Leah Gordon - Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti

05 Apr 14

Haitian history, and not only that of the revolution, is replayed through the masks, costumes and narratives of the carnival in Jacmel, a coastal town in southern Haiti. Leah Gordon has been recording the people, masks and costumes of Jacmel’s carnival for the last sixteen years on a 50 year old Rolleicord twin lens reflex camera. In calmer, more tranquil times she has met with the carnival performers and collected the stories behind the masks. These are stories of ancestral & revolutionary memories, complex Vodou rituals, political satire and personal revelations. The lives of the indigenous Taino Indians, the slave’s revolt and state corruption, are all played out using drama and costume on Jacmel’s streets. Gordon discusses the unique carnival in Jacmel in the context of Haitian community-generated popular culture, the historical significances of the costumes and street theatre, and her own negotiations of practice and aesthetics working as a photographer representing Haitian culture.

Leah Gordon is an artist and curator and has produced a body of work on the representational boundaries between art, religion, anthropology, post-colonialism and folk history. Her photographic work registers junctures between shared Haitian and British histories and cosmologies. Gordon’s film and photographic work has been exhibited internationally including the National Portrait Gallery, UK, Parc de la Villette, Paris, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and the Dak’art Biennale. Her photography book ‘Kanaval: Vodou, Politics and Revolution on the Streets of Haiti’ was published in June 2010.

Gordon is the co-director of the Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was one of the curators for the Haitian Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale, was the co-curator of Kafou: Haiti, History & Art, at the Nottingham Contemporary and on the curatorial team for the ‘In Extremis: Death and Life in 21st Century Haitian Art’ show in 2012 at the Fowler Museum, UCLA and 2013 at the Musées de la Civilisation, Quebec City.