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Kwa Bawon

Exhibitions:  Forum AfricAmericA 2004 in Port-au-Prince - Lattitudes at the Paris City Hall, 2004 -  the 51st Venice Biennale, 2005 - Undercurrents at the Götteborg Museum, 2006 - Haiti in Extremis Life and death in the 20th Century at the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles, 2013 and at the Musée des Civilisations au Québec, 2014, Forecast Forms, Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, MCA Chicago, 2023.

Part of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago collection since 2023.

7 screens arranged in cross broadcasting 7 synchronized videos.

Soundtrack: Laurent Lettrée

This work was supported by Fondation AfricAmericA and Haitian Embassy in Paris  




The “cross” of Baron Samedi – the guardian of cemeteries – is one of the most important symbols of Haitian voodoo. It is this «Kwa Bawon» that took over the Haitian artist Maksaens Denis thanks to seven TV monitors stripped of their carcasses and arranged in the form of a cross on metal bases of recovery.   On these seven screens, he shows images and sometimes scrolls texts that reveal and tell us the unbearable reality of Haiti today. Yet - and this is why Maksaens Denis did a strong job - his work is not only a denunciation of an unacceptable political, social, local and global system. It is also a «game» in the strongest sense of the word that it offers to our imagination, a game that forces us, almost in spite of ourselves, to confront us with emotions and feelings perfectly antagonistic.

Indeed, for unsustainable that are some images of reality mounted with images of syntheses in long loops of more than thirty minutes  once passed the first shock, they become – little by little - Because of their strange connections and their assemblages, in turn synchronized and desynchronized but always extremely precise, - projection spaces for all our personal fictions. Soon, in fact, we dialogue with them and all our mental representations of the magic of this Caribbean universe are given free rein, supported by music that combines electronic sounds with drums and voodoo songs. Soon we find ourselves caught up in a flamboyant poetic delirium, and it is then that the installation of Maksaens Denis takes on all its meaning, all its magical power.

It is then that she is truly a “Kwa Bawon” and that she dispenses – in spite of the technology that constitutes her – the revolting yet fascinating passionate charge of the drunk, violent, trance guardian of the kingdom of the dead. Only then did we notice the little bottle placed on the ground, to the right of the installation, and we guessed that it called us to a shared libation with the spirits.   These words of the Haitian writer Franck Etienne come to mind: “Death stretches its tentacular roots over everything that lives, but by the force of its will, I am nothing more than a screaming mouth that cries out that where there is only one human being chained up, hungry, humiliated, it is the whole of humanity that is dragged through the mud”.

while my gaze is caught in the flames that spread across all seven screens. Suddenly, the cross becomes an oriflamme in the centre of which, soon, two desirous mouths pop up and kiss each other to the full. These immolated forces of desire and love are fighting fiercely to try to emerge and reclaim saturated space.   Have I «seen» the spirits of voodoo, these enigmatic angels, these mysterious devils, or have I simply met the wonderful realism, the luminous poetic delirium dear to this other Haitian writer Stephen Alexis?

I only know that something frantic suddenly emerged from this totemic cross erected by Maksaens Denis who dissolved all its borders and all its contours while keeping intact what can be considered as the irreplaceable roots.   With its irreducible specificity, what this witness artist and actor of his own culture achieves can only be compared to the exorcisms of the Western mass media that was able to propose to us, with the same technology and mastery as we know, the visual artist and videographer Nam June Paik. The nagging question to which this «Kwa Baron» is subjected is perhaps this: without vulnerability, without magic, without exaltation, without the powerful spell of images and sounds, how can we live on the edge of ignoble and insanity ?                                                  


Jacqueline Caux (contributor to Artpress)                     

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