Art, Poverty, and the Children of Gran Rue: An Interview with Love Leonce
As of the second week of July, three airlines have canceled flights to Haiti. Debris is still being cleaned from the streets of Port-au-Prince. A hike in fuel prices triggered days of violence and looting. Dozens of buildings burned, and at least four protestors were killed. Canceling the hike didn’t stop protests calling for the president to resign.
Grand Rue, the Big Street, is officially called Boulevard Jean-Jacques Desallines, named after a man who began life as a slave. He grew up to be a leader of a slave revolt that became a revolution, and his Declaration of Independence for Haiti thrilled the people. But then he became emperor — he didn’t last long.
The Big Street is a place of shanty towns where many children go hungry. Haiti has never really recovered from a devastating earthquake in 2010. As many as 300,000 people died, and close to two million were made homeless. Haiti was in bad shape before the earthquake in the aftermath of a popular revolt and a tropical storm in 2004 followed in 2008 by two tropical storms, two hurricanes and food riots. Clean water and sanitation are still hard to find.
But amid all the suffering there’s hope in art. Artists like Nasson, Barbara Prezeau, Lesly Pierrepaul and the New Vision Art School, and many others blazed a trail. Work by some Voudou banner makers like Evelyn Alcide can sell for thousands of dollars in galleries. Sculptor Andre Eugene spoke to the heart of the problem and the opportunity with the collective he helped inspire Atis Rezistans, which in turn inspired Love Leonce and Herold Pierre Louis to start Timoun Rezistans.
Artist, curator, a computer science teacher, Love Leonce is doing everything he can to help the children of Grand Rue have a future, including feeding them after every lesson. Recycling junk into art Love has exhibited his own work many times. Through Facebook he finds patrons whose gifts of art supplies are documented in photos from open package to finished art. Love is also overseeing the completion of a computer room where computer skills and network access can be taught to young artists. Sales of his own art help keep his efforts going. The seventh in this series about creatives using social networking to find non-local audiences is this interview with Love Leonce.
Tamra Lucid: What is Grand Rue?
Love Leonce: “Gran Rue” is a community of artists in the alleys and shanty towns of the Grand Rue (officially the Boulevard Jean-Jacques Desallines).
Tell us about the junkyard assemblage art of Gran Rue.
I make art out of “recycled materials” (otherwise known as trash). I have created assemblies from waste found in the area. Now I use acrylic paints on recycled cardboard.
What inspired Timoun Rezistans and how did you get involved with the school?
Timoun Rezistans is the name of a collective movement/young artists. At the beginning was the art collective Atis Rezistans. In 2007 they created the group Timoun Rezistans. I’m a curator. My career as an artist started in 2007, when I was 11 years old.
What is the school’s focus?
I set up the school for the children in my community because I believe that art can heal, especially those who are vulnerable. I am a survivor of the 2010 earthquake disaster, “Goudou-Goudou.” The great Haitian earthquake struck on January 12th. In 2016 my project started at (TAS) Timoun Art School, where I teach art to Haitian children and women. Students learn how to draw and paint using different techniques. We use materials recycled from trash, tires, wood, and learn how to draw acrylics on cardboard, canvas, etc.. When I sell my paintings I always buy the materials brushes, paints and art supplies. The children are generously fed after each session.
What inspired the school to provide a meal with each lesson?
The children spend hours with me. I must feed them after each workshop session because they are hungry.
Tell us about the Ghetto Biennale.
The Ghetto Biennale is a cross-cultural arts festival held in two adjacent informal neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, called Lakou Cheri and Ghetto Leanne. It is hosted by the artists’ collective, Atis Rezistans, and has taken place every two years starting in December 2009. The Ghetto Biennale is attempting to momentarily transform spaces, dialogues and relationships considered un-navigable and unworkable into transcultural, creative platforms. I participated 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017.
Tell us about Radyo Shak and Freedom Radio.
I participated in the project Radyo Shak as DJ. It’s an arts radio station in Port-Au-Prince for the 2015 Ghetto Biennale of Haiti, broadcast in FM and streamed over the internet. It documents visiting and local artists, revolutionaries, tween rappers, Sun Ra scholars, trance musicians, and recipes from traditional Haitian cooks of the Grand Rue neighborhood.
How has social networking online helped the school and you personally?
In the social networks I’ve found support from my friends (painting materials, brushes and more), and the donation money to buy the food for the children. I always offer my paintings for all who interested. I set up a Gofundme.
The school is making a computer room to teach IT skills. What inspired that?
I’m a computer scientist too. It’s important to share my knowledge with the children in my community. To make or sell art in Haiti is not an easy thing. That’s reason I setup a computer room that’s free for all children in my community. We show them how to learn about the system network (social network). Maybe they’ll sell their art themselves.
Tell us how Voudou culture influences your own art.
My paintings reflect religious beliefs.
What are your hopes for yourself and the school?
My personal hope is for my works! And for my school, I’d like to find someone who cares that can help me get more help for children.
Tamra Lucid is the author of Making the Ordinary Extraordinary