Halka/Haiti      18°48′05′′N 72°23′01′′W

Poland - Biennale Arte 2015

C.T. Jasper & Joanna Malinowska

Bringing opera to the tropics
Artists C.T. Jasper and Joanna Malinowska and curator Magdalena Moskalewicz, decided to stage the opera in Haiti inspired by the mad plan of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, who wanted to build an opera house in the Amazon. Fascinated by Fitzcarraldo’s faith in the universal power of opera, but not uncritical of the colonizing aspect of his actions, they decided to reveal and undercut its romanticism by confronting a set of very specific geographic, historical, and sociopolitical realities.

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?

In Venice
The Biennale audience is invited to experience a documentation of Halka as it was shown to the Haitian Poloné. Presented as a cinematic installation recalling the format of painted panoramas, Halka/Haiti probes the present-day power of traditional artistic genres to embody, represent, and, ultimately, construct national identities in the 21st century.
The Book
The exhibition at the Polish Pavilion is accompanied by a book, that provides both a multifaceted conceptual framework for staging the Polish national opera in Haiti and a detailed record of this remarkable endeavor. With an introductory essay from the project’s curator and an interview with the artists, the book also features three newly commissioned essays—literary scholar Katarzyna Czeczot’s inquiry into the political underpinnings of Halka’s libretto, diplomat Géri Benoît’s history of her hometown of Cazale, and anthropologist Kacper Pobłocki’s uncovering of Poland’s relationship to race and slavery—alongside the late Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s seminal reflection on the global silencing of the Haitian Revolution. Also included are questionnaires completed by the project’s Haitian and Polish participants, translated selections from the opera’s libretto, extensive photographic documentation of the rehearsals, and stills from the film itself. Edited by Magdalena Moskalewicz, the book is co-published by Zachęta—National Gallery of Art and Inventory Press, with design by Project Projects.
Credits: Story

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

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