A conversation between Marsha Pearce and Mafalda Mondestin
Marsha Pearce: How are things in Haiti? How are you coping?
Mafalda Mondestin: We had officially begun quarantine in Haiti in mid-March. Testing for COVID-19 is minimal, so I am skeptical that the numbers of sick, dead, and recovering given to us by the government reflect the reality. We are extremely vulnerable on the island, and I fear for the worst in the coming months.
I had an exhibit in New York at the end of February and upon my return to Haiti – except for teaching – I had already started limiting my activities as a precautionary measure. Anxiety, more so for loved ones than myself, is always lingering, but I am able to cope by making sure that I stay on top of the things I can control. Maintaining good sanitary practices, making sure that my loved ones and I stay healthy, and staying informed by getting news from reputable sources are some of the main ways I’m managing.
You posted on Instagram an image featuring a high-angle view of someone walking alongside the external face of a wall or fence. At the top of the wall is a string of looping barbed wire – serving as a defense/security mechanism. The wall and wire are seen as dividing lines between inside and outside. You captioned the artwork: “Se pa tout moun ki ka ret chita lakay yo” which translates to: “Not everyone can stay at home.” Tell me about this work. What were you thinking about when you created it?
This piece was made in 2019, when Haiti was going through one of the lockdown periods in which people were confined to their homes due to protests against the government’s decision to raise gas prices. The woman with a small afro, in a suit, braving the streets on foot to go to work, while everything is shut down, is seen from the vantage point of someone who is safe in their home. Albeit we are living through a different threat, the piece is just as relevant.
Does the Covid-19 lockdown mean anything different in Haiti, especially since – as you mentioned – last year the country experienced a wave of street protests known as Operation Lockdown or peyi lòk? In other words, does the latest lockdown feel different/new/strange for you or has it felt like one long lockdown experience in Haiti?
This is truly a continuation of the lockdown, but this time around the threat is invisible. Though folks are tired of being confined yet again, once the government announced the quarantine measures, cities, businesses, schools, organisations across the country adhered to this course of action. Seven weeks later, though the quarantine is still in effect, I can see people are aching to go back to a normal lifestyle, therefore being a little less careful. Just like everywhere else, there are people who do not believe the coronavirus poses a real threat, or is even real for that matter.
Amid calls for us to practice social distancing, I find myself thinking about your “Convening” series. Some images feature an intimate assembly of women, while others, such as the piece “Contemplation Under the Palms,” show a solo figure. If to convene means to come together, why does the series include isolated persons? How might being by oneself be another way to convene?
That is a great question. I do believe acts of disconnecting, working on oneself and thinking things through as an individual are necessary for growth, and allow us to better contribute to our communities or society.
Are you making new artworks during this time? If so, what are you working on?
The pandemic has affected my practice a lot more than I thought it would. I had begun working on a few projects at the beginning of the year, but I’ve put them on hold as I’m finding it hard to give them the proper attention. Nonetheless, the need to create is very present, so I’ve been using this time to rethink previous projects, and experiment with materials and different media, focusing more on technique than content.
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