My current research focuses on the cultural linkages between Poland and Haiti. It’s part of a larger body of work called the Creole Archive Project, which I’ve been working on since 2015. Overall, the relevance of this study resides in bringing to light the Polish-Haitian entanglements that have been largely ignored in modern Polish identity narratives. This project uses a transnational perspective to destabilize established concepts of identity by investigating a sense of national belonging and putting current Polish sentiments toward race and ethnicity to the test. In the United States and internationally, I have presented findings from my research at conferences, talks, solo and group exhibitions, and site-specific installations.
The historical background that underpins this investigation begins with Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. From 1802 to 1805, Napoleon dispatched about five thousand Polish legionnaires to Saint-Domingue, modern-day Haiti, as part of his massive effort to contain the slave rebellion that had arisen in 1791. However, a group of Polish soldiers opposed Napoleon’s efforts to subjugate the rebels. Consequently, these soldiers unwittingly took part in the creation of the world’s first black-led republic and first independent Caribbean state when Saint-Domingue cast off French colonial control and slavery in the early nineteenth century.
My Creole Archive Project acts as a guide to visual culture, introducing viewers to the complicated history of the Polish-Antillean context. Nevertheless, the project must not be perceived as an objective reflection of historical accounts. Thus, it primarily serves as an art laboratory that delves deep into contemporary identity and the notion of my cultural displacement. As the French poststructuralist Jacques Derrida suggests, archives cannot be objective and are molded by our own culture, history, and biology.
I situate my project in the context of creolization, especially within the context of Martinican author Édouard Glissant’s writings on the subject. “Creolization” refers to the process by which components of diverse cultures are amalgamated to construct a new culture. Creolization is inseparably connected with the traumatic experiences of moving from the original homeland to a new geographical and cultural habitat. This process focuses on the concept of mixing different cultures, as a result of which the formation of a new identity takes place. According to Glissant, creolization almost always leads to unknown and unpredictable consequences. His vision of creolization emphasizes mobility and fluidity, at the same time undermining the established and normative patterns of identity formation. This project is a personal attempt to answer questions regarding the fundamental issue of identity or, as I should perhaps articulate more strictly, my own identity.
I have started with investigating the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, which has been inextricably intertwined with both Polish and Haitian cultural identities. My mode of investigation has involved the creation of an “archive” via 3-D scanning, 3-D printing, collage work, and collaboration with family members who trace their genealogy to Haiti. In 2017, I presented a paper on this project, titled “Exploring Polish and Haitian Art Histories as Entangled via a Studio-Based Investigation of the Deity Elizi Dantò,” at the international, peer-reviewed annual conference of the Association for Art Historians (AAH), held in the UK. Although the AAH conference attracts primarily art history scholars and theorists, not studio artists, I believe my participation in academic events heightens my research-based studio practice and impacts the field of visual arts and curatorial practices.
The Creole Archive Project’s first public presentation took place in 2019. This iteration of the project was centered on Elizi Dantò, and it took place at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Poland’s largest academic art school. Aside from its educational functions, it is an important part of the city’s and nation’s cultural life.
In February 2020, I was invited by the Center of Polish Sculpture (CPS), a national institution reporting to the Ministry of Culture and Art of the Republic of Poland, for a one-week residency in Orońsko. While there, I tested a series of site-specific interventions (video projections). I projected the images of Miami Haitian murals—which were destroyed by the recent gentrification of Little Haiti, the Haitian neighborhood of Miami—depicting Ezili Dantò/Black Madonna. My installation was intended to bridge the gap between discrete geographies by using a transnational embodiment of the Black Madonna as Dantò.
In 2021, I was invited to develop two discrete acts of dissemination of the archive project: one in Baustelle Schaustelle Project Room in BauSchau Düsseldorf (Brehmstraße 41), Germany, and the second one at the Florida International University Green Library. These two iterations of the project were curated by Dr. Marie Stephanie Chancy. They were entitled Creole Archive Project: Botánicas. Botánicas, or neighborhood spiritual stores, can be found in Miami’s distinctive Little Haiti neighborhood. By and large, these botánicas are a Miami creation, illustrating the city’s diversity.
In 2020, I was awarded a Library Research Grant at the Getty Research Institute to explore the Association Connaissance de l’histoire de l’Afrique contemporaine (ACHC) collection, which contains more than two thousand colonial postcards and other primary materials that provide a cross-section of the visual culture of the colonial conquest. The ACHC collection is abundant in images of colonial advertisements and other ephemera employing colonial or racist imagery. In particular, I was interested in the documentation describing the Paris International Colonial Exposition of 1931. Furthermore, I have explored various chocolate and cigarette packaging examples developed by companies like Chocolat Suchard, Casino, Chocolat Cémoi, Chocolat Pupier, and Eckstein-Halpaus.
This particular imagery set served as my reference while I developed my solo exhibition entitled Creole Archive Project: Kingdom of La Gonâve at the Center of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko, Poland, and subsequently presented at the Gallery Fine Arts Institute of the University of Rzeszow, Poland. Through this work, I explore transnational connections between Poland and the Global South. The Polish Maritime and Colonial League enjoyed widespread popularity in the 1930s as it promoted the farfetched notion of creating colonies and overseas possessions. The League’s leadership regarded Madagascar, Liberia, Mozambique, and Brazil as suitable for Polish overseas settlements.
The two consecutive iterations of Creole Archive Project: Kingdom of La Gonâve in Poland were sponsored by FIU Provost’s Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab Individual Research Project Grant.
Currently, I have been developing a new framework combining my explorations of the notion of creolization with the rapid evolution of digital representation means. An important portion of the previously described project Ezili Dantò—Madonna Kreolska refers to appropriation, alteration, and recontextualization as an integral part of contemporary digital culture that I refer to as “digital creolization.”
In 2021, my Creole Archive Project was presented at the Tate Britain conference Consent Not to Be a Single Being Worlding Through the Caribbean.