LEAH GORDON

/ KANAVAL

exhibit & texts

June 1, 2017

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Each year, Jacmel holds pre-Lenten Mardi Gras Festivities. Troupes of performers act out mythological and political tales in a whorish theatre of the absurd that traverses the streets, rarely shackled by traditional procession. Mardi Gras in Jacmel is light years away from the sanitized corporate-sponsored tourist-driven carnivals around the world. There appears to be no set time, route or parade. One can wander a seemingly deserted street, turn a corner to find a group of cardboard masked solicitors and judges with chairs and a table seated in the middle of the road performing a play based on a French 19th century novel. Around another corner you might find a painted boy riding a donkey, which is wearing sneakers, trousers and speaking on a mobile phone. It is of carnival of flaneurs and meanderers, rather than marchers and processors.

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Zombie: the “differently dead,” in their white sheets, often force-marched in chains held by Bawon Samdi, divine master of ghouls and father of the Gedes.
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Lansetkod: devils with horns and whips. Bodies shellacked with molasses and soot, wearing Lewinsky thongs and carrying dismembered doll parts.
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Papa Jwif:

(the Wandering Jew), sometimes called Patriarch Jerusalem, Ezekial or Hezekiah, incongruously dressed in Bishop’s mitre emblazoned with Masonic insignia, golden cloak and egungun stockings, carrying a crozier with which he often attacks the crowds…

Chaloskas: 
dressed in mad military gear, said to be in mockery of the 19th century general Charles Oscar, with great buck teeth protruding from blood red lips.

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Flambeau:

We make Papier Maché animals. We make pink flamingos, pigeons, cows, alligators, tigers & lions, so that we represent animals that do exist in Haiti and those that don’t too. We both make all the animal masks and we also both go onto the street wearing the masks. There are three sets of characters, the animals, the hunters and the cowboys.

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Kongo: Indians covered with mystic pwen and wearing mariwo skirts.

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Atibruno: 
is a peasant and people say that peasants are like donkeys and they are very stupid. But we know that peasants are not stupid. That’s the reason we put the clothes, the pants, the shoes on the donkey to show that he is not stupid. He also has a cell phone to show everyone he is not stupid at all and he is as good as all the people that live in the town.

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Men playing women: Men playing women hopelessly masculine trannies in ill-fitting prom.

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UN Soldiers: pointing pistols at some hapless neg in burlap rags (a scenario too close for comfort on the streets of occupied Jacmel)

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Anonymous mo: wandering unleashed on the streets in their tell-tale white hoods, some with cell phones, another clutching a bottle of Barbancourt rum, enfolded in the amorphous shroud of the zonbi who holds him from behind.

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Mo de mer: Defiantly carrying tell-tale conch shells from the Isle beneath the Sea (aka Ginen or Kalunga), or hooded in white, standing forlornly in front of a scuttled ship in Jacmel harbor.
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Bakas: fabulous were-creatures from the bestiary of Haitian mythology
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Henry Ford once said, “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition.” What we find on the streets of Jacmel at carnival time unravels this statement with acerbity, threat, imagination, grace and a wild surrealism. The whole event is swirling around in a miasma of warped historical retelling. This is the kind of history that would be making Henry Ford’s palms a tad sweaty. And so it should. This is people taking history into their own hands and moulding it into whatever they decide. So within this Historical retelling we find mask after mask, but rather than concealing, they are revealing, story after story, through disguise and roadside pantomime.
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