The project uniting Haitian and Dominican artists

Haiti’s Sol Scène aims to promote conscious social change through art. Their project, RCHD, focuses on fostering dialogue, cooperation, and fraternity between Haitians and Dominicans. Led by Daphné Menard, the association emphasizes the transformative power of art in addressing longstanding divisions between these neighboring communities.

C& América Latina: What is your assessment of the project’s previous edition?

Daphné Menard: Working in Haiti is like working on a moving island. The insecurity we’ve been experiencing forced us to cancel several activities we had planned for the previous edition, most of them meant to take place in schools and universities in Haiti. Many of the conferences, screenings, workshops and meetings we had scheduled had to be relocated to the Dominican Republic, which in turn was a challenge of its own. Working across borders is particularly challenging this time around given the current sociopolitical situation, making it difficult to link both countries logistically. Despite these difficulties, however, it was still a powerful event, and we were able to make due with the activities we did have. The feedback we received from artists and other participants was certainly encouraging.

C&AL: Last year’s edition was inspired by the theme “Anacaona: Woman and Resistance”. What’s in store for 2023?

DM: This upcoming edition will be centered around the work of Jacques Viau, a young Haitian-Dominican poet who died in 1965 while fighting against the US occupation of the island at the time. His story is a compelling one, for he was born in Haiti and later moved to the Dominican Republic at the age of 8, where he was then raised. We plan on having an exhibition about his life, and we hope to be able to do this in Haiti because although his work is well known by Dominicans, most people in Haiti do not know anything about him.

His work is also very impressive for a young poet. It takes the island as its subject and touches on the brotherhood between the two countries and its people. Viau embodies a powerful figure which can promote dialogue between Haitians and Dominicans and for this reason we chose him and his work as our theme.

C&AL: Following up on that, what can we expect from the upcoming edition in terms of its activities?

DM: For this edition for instance, one of the laboratories is called Viau en Chanson, where
we’ll be bringing together a composer and a singer to create something inspired by Viau’s poetry and then present it at the end of the project. Another activity, Viau en Movement, focuses on contemporary dance and theater, for example.

Aside from these, we will also be releasing a magazine which is set to be the first artistic magazine published in collaboration between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

C&AL: What is the reasoning behind the inclusion (or exclusion) of specific artforms over others?

DM: Coming from a background of theater, music and dance, I find it important for me as the creative director to have these artistic mediums included in the project. One thing that is common to all of them is the body: the body is really at the center of the whole process, which is also why we have chosen to not work – at least yet – with painting or other kinds of mediums. Instead, we try to stay on the stage, on scenic mediums where the body can be present.

So far, the artists we have paired together have worked really well in this framework. Language has not been a barrier because of the body and its ability to speak by itself. The body has this ability to express more than what we can say through language alone: it is a key to any door.

C&AL: In your opinion, how can art – through projects like these, be useful in overcoming grievances between Haitians and Dominicans?

DM: Personally, I believe that these kinds of projects [RCHD] are important because they build human connection – and I can’t stress this enough. Building this human connection is one of the main things that encourage us to continue to carry out this work, which is not always easy. I am really interested in the process of trauma healing through art. I am interested in the idea that art can be a platform where – even if the healing is not whole – it can allow us to gradually unpack the trauma embedded in our minds and bodies; the trauma from poverty, colonization and just the overall reality on the island. So, in our particular setting, I think art creates the possibility to connect people and for them to dig further into the island’s collective history, as well as that of their own countries. For example, there are things about Haiti’s history which I understand much better since coming to the Dominican Republic and the same goes for Dominican artists who will tell me how being in Haiti has allowed them to understand more about their own history.

It is important to stress, though that this connection exists in a dynamic way. It’s not only about healing – it’s about development as well. These links between peoples on the island create the possibility to develop our networks. Being in the Dominican Republic for instance has allowed me to connect with many Dominican artists and expand my personal and professional network. Prior to that, I barely had any connection to the country at all. The idea is that this exchange can allow other artists to do the same.

On this note, I must say that while I do believe that art has the potential to draw our attention to important issues, I also feel that – without any support, it lacks the power to do so. Neither country on the island has any sort of cultural policies or funds supporting our efforts. This lack of cooperation only makes it harder for us to handle the logistical challenges I mentioned. It also makes you feel as if your efforts are but a drop of water in the ocean. Still, what drives me is knowing that by inspiring at least one person, we could be igniting a cascade of transformation.

Daphné Menard is a Haitian transdisciplinary artist and social entrepreneur formally trained in music and theater. In recent years, he has focused his efforts on building bridges between Haitian and the Dominican artists and creators.

Afonso Ivens-Ferraz is a journalism student interested in the intersections between the arts, culture, and society. His work mainly revolves around music and film, with a nuanced inquiry into themes as varied as marginalized identities, urban subcultures and postcolonialism.