Indigo Room, or Is Memory Water Soluble?,”which became part of the permanent collection at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. But he wasn’t done exploring the topic. Now, he hopes to expand Broward residents’ views of Haiti with “From Within and Without,” a photographic history of the nation that’s been ten years in the making.
“Basically, the idea was to try to do a comprehensive history of photography in Haiti,” Duval-Carrie explains. “And to me, what was interesting was how we are seen and how we see ourselves.”
Starting in the mid-1800s and tracing life in and perceptions of Haiti through the present day, “From Within and Without” comprises more than 300 photographs. Some are from Duval-Carrie’s own collection; “I’m a collector,” he admits. Others came from institutional archives. And still others were tracked down in private collections from Canada and London and beyond. Together, Duval-Carrie says, they make up one of the most thorough visual representations of Haiti ever.
“For the first time, it’s going to be a visual history,” he says. “We have many scholars who have studied Haiti in text and documentation, from the revolution to now, but very few have looked at images and how the images followed the progression of that nation. Hopefully, we are starting a new trend in visualization of Haiti.”
The exhibit looks all the way back to the 1850s, as photography was first becoming accessible to Haitians along with the rest of the world. The first images, Duval-Carrie says, show the lives of “well-heeled Haitians” like wealthy merchants and political leaders. Gradually, the technology reached less-affluent classes and began to document not only the lives and customs of the average Haitian but also the political unrest that plagued the country. Portraits of Haitian presidents, national landmarks, natural landscapes, voodoo festivals, election rallies — “From Without and Within” captures it all, including the little-known American occupation of Haiti that lasted from 1915 to 1934.
“It’s almost the centennial [of the start of the occupation], and the whole story has been swept under the carpet,” Duval-Carrie says. “The United States was trying to organize this place with people at the State Department not really understanding where they were going. And the racism within [the U.S.] at that period was quite something, so the idea of dealing with an independent black republic… that became a major problem.” The exhibit includes photos taken by occupying U.S. marines that document Haiti’s infrastructure as well as its people. “It was a discovery for me, to try to understand how things played out,” Duval-Carrie says. “All these things play into the history.”
The photos continue to document the story of Haiti all the way through the catastrophic 2012 earthquake and contemporary political instability, with images captured by well-known photographers like Carl Juste, Mario Delatour, and Phyllis Galembo.
“It’s a convoluted story, but my aim is to humanize the vision of Haiti and to make it a little bit more complex than it’s being billed,” Duval-Carrie says. And as cell phones and other technology make photography more available to the masses, he says, the visual history continues.
“It has never stopped, you understand?” he laughs. “Because they’re still trying to understand that place.”