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PhD student making art in the third world

Posted on 20/01/2012

Charlotte Hammond, an AHRC-funded PhD student in the departments of Drama and French at Royal Holloway, University of London, was one of the artists invited to take part in the 2nd Ghetto Biennale in the Grand Rue area of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

The Ghetto Biennale, which took place in December, gathers local and international fine artists, film-makers, academics, photographers, musicians, architects and writers, and takes the unique approach of art as community rather than commodity. Artists from around the world share ideas, philosophies, and working practices with Haitian arts practitioners. The event takes place within the community of Grand Rue sculptors who live and work in a shantytown labyrinth of makeshift workshops, located off one of the main streets of the capital. They use junk, scrap and anything they can lay their hands on to create astonishingly monumental assemblages, strongly influenced by Vodou culture in Haiti.

Charlotte’s research looks at representations of cross-gender dress in the French Caribbean and their diaspora in metropolitan France, and she is currently on Martinique for eight months conducting fieldwork and working as a lecturer. For the Ghetto Biennale she worked with several young artists and a local tailor to create a series of paper costume pieces based on archival research undertaken in France.

The only stipulation given by the Ghetto Biennale curators is that all work had to be made on site, which Charlotte describes as the most challenging aspect: “Creating and making in the extreme conditions of the Grand Rue – without electricity, sanitation and, most importantly for me, without the comfort of sitting behind my state-of-the art sewing machine.”

Talking about her involvement, Charlotte says: “I arrived in Port-au-Prince with very mixed emotions, particularly as it became clear that a large portion of the capital were still living under canvas in extremely difficult conditions two years on from the earthquake. Yet the Ghetto Biennale felt like an important part of the reconstruction of a city which has always had a thriving artistic reputation, and members of the local community seemed to welcome the event as a celebration of the enduring creativity and resilience of the Haitian people.”

Charlotte adds: “I learnt about the problems and the rewards of ‘collaborating’ and facilitating true exchange between artists from very different backgrounds. Such negotiation is precisely what the Ghetto Biennale is all about, as the tagline reads: What happens when first world art rubs up against third world art? Does it bleed?"


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