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Written by Elisa Turner, BT Contributor   
October 2019

Little Haiti’s new art space extends a legacy

A ArtFeature_1clean well-lit place glows in Little Haiti. It’s the new Iris PhotoCollective ArtSpace. The inaugural show, curated by award-winning Miami Herald photojournalist Carl-Phillipe Juste, is “Paradise Lost in Nostalgia.” It shimmers with memorable scenes of daily life in Cuba, shot in March 2019 by photojournalists on assignment for Iris PhotoCollective’s forthcoming book, Havana, Haiti: Two Cultures, One Community. Supporting the book are grants from the Green Foundation and Knight Foundation.

In “Paradise Lost in Nostalgia,” contrasts abound between Cuba’s past and present. Those contrasts are captured by Marice Cohn Band, C. W. Griffin, Carol Guzy, Juste, Pablo Martínez-Monsiváis, Jeffrey A. Salter, and Charles Trainor Jr.

The show’s title comes from Juste’s photograph of the Carnival cruise ship Paradise leaving Havana. The sleek white vessel, efficiently equipped with lifeboats, dwarfs Havana landmarks as it glides out to sea. Seen side by side with this deluxe paradise, El Morro fortress resembles a frumpy, old-fashioned toy. On land, tiny figures with outstretched arms wave to the ship.

ArtFeature_2The dramatic photograph sums up vast disparities between cruise ship passengers and Cubans on the island. Or does it? Those on the island are waving because, says Juste, “I just think they are happy they came. These tourists bring money, news, interaction, and fellowship.” Such tangible and intangible cargo, he continues, with tender respect softening his voice, “are all important aspects of humanity, the way we interact.” When he saw the ship leaving and framed his shot, he thought about how the paradise of Cuba has been lost for years, even though, he adds, “the use of nostalgia as a vehicle to bring the tourists over is counter to the revolution itself.”

As Juste talks about his passion for photojournalism while walking around this exhibit, he teases out layers of irony and history entwined with the photos’ precisely observed facts. He points out another photo he shot, showing a tourist in a restaurant dancing with a singer as a musician strums a guitar. On the wall in the restaurant is a photo of Hemingway with Castro.

“Look at all the American branding, all this commercialism. This whole idea of Americana being celebrated, but the whole reason for the revolution was to extract that,” he says. Still, the selling of nostalgia to tourists leads to kids in Cuba having cell phones, to people working as translators and entrepreneurs.

ArtFeature_3During a tour of the two-story art space, Juste wears a green T-shirt bearing the logo of Florida reggae promoter Kulcha Shok Muzik. He’s intrigued by layers of contradictions present in the exhibit’s photographs, finding ramifications in this gathering that ripple outward to his wide-ranging experiences at home and abroad.

Inevitably, he recalls Miami Herald assignments in Cuba, Haiti, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The exhibit, he says, is “a strange juxtaposition of past, present, and maybe future. Cuban future is in the now, that’s in Iraq, that’s in Haiti. Even in a country like ours, you have this sense that our future is being deferred.” Juste laments a decline in “our sense of liberal democracy and openness. It’s almost like we are fearing discovery. It’s almost like the planet is becoming flat again.”

He’s a charismatic advocate not only for the art of photojournalism, but for making connections among diverse cultures in Miami. “I have felt for years Miami was very segregated in terms of its art expression,” he says. “You had places you would go and never see people like me [he was born in Haiti to a Haitian father and Cuban mother]. But now that’s changing.

“And Edouard Duval-Carrié is a huge testament to that change,” he adds, noting how the Haitian-born artist has regularly combined artists from Latin America and the Caribbean for the exhibit series “Global Caribbean Crossroads” at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex.

Duval-Carrié owns the property housing IPCArtSpace, just steps from the cultural complex. With all the talk about Little Haiti gentrification, recalls Juste, “Edouard came to me and said, ‘Hey, let’s draw a line in the sand. Let’s create a space that speaks to Haitian culture and history.’” So they worked together to make this new space happen.

“Nice little cultural tango,” Juste smiles.

ArtFeature_4“The whole idea is for this to become an incubator space,” he says. “Not only for visual artists, but for authors, performing artists, and for filmmakers partnering with different people, different organizations.”

On the first floor is the gallery with room for screenings, as well as a small shop with pieces from Extra Virgin Press, books, and other items. Prices range from around $23 for some objects to $8000 for art by Duval-Carrié. On the second floor is a loft studio for an artist’s residency.

Juste continues: “My main interest is having a space where we can have really honest conversations about art, culture, and politics.” He envisions IPCArtSpace as an integrated destination with different people coming together: Haitians with Cubans, Republicans with Democrats -- a place where “we could all agree that the love of art is moving us to create an identity that is more collective. Art can transcend time, space, race -- all these things that hold us down.”

ArtFeature_5Programming for children is free. Before taking down the inaugural exhibit, he plans to invite some 40 Girl Scouts for a visit to talk about photography and take a tour of Little Haiti. Other programs aren’t free. “I have to support this space,” Juste says; admission will be charged for Third Friday evening conversations, generally linked to exhibits. For various events, “I may have a screening for a movie, I may have writers speak about their work, maybe 36 different events in a year,” he says. Annual memberships, costing around $150 to $175, are available.

The IPCArtSpace is based on the talents of the Iris PhotoCollective, founded in 1998 by Juste and three other photographers. The collective now involves André Chung, Griffin, Juste, Martínez-Monsiváis, and Clarence Williams III. According to the ICP website, they “explore and document the relationship of people of color to the world,” while hewing to the highest standards of photojournalism.

With this art space, Juste, who is 56 years old, expands upon the legacy his father, Viter Juste (1924-2012). The elder Juste was a revered community leader, activist, and businessman in Miami’s Haitian-American community. After fleeing Haiti following the election of murderous François “Papa Doc” Duvalier in 1957, Juste eventually settled in Miami with his family. He coined the name Little Haiti.

Says his son: “It’s imperative that I keep that spirit going to my last breath.”

 

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