In conversation with

Kolektif 2 Dimansyon: Poised Between the Urgent Need to be Heard and the Examine Oneself

For the C& and C&AL joint Ecologies print issue, Serine ahefa Mekoun spoke with Kolektif 2 Dimansyon (K2D).  At a time in which societal and political tensions have increased in Haiti, the collective demonstrates how photography can be immersed in Haiti in collective actions that support vulnerable populations.

C&AL: There’s a global discourse, mostly originating in Western countries, focused on environmental issues and the solutions that can be brought to bear, while remaining blind to the realities of the countries that are being hit the hardest. How would you define environmental issues on the basis of this work and this Haitian viewpoint?

K2D: Haiti is one catastrophe drowned out by another. It’s a country that’s been destroyed too by international aid, by debt, and by natural disasters. We have a corrupt state that depends on international aid and can’t provide food for its people. The crisis also comes out of the solutions contributed by the West. That’s also part of the crisis for us. People bring us oven-ready recipes that are not suited to our way of life, our way of cooking, of eating, of collaborating; they’re based on Western utopias of so-called modernization, but they don’t take our basic needs into account.

The state isn’t tuned into the population—it’s serving imperialism. It sets out models that will be rejected by the people sooner or later because they don’t see themselves in these new principles. It was also difficult for us to discuss the work. How are we meant to express this? Because, actually, what we say is intended just as much for the people in charge as it is for ordinary citizens, but in a very different way. And this is also what I call the Haitian viewpoint, this intimacy that we have. As photographers who know the way people express themselves, if we go out in the country, what people say won’t be the same as what we’d find in Port-au-Prince. With regard to the drought problems, for instance, the people there also see it through the prism of their beliefs. For some of the people we met, the reason there wasn’t any rain for several months was tied in with a curse, following the murder of a well-known spiritual grand master in the area. So if you come in with your spiel about climate change, it’s not going to cut through, since these are words that belong to a different discursive register… You need to listen to everyone and hear what they have to say, while also sharing alternatives that are within their range without having to count on political promises that never get off the ground.

C&AL: Why was it important for you to work on people’s environmental awareness when we know that the country has been exposed to natural disasters for decades and has developed a very precise appreciation of how to coexist with this environment?

K2D: In Haiti, there’s really no connection between the people of the North and the people of the South. Information doesn’t get around. Environmental problems are not really something we talk about. If there’s a disaster, people talk about it for a few days but that’s about it. They’re not really aware of what’s happening. So our job was to take events in a particular place and show them somewhere else. The idea was for the images to make this awareness much more present, because when people see them, they become more aware of the consequences of the disasters that have already occurred. It’s always difficult to talk afterwards to the people directly affected because they’re in a complicated situation. The fact is there’s something more urgent going on in some part of their minds. For example, the people who live on the coast and have built their little wooden shack there are obliged to mine sand and go and sell it to earn a bit of money. It’s much more important for them to make money so they have something to eat for a week than to know that if they continue to mine sand on the coast, the sea level will rise and engulf them. When we talk to them, they say that yes, they see that the sea has advanced, but it is seen more as a fait accompli than as a threat.

C&AL: Why are photos the best tool for you?

K2D: We’ve been surrounded by gangs in the capital for two years now. We’re blocked in from both sides. The only way to get through and travel to the south of the country is by plane and that’s seriously expensive. The goal is really to take this work to other people. We’ve carried it on via social media even if most of the people we wanted to get the work to aren’t even on these networks. In Haiti, there are a lot of people who don’t know how to read—they don’t have this culture of reading, so you can’t just produce texts for them. When an organization comes that wants to do work on the environment, they usually produce texts, but who are they for? They’re intended for intellectuals. Hence the importance of choosing photography as a channel, because writing requires a certain level of education, and it can quickly head off into abstractions. We don’t take photographs just for their own sake, but to support a cause that is bigger than we are.

Serine ahefa Mekoun is a multimedia journalist, writer, and producer working between Brussels and West Africa. Born at the cusp of Generations Y and Z, she is interested in all the spaces where different futures can germinate. She writes about creative communities and how they activate social change in postcolonial contexts.

Translation from French to English by Simon Cowper. 

This article is from the latest C& and C&AL Print Issue “Ecologies”. Read the full magazine here.