Art, Race, and History in Hispaniola

head shot photo of Graduate Center student Abigail Lapin DardashtiGraduate Center Ph.D. candidate Abigail Lapin Dardashti (Art History) began researching Dominican and Dominican-American art in 2012 through a fellowship at the Museo de Arte Moderno, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Six years and multiple fellowships later, her work has emerged as “Bordering the Imaginary: Art from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and their Diasporas,” an exhibition curated by Lapin Dardashti and presented by BRIC, one of the largest providers of free cultural programming in New York City.

Through the work of 19 contemporary artists, the show examines the intricate and often fraught relationship between the countries that share Hispaniola. Dominican and Haitian artists based in the United States and in their native countries depict the island’s history of colonialism and exploitation and its persistent inequality and stereotypes of race, identity, and gender.

A commissioned collaborative installation by Haitian-American artist Vladimir Cybil Charlier and Dominican-American artist Scherezade Garcia — a room filled with projections of the artists’ intertwining silhouettes, their voices speaking a mix of Spanish, French, English, and Haitian Creole, and an assemblage of life preservers outlining the artists’ DNA — concludes the show.

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Fabiola Jean-Louis, Marie Antoinette Is Dead, 2016

The island’s history provides important context for the exhibition.

Although the Dominican Republic and Haiti were a unified nation between 1822 and 1844, the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo and his followers, who ruled from 1930 until his death in 1961, cast Dominicans as whitewashed descendants of Spanish colonists and native Indians, denigrated Haitians as backward and black, and orchestrated a massacre of Haitians in the borderlands.

More recently — in 2013 — a Dominican constitutional court barred the children of illegal Haitian immigrants from becoming Dominican citizens, spurring projects by artist-activists and renewing intellectuals’ attention to relations between the two nations.

Lapin Dardashti’s study of Dominican-American artists first took shape through a Minority Awards Fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2014. “I found that Dominican-American artists go through a different hegemonic system of racial classification in the U.S.,” she said. “They redefined their racial identity, and in order for them to do that and identify with blackness which has been obscured in the Dominican Republic, they look to Haiti.”

With the help of a Public Humanities Fellowship at the New York Council for the Humanities, she was able to organize a 2016 symposium at The Graduate Center, “Art, Race, and Fluidity in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.” That experience extended her research into Haitian artists, she says, which led directly to “Bordering the Imaginary” as well as to scholarly articles in Public Art Dialogue in 2016 and Diálogo in 2017.

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While the curatorial work itself has been exciting, Lapin Dardashti says the greatest pleasures have come after the show’s opening. “A number of people called it empowering,” she says. “That’s the biggest reward I could have as a curator. The show is strong conceptually, but it also matters for regular people. People see themselves in the artwork.”

“Bordering the Imaginary” runs through April 29 at the Gallery at BRIC House, 647 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, New York.

Top photo by Alex Irklievski
Art image courtesy of BRIC

Submitted on: APR 11, 2018

Category: Art History | General GC News | Student News