This was my first day of actual "baseling," as people often say, and did this Basel begin with a bang! It was a bang that ricocheted from Miami to Haiti and all through the Caribbean, then across the Atlantic riven by the blood, sweat, and tears of the Middle Passage, and then to Africa and back to Miami.
I'm talking about my visit to the must-see exhibit "Global Caribbean II: Caribbean Trilogy, Focus on the Greater Antilles" at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. There are absolutely riveting, knock-your-socks off artworks on view by Edouard Duval Carrie, Jose Bedia, and Jose Garcia-Cordero. The best of these can make your heart weep.
I'm also talking about a spectacular performance of excerpts from a new contemporary opera, "Makandal," produced by Harlem Stage of New York City. (www.HarlemStage.org) As Harlem Stage executive director Patricia Cruz explained before the performance I saw this morning at 11 am, what we saw was about a half-hour "collage" woven from the mighty collusion of visual arts, dance, music, and song. To some extent it was inspired by the continually astonishing art by Duval Carrie, who for years has given the rich visual art history of Haiti a special voice in contemporary art.
This collage of an opera-in-progress wove together the story of Makandal, an 18th Century Haitian revolutionary who led a failed slave revolt, with the story of 21st Century illegal immigrants from Haiti, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic embarking on a perilous boat trip to Puerto Rico to find a better life, to find the the right to live freely and with dignity.
Yet my summary here fails to capture the poetic richness and texture of this hauntingly memorable, operatic "collage." Sometimes the stage was veiled with three transparent scrims on which were projected a figure, drawn in ghostly white, suspended among stars amid a deep oceanic blue, perhaps a beautiful lost soul dreaming of the vast and frightening journey to freedom. Sometimes drums, then strings enhanced this story as it floated, then roiled, forward with dynamic spoken words, fluid dance, and gorgeous song.
Here are notes on those words that I scribbled in the dark. (I realize I may not be quoting them with perfect accuracy): "He came here against his desire to help tobacco and indigo grow...Even before the earthquake, every day is poverty...Makandal was free before he was free..." And then there was this spellbinding refrain, sung low, over and over: "The sea, she's greater than me."
When this performance was over, Patricia Cruz reminded us that this commissioned opera itself represents a long creative journey, one that is not yet finished, but has flourished thus far thanks to many supporters, including the Warhol Foundation.
"Makandal" is rooted in the continuing quest for freedom that defines the tumultuously rich and diverse culture of the Caribbean, something that continually shapes our daily lives in Miami. Seeing a performance like this reminded me once again, as she said, that art allows us to realize our connectedness, our essential humanity.
But blogging is so brief. I know I did not capture all the richness of this performance or exhibit. I invite others to continue the conversation about this wonderful event at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, including the many artcentric friends I saw there today, among them Mary L, William K, Tina S, and Lilia G. I look forward to posting your comments on my blog!