“There is so much beauty that fills voids. I look right into my own personal family history. Pride is found in knowing who you are.”
Mariane Ibrahim announced 50 lbs., the gallery’s first solo exhibition with Haitian American painter Patrick Eugène. “50 pounds” is a common weight restriction airline companies enforce on travelers. But what if you had to carry your entire life with you? With just fifty pounds of luggage, is one meant to summon up and journey with the entirety of their life?
Patrick Eugène’s paintings are tributes, ones formed not from reference photographs, but from a natural likeness and resemblance to his ancestry. The paintings persist and evoke dignity, refinement, and optimism. Clothing is thrown into bags in fury and with urgency. The figures' expressions are full of hope, worry, and slight anticipation. Through portraits of subjects on the outset of a journey, both physical and mental, Eugène emphasizes the radical effect migration can have on countries and people, even uninvolved.
Haiti is the perfect archetype of Pan-Africanism, and a powerful example of how alliance to a larger diasporic community can enable a sense of freedom and kinship. It is the land of one of the most successful revolutions against oppression in human history, and has not only inspired others, but the nation has lent its soldiers and strategic expertise to foreign anti-colonial movements of liberation for over 200 years. In recent decades, the nation of Haiti has been troubled with economic, socio, and geopolitical tensions, which has resulted in the further displacement of people, but not memory or pride. 50 lbs., is a testament to Eugène’s personal understanding of migration and the effect it has had on his perceptions of Usonianism.
In the works, viewers are transported through time, each indicating to instances – a man sitting on his luggage, observing his surroundings in fascination; a group of strangers, despite being in an unfamiliar place, all experiencing a sense of belonging, united against common adversity. Many of the works also pay homage to the strength and grace of the females in his family. Pearls symbolize their enduring class, even in hard times and luscious plants embellish the compositions, his grandmas love for gardening creating an everlasting connection with those he cherishes most dearly.
50 lbs. also unveils Eugène's first media installations, establishing an immersive atmosphere and evoking the environment of the 1960s–70s migration, ultimately bringing unprecedented insight into some of life's toughest decisions made from necessity. Two installations are presented: one consisting of various pieces of luggage, items pouring out small symbols, and the other containing mementos symbolic to a Haitian immigrant, such as rosary beads, dolls, and letters.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a collaboration with D-Composed, a Chicago based Black chamber music collective, who will present the works of Haitian and African American composers.
The exhibition text was inspired from “Matriarchal Muses, Haitian Migration, and the American Dream”: An Interview with Visual Artist, Patrick Eugene and curator, Lauren Tate Baeza. Direct excerpts are included.
Started in 2017 by Kori Coleman and yelley taylor and led by their mission to uplift and empower society through the music of Black composers, this Chicago-based creative incubator acts as a bridge between the past and present to the future of representation, music-centered experiences, and the communal power of Black composers and their impact. As the only all-Black ensemble and the only ensemble that focuses exclusively on the works of Black composers in Chicago, D-Composed partners with institutions with a proven commitment to communities of color.
Drawing direct inspiration from Patrick Eugène's 50lbs, the D-Composed collective of musicians and storytellers has selected a collection of works by Haitian & African-American composers that speak to the Haitian immigration experience.
Inspired by themes such as hope, perseverance, and joy, each composer's piece speaks to a particular part of the journey. Nathalie Joachim's Dwam Mwen Yo, which translates in Haitian Creole as "my ladies," is an ode to the women of Haiti as seen in the many figures of Eugénes paintings.
We find glimpses of hope in the melancholy sounds of Jean "Rudy" Perrault's Third Movement ("Hope") from Exodus for String Quartet.
Carlos Simon's Elegy: A Cry from the Grave is a piece dedicated to all those murdered wrongfully by an oppressive power, namely Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown. In this story of 50 lbs, we use this piece to honor those whose lives were lost escaping treacherous conditions.
Gifrants Mizik Demafwa or "sometimes music" adds a lighthearted feel to the program. Finally, we free ourselves of any constraints with the free-spirited "Rosa Parks: Klap Ur Handz" by Daniel Bernard Roumain.
Musical curation is by Executive/Artistic Director Kori Coleman, Khelsey Zarraga (violin), Anya Brumfield (violin), Wilfred Farquharson (viola), and Malik Johnson (cello).
Dam Mwen Yo - Nathalie Joachim
III. Hope from Exodus for String Quartet - Jean "Rudy" Perrault
Elegy: A Cry from the Grave - Carlos Simon
Mizik Demafwa - Gifrants