Halka/Haiti 18°48’05″N 72°23’01″W: C.T. Jasper & Joanna Malinowska
56th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, May 6 – Nov 22, 2015
Organizer: Zachęta–National Gallery of Art
Commissioner: Hanna Wróblewska
Deputy Commissioner: Joanna Waśko
See the complete list of project participants and crew here.
Inspired and provoked by the title character in Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, two Polish artists and a curator decided to revisit his mad plan of bringing opera to the tropics. In order to reveal and undercut Fitzcarraldo’s colonial romanticism, they attempted to confront a set of particular historical and sociopolitical realities by staging a specific opera in a specific place.
The opera was Stanisław Moniuszko’s Halka, a tragic story of love destroyed by class difference, considered Poland’s “national opera” ever since its Warsaw premiere in 1858. The place was Cazale, a Haitian village inhabited by the descendants of Polish soldiers who were sent to Saint-Domingue by Napoleon in 1802 and 1803 to put down the slaves’ rebellion. The Poles—who had joined Bonaparte to fight for the independence of their own motherland—ended up uniting with the local revolutionaries and were later granted honorary status in the newly established republic.
On February 7, 2015, a one-time-only performance of Halka was staged for a rapt audience of these Haitian Poloné, along with their neighbors and friends, on a winding dirt road complete with passing animals and motorbikes. A collaboration between a Polish opera team and Haitian musicians and dancers, the event was filmed in one take to be shown at the Venice Biennale, the world’s preeminent site for exhibiting art in a nation-centered framework.
Through a gesture that resembles standard governmental efforts, Jasper, Malinowska, and Moskalewicz ask whether such an export could signify something other than cultural colonization or state promotion. Could staging Halka in Cazale allow the opera’s social themes to resonate with the shared Polish-Haitian history of actual revolution? Could this performance connect, for a moment, two culturally and geographically distant communities? Presented as a cinematic installation recalling the format of painted panoramas, Halka/Haiti reevaluates the power of art to embody, represent and, ultimately, construct national identities in the twenty-first century.
Halka/Haiti 18°48’05″N 72°23’01″W was curated specifically for the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and was subsequently shown at a number of group exhibitions in Europe, Central Asia, United States, and Haiti.
Official website of the 2015 Polish Pavilion (archive) here.
Current Pavilion’s website (all Biennials) here.