A PRESENTATION OF HAITIAN CULTURE

Anna Sebestian

The documentation of history in art and literature is a methodology practiced for years, from representations of cave images to hieroglyphics – the conception of its application proved significant in its capacity to both tell a story and record the lives and lifestyles of society and its varying cultures. Anna Sebastian’s work of art depicts the story of Haitian culture, that which narrates a past tale and displayed their relationship with the dead. How does one glimpse into the past to witness such a story and remember its happenings? What does it mean in a larger context of its contribution to society? In our conversation with Janine, she explained the themes behind her work that capture the essence of the exhibition ‘Fantasy of Having a Trailer Wagon All to Myself’, a tribute to Indian writer, journalist, critic and curator, Manoj Nair as well as discerning her depiction and interpretation of a historically significant moment in time.

Anna Sebastian is a painter and draftsman whose work focusses on alternative realities, myth, history and religion. She studied at the Royal Drawing School and Goldsmiths College and her previous exhibitions include the Ghetto Biennale, Haiti. Anna graduated with a BA in Fine Art from the Goldsmiths College in 2012 and has had a residency and solo shows in Barcelona as well as several exhibitions in London, Haiti, New York and more. Anna Sebastian mainly investigates religious and magical structures, Haitian Vodou in particular, Western Esotericism, and Indian Astrology. 

Q | What inspired your journey in the arts?

A | Ever since childhood, I've always preferred to express myself through images and storytelling. Being slight in stature and very quiet, I often felt invisible, but I discovered that an imposing image is difficult to ignore and so I could become as visible as I dared! Some of the works I made were quite confrontational, such as a two-meter self-portrait during a particularly difficult period of teenage angst. The limitations of communication were what I could imagine and what I could draw or make. So, it has always been important to me to develop the craft of drawing and painting to explore my imagination at its fullest. Discovering Rothko and the abstract expressionists, I understood the power that images had as translations of feelings and thoughts, capable of charging the atmosphere of a space and affecting others beyond the reach of language.

Q | Can you explain the concept behind your work for 'The Fantasy of a Trailer Wagon'?

A | I made the piece for 'Fantasy of having a Trailer Wagon' in Port-Au-Prince as a participant in the Ghetto Biennale. The work depicts a private Vodou ceremony my friends and I attended near the Grand Cemetary of Port Au Prince. People lived among the gravestones, indicating the intimate relationship Haitian culture has with the dead. Our guide and friend, Don Carmelo, a great Haitian artist, led us to Duvalier's demolished grave, Duvalier was the leader of Haiti between 1957 and 1971. The people had destroyed his grave, and it was an unsettling experience to be there. A detail includes an adaptation of the painting 'Battle for San Domingo' (now Haiti) by Polish painter January Suchodolski, which depicts the Polish troops sent by the French to fight Haitian revolutionaries. 

Q | What of the London contemporary art scene are you most inspired by and how do you perceive its growth?

A | I feel most inspired by my friends, who have chosen to work outside of traditional cultural institutions, such as independent publisher Morbid books, and theatre group Hunch Theatre. In London, the government lockdowns caused the temporary closure of many institutions, which are only just starting to reopen. It forced artists to think dynamically about how they can express themselves and the internet became the main tool for artists to connect and communicate directly with the public. Post-lockdown, I sense a hunger for experience, and I hope to see artists work experimentally in both private and public spaces and value their voices and perspectives.

Q | What of Manoj Nair's works throughout his life are you most inspired by?

A | I particularly enjoyed what will tragically never be completed ‘Fantasy of a Trailer Wagon all to Myself’, based on childhood train journeys. His descriptions and characterisation transported me into the train, I felt as though I was travelling with him, somewhere unknown, that I would only see through his words. The line "Desh jaarahe hain ya pardesh jaa rahe hain (Am I going home or am I going to an alien land?)" will stick with me. I am looking forward to the publishing of his book 'Between the Rock and a Hard Place', exploring the development of western music in India.

‘Fantasy of Having a Trailer All to Myself’ is an international group exhibition celebrating the life and work of Manoj Nair. The exhibition will take place from the 3rd of June to the 18th of June and will feature artists from diverse cultures and countries. An international selection of more than 20 artists from the UK, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Korea and Sri Lanka: the exhibition will include painting, photography, performance, film, sculpture, writing, music and digital artwork. Anna Sebastian, an emerging artist among this incredible curation of artists, will showcase her work and present her work of art that depicts the history of Haitian culture. For more information on the exhibition and where to view it, visit http://fantasyofatrailerwagon.org/

19th June, 2021 Visual Art | Paintings

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