Rianna Jade Parker for Frieze Magazine - 3 September 2019
The Haitian-born artist discusses the climate crisis, losing his memory and belonging to a country of ruptures and profound dreaming.
Haitian artist Manuel Mathieu was born in 1986 — the same year dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier nicknamed ‘Baby Doc’ fled Haiti, marking the end of an almost 30-year Duvalier dictatorship. Belonging to a place of both uprising and idealism, the country’s lasting spirit of protest as the first Black republic has served as raw material throughout Mathieu’s practice. In 2016, he completed his MFA at London’s Goldsmiths College and debuted his painterly talents with a solo show ‘Truth to Power' at London’s Tiwani Contemporary in 2017. He has since gained international representation from Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago, and Maruani Mercier, Belgium, proving that Mathieu’s works are universal.
His latest work of large-scale polychromatic canvases features in a refreshingly relevant survey of Caribbean artists, ‘The Other Side of Now: Foresight in Contemporary Caribbean Art’ at Pérez Art Museum in Miami (PAMM). This thematic group exhibition anchors on the question, ‘What might a Caribbean future look like?’. Mathieu’s abstract imagination reveals distinctive but morphing figures of power and purpose, having fully realised the power of the local. Most recently, he has relocated to Stuttgart, Germany, where he will undertake a seven-month residency at the esteemed Akademie Schloss Solitude.
Rianna Jade Parker I have yet to visit the island of Hispaniola but all in due time. What are standouts of your childhood in Haiti?
Manuel Mathieu Haiti is the most beautiful country in the world. Growing up there, I was exposed to the beauty of living in a country so vivid, artistically, and people have the biggest heart that I have ever seen. On the other hand, it is a country that is unstable, misunderstood, has a level of insecurities but I guess all these things add up to intensify your capacity to be present in time. We are rebellious souls in Haiti, so I think it makes sense that we stand up when things are not working well and that we fight for what is right. Living in a country of ruptures certainly feeds my capacity to adapt wherever I go. Like Dany Laferrière said: ‘Haiti is a country of incessant ruptures with the hope of founding a new American mythology.’
RJP When I first came across your work at Tiwani Contemporary here in London, I immediately thought of Laferrière, the Haitian-Canadian author who posed in his book The Almost Forgotten Art of Doing Nothing (2011): ‘And what is the difference between art and culture? Art only happens if we put its culture in danger.’ Can you speak to that?
MM The idea of danger for me equates to an aspect of limits of comfort, the limits that we pose yourself, the limits of the others. When it comes to culture, something that is close to our identity, blurring the limits forces us to constantly be in a space where we are re-creating ourselves. Our capacity to grow is a real gift. The best way to actually express my presence is through art and that act of creation talks about my culture, talks about my heritage without a secret agenda. What you see is what you get.