"My tent design for 'Base Paint', a project created by the artist Antuan, which provides artist painted tents as classrooms for children in Haiti, draws on my investigations of the way digital image making engages with the history and language of painting. For the tent design, I used images from Haiti's past found online and manipulated them in Photoshop to create a narrative that puts into dialogue Haiti's past and present and also thereby underscores the need for reconstruction and technological assistance.
The images are simplified and superimposed over each other on the exterior of the tent; depending on the vantage point of the onlooker, the images establish different relationships to each other and, therefore, allow for a variety of different interpretations. The design is meant to be visually inviting, a welcoming environment within which children can learn.
I have used a sculpture of a Zemi figure made in Haiti in the 15th century as the main element in the design of my tent. It is painted on three sides of the tent, each depiction from a different angle and in varying degrees of representational resemblance to the original. For the Taino people who inhabited the island at that time, the Zemi figure represented the spirit of its people. I became interested in the sculpture for various reasons.
Not only is it a beautiful piece of art made by the inhabitants of Haiti, a reflection of the people and their beliefs, but it's also one of the few remaining artifacts of a people and culture that would be completely eradicated by the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century and the French in the 17th century. This sculpture is currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where I live.
The first main narrative, on the front left side and top left side of the tent, speaks to Haiti's past. The Zemi figure is superimposed over a linear depiction of an early map of the Americas as well as scenes of vegetation that represent the fertility of the island in 1492 when Columbus discovered it. The figures/sculptures seem to be holding up the sides of the tent and supporting its weight.
The yellow circle is both a sun and a gold coin, or; combined with the red circle on the other side of the tent's roof it also references the Spanish flag. The lush, green vegetation speaks to the fertility of the island that would later become one of the main sources of sugar cane and coffee and thus both a real source of riches and bone of contention to the reigning colonial powers.
The second main narrative is present on the back right side and top right side of the tent. This narrative speaks to Haiti's present and is split into the three colors that correspond to the flags of the colonizing nations, the nations helping in reconstruction, as well as the Haitian flag -- red, white and blue. These are also the colors of the US flag, a major player in Haiti's complex past. The sculpture on the front of the tent is represented in white; it thus becomes one with the white background and mixes in with the negative space of the thick red linear mesh that covers this side.
The sculpture is fractured and broken up and barely visible, a condition that reflects Haiti's erased history. The mesh references new technologies that allow for the visual representation of often invisible phenomena - it's a 3-d mesh used for mapping forms and space in digital imaging. The mesh, therefore, speaks to a type of hope, the future and reconstruction of the island.
The white forms/ghosts that float through the blue grid are various artifacts from the 15th century. They are ghostly objects that are long gone, present only in their absence; yet enveloped / embraced in the blue 3-d mesh, they are also, in a sense, called back to life and made newly visible. This is, to my mind, the most succinct expression of Haiti's potential and the way technology and aid must be informed by the cultures and experiences of Haiti's past in order to truly and effectively resuscitate this devastated country."