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Diary: Franketienne

The end of the long and dominant history of modernism in Haitian painting which, like with that of most 20th century societies, began with a midcentury batch of artists combining Europe and home, in this case Haiti, is coinciding with the collapse of bourgeois social order in Haiti, the beginning of a collapse that came with the end of the Duvalier regime, the birth of Haitian democracy, and the human rights wins of the 20th century (out of which emerged Jean Bertrand Aristide). A “collapse of social order” is a heavy accusation but it is true in Haiti’s case: Haitian society is today semi-sovereign and primarily relies on money transfers from the diaspora to survive. In other words, modernism continues to die in Haiti, especially in the form of “tropical figuration” of coconut, bananas, nudes, art but continues to sell the most primarily because modernism is the most sellable. An artist putting an end to modernism’s domination and has been doing so is Franketienne.

Franketienne, born in 1936, is a rare and essential bird in Haiti’s cultural geography, as a radical postmodern painter, whose paintings were postmodern when everyone was modern, as a deep criticism of Haitian history, the present, and the world. Franketienne is a playwright, teacher, actor, philosopher, poet, novelist, painter, ex-minister of culture, and happens to have excelled in all of these fields. Once upon a time a communist activist and still a radical, he is now revered by Haiti as the writer of its first major creole language novel Dezafi (Haitian society being a postcolonial one, its elites have not allowed creole to prosper), its first writer of popular intellectual theater, and the founder of an excellent school. Franketienne the painter is well known for being outside of the norm: both central to Haitian painting and a recluse from the painterly mainstream given of what he is engaged in.

Franetienne’s paintings express his postmodernity in deep, trenchant, political criticism grounded in praxis of justice. The theme of his painting is chaos / truth, the very opposite tropicalia. He asks his audience to think of engage with Haiti critically and poetically, foregoing simple conclusions like coconuts, portraits, and beaches, and asking themselves about the chaos in nationhood, human rights, feeling, and motion (opportunity in a context of justice). He has been doing so for years, along with others whose praxis made living in Haiyi perilous.

Body, motion, color, direction: none should be unaddressed when thinking of Franketienne’s work. Franketienne take on the present is meant to inform the demos, the political process. His shapes, colors, etc, are signifiers, pedagogical painting with something profound to say about what we have gone to ourselves and what the present of our chaos is: one in which we are moving in all directions attempting terra firma again, for our living faces a collective thanks to our actions and thoughts. It must be said that the heavy pedagogy in his paintings would make his work great for muralism, which I have yet to see. Perhaps that’s where his painting would gave the most impact: as public life, in the streets.