The art historical effacement and the indictment of contemporary Haitian art in the meanders of naivety reflect Euro-America’s pasts, and are antithetical to an understanding of a human psychology in which an individual is capable of multiple affirmations of self – Papa Loko the artist, poet, musician, spiritualist etc. Viewed from the epistemological framework of the lakou (traditional community), we perceive Papa Loko as a specific manifestation of a greater awareness that can be understood through a different cosmogony. Here, reality encompasses the physical body of the living and the luminal of the soul.
Papa Loko creates in this complex system with its tradition rooted in the chants of the “lakou”, the production of an art that speaks “langaj” operating within dynamic heritages in which visual representations incorporate both secular and sacred characteristics. In these traditions, human interactions with the metaphysical dimensions are mediated through triggering devices that channel the pervasive forces of these different worlds to the combined force of a community directed to common social action. Viewing Papa Loko’s work from this perspective then call for specific notions of creativity to define the artist as, among others, a creator of memory in reference to its triggering inherent in making and viewing of the art.
The above concept of creativity institutes a key difference between notions of “beauty” and “memory” as aesthetic responses to issues of form. The language of beauty inheres in formal qualities of physical objects while the language of memory expressed as a will to re-member – to form, defines the embodiment of historical realities in temporal, formal or conceptual structures. Consequently, Jude Papa Loko is a maker of memory triggering devices not in the pejorative sense of “telling stories”, but in the concrete sense of mastery of narratives and meta-narratives.
The idea of art as history is prevalent in Haitian expressions. It asserts the importance of audience’s participation in the artist’s embodiment of history and signifies an aesthetic of transcendence of the material conditions – an understanding of form as a luminal stage in the evocation of one’s humanity. In Papa Loko’s work, form functions as a mode of inscription through mnemonic codes that delineate the temporal and realities of the community in term of visual imagery.
In this perspective, Papa Loko’s mercurial character assumes great significance. His creativity is perceived in terms of Konesans – a gift from the spirits that mark him as a bearer of prodigious forces manifested as Langaj – art.
Papa Loko’s choice of the Haitian cosmogony as thematic is fortuitous as it allows him to anchor his art on meaningful cultural foundations. Although Haitian art overlaps chronologically with Euro-American modernism and may thus suggest a causal connection, there are enough stylistic and philosophical differences that subvert this causality.
The work of Jude Papa Loko must then be viewed as in the African dictum that the world is like a dancing masquerade that must be perceived from several viewpoints.
Babacar M’Bow, Ph.D.
Museum of Contemporary Arts (MOCA)
City of North Miami, FL