C.T. Jasper & Joanna Malinowska
The destination for their quest was Cazale, a village inhabited by the descendants of Polish soldiers who had fought for the independence of Haiti. Sent to Saint-Domingue by Napoleon in 1802 and 1803 to put down the slaves’ rebellion, the Poles—who had joined Napoleon to fight for the independence of their own country—united with the local insurgents. As a result, these soldiers were granted an honorary legal status of blacks in the newly established republic. Still today, people from Cazale identify with their historical motherland and bear creolized last names of their Polish ancestors.
Considered a “national opera” ever since its 1858 Warsaw premiere, Halka was praised for its depiction of Polish folk culture at a time when the country was still struggling to regain independence. Far from a simple rural romance, the tragic love story of the eponymous highlander peasant girl seduced and rejected by her mighty landlord is haunted by the echoes of bloody peasant revolt, underscoring the tense class relations between Polish landlords and their feudal subjects. These echoes become even more prominent in the context of the Haitian Revolution.
Through the gesture of exporting a Polish national opera to the Haitian tropics, which resembles the standard efforts of governments promoting their countries abroad, the project’s authors mean to ask whether such an export could signify something other than cultural colonization or state promotion. Does the nineteenth-century operatic piece, which is absent from the international opera repertoire, really have the power to represent national identity? How can this identity be constructed in the twenty-first century, and to what extent can it be understood by other cultures? Could the opera’s themes resonate with Poland and Haiti’s shared histories to connect, for a moment, two geographically and culturally distant communities?
The Polish Pavilion at the 56th International Art Exhibition—la Biennale di Venezia May 9–November 22, 2015
Halka/Haiti 18°48’05”N 72°23’01”W C.T. Jasper & Joanna Malinowska
Curated by Magdalena Moskalewicz
Polish Pavilion Commissioner: Hanna Wróblewska
Deputy Commissioner: Joanna Waśko
Exhibition organized by Zachęta—National Gallery of Art
Polish participation in the 56th International Art Exhibition in Venice was made possible through the financial support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of the Republic of Poland. Collaboration: Culture.pl