“Charles Oscar Etienne was the head of the national police during the presidency of Vilbrun Guillame Sam who was the 7th president to hold office between the period of 1911-1915. Sam was overthrown and Charles Oscar murdered 150 political prisoners immediately just before he himself was brutally murdered. The US occupation of Haiti soon followed and it would last until 1934. I am not sure when, but eventually Charles Oscar became ‘Chaloska’ and he emerged as a character in the Haitian Carnival – particularly in the southern town of Jacmel.”
Tet Chat/Cat’s Head, Viktor El-saieh’s first solo show at CF could perhaps show a painter/dreamer that observes the dramatic act of dreaming/painting. The painter here is an actor that unfolds into a script-writer, a performer, a narration and a character. Just like in a dream, where there’s no end and no beginning1, the work moves from historical events into poetic re-presentations of what happened through the lens of fiction and commentary.
Tet Chat/Cat’s Head is a slang phrase in Haiti used to describe something unfinished, or in a state of becoming (perhaps something poorly assembled, at risk of falling apart). This precarious assemblage, as it is the case of interpretation and memory, with their gaps, lagoons and parentheses, faces us with painting as an act that interweaves its own history with a vast network of associations (political, poetic, art-historical, etc.-). Moreover, the title points to a relationship to nature, which predominantly appears in Haitian painting, signaling the symbolic link between man, myth and nature as a given.
The figure of Chaloska is a footnote, a metaphor, or a commentary in these canvases. The question of the painter as a script-director and a career driven politician brings to mind the current state of affairs where paternal figures have fallen and a new type of archetypical sign appears: The Monster appealing to violence, to emotions and the eradication of reason (understanding this as the cliché of seeing reason as an offspring of paternal predominance.) Of note here, and moving beyond the narrative, we see El-Saieh’s works as a series of positions that address Painting’s status through a ‘landscape’. Painting here is acutely aware of its capacity to act as a performative-political text and to embody the drama involved in its making and distribution. Painting, like Chaloska, could be an avatar that is sustained in a threshold where its relevance is no longer discussed, where its allegorical, visual and political power imbues every texture and form with the forces that meet at the picture plane.
Chaloska the agitator, the criminal, embodies what Viktor calls “The capacity for violent explosion that Haiti holds within”. Chaloska, preternaturally alive as a recurrent figure in the Haitian carnival, is a medium here, a channel and a note on violence that holds a built-in criticism directed towards its core and the conditions that generated it. This can be extrapolated to the state of criticism collapsing into the surface of painting, reflecting on the medium and its pulse as a quote or an effect of that meeting. With criticality built-in, Painting, like Chaloska could be a medium kept alive beyond politically driven death-proclamations. This super-charged drama is enacted by a sensitive use of color, the activation of negative spaces and their tension, presenting a mise-en- scène where narration evokes the monstrous and moves beyond nostalgic commemorations, straight into the scene of the painter as a director of links and a magnifier of their forces.
Diego Singh, Miami Beach, May 2016.
June 5th to July 10th
1226 Normandy Dr
Miami Beach, Florida 33141