Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kanaval: Vodou, Politics, and Revolution On the Streets of Haiti (Soul Jazz, 2010)

Book published/released by Soul Jazz Records (UK)
Photographs by Leah Gordon

Kanaval is a street theater in Haiti. The book is mixed with photographs by Gordon and translated text into English of oral histories by the Kanaval performers themselves describing their character, some based on a re-appropriation of slave narratives and depictions, others based on interpretations of Vodou deities and spirits. I think the images speak more than the text, because the text is in English, giving the oral history an anthropological quality, a feeling of detachment from the grotesque, raw images that Gordon captured on the streets. Yes they are portraiture, yes it is still ethnography. But the costumes, (which are obviously one of the most illuminating elements of Kanaval) unlike the language, are untouched.

"Unlike other carnivals, the one in Haiti is seen as an opportunity to commemorate its painful past of slavery, revolution, tyranny and poverty." - Socialist Worker (my italics)

"I realised it wasn’t pure spectacle but a retelling of history with costumes and narrative.” - Leah Gordon

The problem with these comments is that they fail to note that ALL theater, ALL ritual, commemorates its own past, whatever that may be, and regardless of whether or not its performers are aware of the narrative that their work is situated within. There is no pure spectacle anywhere.

Purhcase the book from Soul Jazz here

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