I am currently making some work at Ghetto Biennale IV that I will be keeping a record of here. I had originally intended to produce a fanzine for the Ghetto Biennale that would document stories about the event as told by the local community and visitors. This would be written primarily in Kreyol, one of the three curatorial themes of this year’s event (along with “Lakou” – a particular form of Haitian communal organization – and “Vodou”) which would be translated, in-situ, into French and English. The project was to be called Zin after the Kreyol word for unfounded rumour, or gossip, playing on the Zin/Zine connection.
After asking several Haitians what they understood by the word “Zin” they seemed unsure. Eventually I was told that the correct spelling should be “Zen”, and that it did indeed mean “gossip” (or “badmouthing”). Kreyol is a phonetic language, so the subtle auditory difference between different pronunciations of words can be the cause of much misunderstanding. As I was informed by a very learned Haitian scholar at the bar of the Oloffson on my second night here – the journalist, writer and historian Georges Michel – the root of the word “Zen” came from the French word ain (fishhook), hence les ains (the fishhooks). The relationship between fishhooks and gossip however remains a mystery for now.
It has become something of a truism about the GB that whatever project one comes here with will have to change once the visiting artists arrive in Grand Rue. And this project is no exception. The logistics of making a fanzine here would mean a lot of negotiations between different parties, the languages of Kreyol, English and French, and between three currencies: the Haitian Gourd, the (virtual) Haitian dollar and the US dollar. Moreover it would require the dedicated assistance of a Kreyol speaker who could set up these negotiations. Having been to two GB’s before, and knowing how complex and frustrating these things can become, I decided to simplify the project. So, using a blackboard painted canvas that I brought with me, I have set up a temporary “gossip wall” in Lakou Cheri where local people and visiting artists can write anything they want about the GB. At the end of each day I will be photographing the messages before cleaning the canvas off for the following day.
Above is the first iteration of the GB IV “Gossip Wall”, shortly before it was hung in the lakou. The tag-line “KI TRIPOTAY OU GENYEN” means “What Gossip do you have?” (thanks to Georges Michel for that formulation). Here are the translations:
Samson ka’p lave Enoz – Samson is washing Enoz
Ti Mari kap souse yon zo san mewl – Little Mary is sucking a chicken drumstick without a brain
Tout to krab pa fé legim – Not all small crabs make a vegetable stew
Tripotay pa dyòb – Gossip is not a job
Kote ki gen kou pa gen chenn! – Those who wears chains don’t have necks
Mayi a griye pus a sa ki gem dam – The corn is cooked for those who have teeth
Bondye ka change la viw – God can change your life
x=y=Nul ne’st méchant voluntairement – No one is bad voluntarily
Les gens qui vote ne decide rien, ce sont ceux qui comptent les vots qui decides tout – The people who vote decide nothing, those who count the votes decide everything