This is the second of a three-part summary of the excellent 1804 and Its Afterlives conference that took place at Nottingham Contemporary on December 7th and 8th 2012 as part of the events program accompanying the Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou exhibition. Video recordings of the sessions can be found on the above link. The focus here is on salient points from the talks that touch upon issues of direct relevance for the Zombi Diaspora narrative and the Ghetto Biennale.
Saturday 8th (Day Two, Morning Session)
This session was introduced by Philip Kaisary, assistant professor of Law at the University of Warwick who has written about representations of the Haitian Revolution in the work of Aimé Cesaire and C.L.R. James from the perspectives of human rights discourse and historiography. He spoke briefly about “the extraordinary diversity of the Haitian revolutions afterlives” not only in literature but also in film, music and dance, these latter being the focus of the morning’s papers.
The first speaker was Michael Largey, Professor and Chair of Musicology at the University of Michigan and author of Vodou Nation: Haitian Art Music and Cultural Nationalism (2006) whose paper – ‘1804 and Musical Memory: Occide Jeanty and Recombinant Mythology in Haiti’ – explored how Haitian art music has been used to underscore concepts of nationalism there. In Vodou Nation he claimed that elite Haitian composers employed “modes of cultural memory to engage issues from Haitian history as a way to make significant claims about Haiti’s place in the world”. Today he spoke about one such mode, “recombinant mythology”, to show how “mythological ideas” have a powerful shaping influence on how Haitians understand their political realities. He focussed on Haitian military band director Occide Jeanty (1860 – 1936) who was seen by Haitian audiences as a defender of the Haitian nation during the 1915-1934 US military occupation. In order to understand the importance of Jeanty it is necessary to develop a historical model that examines “legendary accounts of his life that have been infused with Haitian myths”. “Myth and history” he says “are elements of larger discursive processes that forge relationships with the past”.