A revolutionary legacy Haiti and Toussaint Louverture

The Asahi Shimbun Displays
A revolutionary legacy: Haiti and Toussaint Louverture, a temporary spotlight display at the British Museum, opening on February 22nd (until April 22nd).

The display highlights the history and legacy of the Haitian Revolution, and the man who emerged as its foremost leader: Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803). At its heart is a newly-acquired portrait of Louverture by the African American artist Jacob Lawrence (printed in 1986 after a painting first made in 1938). Paired with this imposing, boldly-coloured image is a Haitian Vodou boula drum, on show for the first time since entering the Museum’s collection in 1930. The US Occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) is a key context for both of these objects, and their juxtaposition here is a starting point for considering both Haiti’s revolutionary past and the inspiration it has continued to provide for voices raised against imperialism and racism in the present.

Adding a contemporary layer to the responses presented in the display—including those of William Blake, C.L.R. James and Aimé Césaire—is the work of the Haitian-born anthropologist and artist, Gina Athena Ulysse (b. 1966). Ulysse works with Vodou chant and poetry to explore the complex and often misrepresented histories of Haiti. An audio montage relating to her acclaimed (and recently PEN-nominated) book, Because When God Is Too Busy: Haiti, Me and the World, is included in the display.

We are especially excited to let you know that Ulysse has also been commissioned to create a new work in response to the BM display. She will perform this as part of the event: Remixed ode to rebel’s spirit: lyrical meditations on Haiti and Toussaint Louverture on March 16th in the Museum’s Stevenson Lecture Theatre, at 6.30 pm (tickets £5, students and concessions £3). Ulysse’s work—like the message of the Haitian Revolution itself—has never been more urgent. We hope you’ll join us for a powerful evening of critical reflection.