Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Un-Bordering Hispaniola: David Pérez's Performance Actions of Haitian- Dominican Solidarity

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Un-Bordering Hispaniola: David Pérez's Performance Actions of Haitian- Dominican Solidarity

Article excerpt

In his 2008 video installation Línea fronteriza (Borderline), Dominican artist David Pérez envisions two versions of Hispaniola (see Figure 1). The first one consists of a map of the island outlined by bright lights. The map shows no inner borders. On the second map bright and fixed lights silhouette the map, clearly marking the frontier that divides land from sea. In contrast, thinner intermittent lights indicate the inner Haiti-Dominican border. In very simple visual terms, Línea fronteriza reminds the viewer that the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic has not always existed. It also brings attention to the fact that the Haiti-Dominican border is never static, but rather it is always a contested and fluid location.

Partly as a reaction to the anti-Haitian discourse that has dominated Dominican nationalist rhetoric since the late nineteenth century and to the violence that marked the Haitian-Dominican border during the Trujillo dictatorship, United States scholarly work about the island often focuses on what has become known as "the Haiti-Dominican problem," which juxtaposes Haiti and the Dominican Republic as enemies, the latter nation deemed as the oppressor of the former. The roots of the "Haiti-Dominican problem" are, in this way of understanding, located in the Trujillo dictatorship (1930-1961), when xenophobia and intolerance resulted in the massacre of over twenty thousand ethnic Haitians and black Dominicans in one of the most horrible crimes against humanity of twentieth-century Latin America.

In 1937, the Dominican military and its civilian allies under the Trujillo regime murdered nearly 20,000 ethnic Haitians and black Dominicans in the northwest of the Dominican Republic. This mass murder is one of the events US historians of the Dominican Republic have most studied. The subject gained significant public visibility after the publication of Edwidge Danticat's novel The Farming of Bones (1998). The works of Lauren Derby, Richard Lee Turits, and Eric Paul Roorda, to mention a few, study the massacre as a significant event in separating the border between the two nations, and they locate it as a significant strategy of the Trujillo nationalist agenda.

Though undoubtedly the Trujillo dictatorship constituted a significant moment in the conceptualization of the Dominican-Haiti border through violence and fear, a deeper understanding of the relationship between the nations and the people that inhabit Hispaniola necessitates that we acknowledge the complexity of the island and its borders beyond the history of violence, militarization, and conflict that has dominated US intellectual discourse about the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Setting off from David Pérez's artistic corpus, including filmed and photographed performance actions, I propose performance art as an alternative for understanding the complexity of the present Haiti-Dominican Republic relationship. Interpolating the border and his body, Pérez's works contest colonial and imperial impositions about race, language, and cultural belonging in the Dominican Republic while engaging the public. Inspired by Augusto Boal's "acting the word is enacting the world" philosophy, Pérez's acciones perfomáticas summon political and social concerns using the body of the artist and the cartography of the city as the main stage. But unlike Boal's, Pérez's spectators are not advised that they are "in a show," their "non-consensual" participation becoming in turn political actions.

José Esteban Muñoz theorizes about the significance of performance as a political intervention that allows the artist to disidentify with the dominant discourse to intervene in the production of culture and meaning (190). Likewise, I argue the work of Dominican artists such as Pérez disidentify with the dominant anti-Haitian ideology, disrupting the persistence of coloniality in Dominican thought by insisting on solidarity, inter-dependency, and friendship among Dominicans and Haitians co-existing in the symbolic and geographical borders that unite the two nations. …

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