"Art is our communal dream" / An interview with Edwidge Danticat



On the heels of the release of her new book, Create Dangerously, Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat gives an interview and speaks on creating freely, memory, death and Haiti, among other things. She makes the comment that "Art is our communal dream." That concept resonates and seems to carry with it so much responsibility, not simply for what is created, but also to the ability to recognize and articulate a communal existence. That seems so attractive, yet so abstract. It speaks both to the idea of our collective memory (that was touched upon in this post) and also a kind of imagination that is free-flowing and open for others to partake. Now that I ponder this "responsibility", I suppose it is one, but not in any kind of burdensome sense. The hope would be that if artists/creators allow themselves the space to create (and respond) honestly without restriction or self-censoring/judgment, our creations would flow into the communal discourse and simply become second nature.

Related liberatormagazine.com posts:
"A Little While" by Edwidge Danticat
Edwidge Danticat: "Create dangerously"

This way of viewing creating also releases us from the idea of the artist as an autonomous entity, working from and within their own psyche. It may begin from an individual perspective (influenced by a collective) but it rarely ends that way. And it would seem that the idea of "inspirational lineage" becomes important to the idea of a "communal dream". After reading this interview, I was left reminded of a quote by Chris Abani: "We are all approximating the truth of our communities". In my interpretation, "approximation of truth" stands to represent studying, receiving and synthesizing the various modes that our culture, communities (and ourselves) are revealed to us -- through language, sound, imagery, stories, memories, experiences.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

On Art and Soul:
///...it shows you that art will not be denied. Think of the daily functions of art in Haiti. The lottery stands. The tap tap camions. It’s all covered with beautiful art. My friend, the painter Ronald Mevs, used to say that Haitians are born surrealists. We are doing collage all the time, in daily life as well as in our art. So old oil drums become metal sculpture and old carnation milk cans become lamps, called tèt gripads, like bald-headed girls. Art is our communal dream.///

On the responsibility of artists:
///The responsibility of artists is to create as freely and as openly as possible. There should be no restrictions whatsoever on any artist or art. No prescriptions, orders, commands given to artists. They should engage us, make us think, entertain us in whatever way they see fit. There are however moments when art becomes part of something bigger, where a singular expression becomes part of the collective. That’s what the book is about.///

On criticism:
///I think criticism is necessary. It’s all part of it. I usually try to learn from criticism, see if in some way the person criticizing me is really trying to teach me something. But you can’t become obsessed with criticism. Same goes for praise. You listen, take a deep breath, and move on. Keep working. That’s the most important thing, to keep going.///

In response to criticism about Haiti that is 'poor' and 'not advanced':
///...look at Haiti’s history. When Haiti became independent in 1804, it was strapped with French debt and isolated by the world. It’s suffered a long American occupation from which it inherited more debt and a brutal army. Yes, we’ve had some of our own homegrown dictators, but every time the Haitian people have shown some desire to lead themselves, they’ve been slapped down for some reason or another by some larger power. I’m not making excuses. But I think people should take in the entire picture before making a judgment like that. Haiti is much smaller, of course. But would the United States have prospered with Haiti’s same obstacles? It’s worth looking at because both nations became independent around the same time.///

(full interview)

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