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Articles, Reviews, and References

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Haîti : deux siècles de création (Paris Sur Mer en vidéo)

Par David PoncheletPublié le 28/11/2014 | 11:09, mis à jour le 28/11/2014 | 11:13

Exposition de 160 œuvres et 60 artistes dans les Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais à Paris jusqu'au 15 février 2015. Invités de Paris-sur mer: Régine Cuzin, commissaire de l'exposition et Mario Benjamin, peintre/plasticien et chef de file de la nouvelle création haïtienne.

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Haïti (4/5) : Portrait d'artiste : Mario Benjamin
Quatrième moment de cette semaine haïtienne. Aujourd'hui, à l'occasion de l'exposition "Haïti : deux siècles de création artistique" qui se tient au Grand Palais à Paris, nous recevons le plasticien Mario Benjamin, artiste contemporain haïtien. more >>
1e édition BIAC Martinique: Interview Exclusive de Mario Benjamin
Uprising Art est partenaire média de la première édition de la BIAC, Biennale Internationale d’Art Contemporain de Martinique, qui se tient du 22 novembre 2013 au 15 janvier 2014 et dont le thème est « De la Résonance du Cri Littéraire dans les Arts Visuels ». A ce titre, Uprising effectue un reportage à la Martinique du 19 au 26 novembre et conduit une série d’interviews de l’équipe organisatrice, des commissaires invités, des artistes en résidence et des artistes exposant dans les Pavillons International et de la Martinique. more >>
Authentik Énergie featuring Mario Benjamin
Une saison authentique, riche en couleur et en énergie débute à Martigny ! Le Manoir de la Ville de Martigny présente « Authentik Énergie ». more >>
The Center's Paintings Lab: Restoration of a Mario Benjamin
Click here to download PDF article.
Haitian art since earthquake on display in Miami
Jennifer Kay, Associated Press
Published Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Artist Mario Benjamin on display at an art exhibit titled "Haiti: Kingdom of this World" showing at the Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami. more >>

Mario Benjamin: du figuratif torturé à l'anticonformisme subversif
Le Nouvelliste article, published September 23, 2011.
Haitian Art to Represent Julius Caesar at World Shakespeare Festival
STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, United Kingdom ( - Mario Benjamin one of the most powerful painters of Haiti has drawn the head of the dictator and it will be the poster for Director Gregory Doran's adaptation of Julius Caesar.
Haiti in Venice
The Art Newspaper: Newcomers make their mark at Venice, by Gareth Harris and Charlotte Burns, Published 3 Jun 11
Interview of Mario Benjamin by Pascal Goffaux
Interview of Mario Benjamin by Pascal Goffaux in French (PDF)
Mario Benjamin interview with Radio France Culture
Mario Benjamin in Bruxels (Texts in French)
Mario Benjamin speaks after the Haiti earthquake
Mario Benjamin Exhibits in Panama
Mario Benjamin: Reinventing the Past (Wynwood Magazine 2008)
Mario Benjamin: Reinventing the Past
Wynwood Magazine , 2008

Mario Benjamin - Wynwood Magazine
Mario Benjamin. Untitled, 2000.
Mixed media on canvas. 30” x 43”. Photo Courtesy Etra Fine Art.

By Ernesto Menéndez-Conde

For many artists of the so-called Third World, their cultural identity -if we can still use this term- is even in today’s global society, both a burden and an advantage. It is a burden because they are expected to create a body of work, which is somehow related to their cultural heritage. But it is also somewhat of an advantage, because the art market has room for these “authentic” revivals of otherness. To a certain extent, it seems difficult for these artists to go beyond stereotypes, and to offer views of their past or the traditions of their own countries under the light of our contemporary world. If we think of Haitian art, for instance, we might have in mind a colorful, naïve painting, or representations of voodoo divinities, and practices.

The Haitian artist, Mario Benjamin (represented by Etra Fine Art in Miami) looks to disengage himself from these labels, which are strongly rooted in the mainstream contemporary artistic scenario. Benjamin is neither a practitioner of Voodoo, nor a Catholic (rather his personal beliefs lie within the Buddhist philosophy). Even though he is a self-taught artist, who began his training in Haiti, he doesn’t consider himself -and he is not- a naïve painter, and he negates any folkloristic or labeled attitude. When asked about artists who have influenced his work, he mentions Francis Bacon, Christian Boltanski and the German Expressionists. He declares himself happy to be living in the 21st Century, in which information runs faster than ever, and geographical boundaries seem to be increasingly less relevant.

This sense of belonging to the present doesn’t equate to forgetting either his past, or his own personal experiences, which nurture his creations. In fact, one of his installations was devoted to the Haitian Revolution of the late 18th Century. He is also in dealing with his identity as a Black man, and even with a Caribbean identity. But he approaches these sujets, from the perspective of Contemporary Art: installations, videos, collages, and paintings, in which there is an assimilation of hyperrealism and expressionism. Besides working on canvases and traditional techniques of painting, Benjamin uses non-conventional materials such as talcum powder, artificial flowers, hair, old furniture, or black lights.

Mario Benjamin - Wynwood MagazineThere are certain features that give a sense of unity -and a personal touch- to the diversity of his artistic creation. First of all there is an integration of the individual and the collective unconsciousness. Benjamin’s portraits depict faces of Black men, who seem to be emerging from the shadows. These images have an intense expressiveness, which could easily be associated with personal, existential anguish. Benjamin himself has said he is interested in the representation of suffering, and his portraits are strongly psychological. At the same time, however, they reveal a sort of wilderness, a powerful intuition; as if human beings were still linked to nature or to an irrational, rather magical system of thought. If we look at these paintings as a group, as placed by Benjamin -in his installation Holograms, at the Kunstnernes hus, Oslo, Norway (2003), and other solo shows- we can perceive faces immersed, perhaps possessed by forces of the subconscious, the sexual, and the terrible. These energies are so dominant, so powerful that the paintings turn into representations of ugliness in the sense that Theodor Adorno defined it: Archaic ugliness, the cannibalistically-threatening cult masks and grimaces, was the substantive imitation of fear, which it disseminated around itself in expiation. (1)

Mario Benjamin. Collaboration work with: Andre Eugene, Guyodo, Celeur Jean-Herard. Ministry’s of Culture float. Port-au-Prince Carnival, Haiti, 2006. 130 steel barrels, paint , artificial lights. Photo: John Jean-Pierre. Courtesy of the artist.

In Benjamin’s installations we could also have a sense of this juxtaposition of the individual and the collective unconsciousness. In these cases rhythms create a flux, which could be linked to an overwhelming sense of the natural, and the magical way of thinking I mentioned earlier. In his show Les fleurs canibales, presented at the Galerie Monnin, Petion-Ville, Haiti (2007), there were some sculptural images of human figures decorated with patterns, which resemble the ones he included in the paintings hung on the wall. Through these affinities, Benjamin proposes a dialogue between the human body and nature. Men are represented in a hieratic way, with reminiscences of the archaic, as if they were priests in an unknown, perhaps secret, ritual.

Another relevant feature in Benjamin’s art pieces is the use of light. His portraits and installations, in which there are fluid representations of natural elements, present sharp contrasts between brightness and darkness. It could be said that light set against dark, black surfaces, has a phosphorescent quality. In every case light is very expressive. It adds an accent to an enigmatic and euphoric view of the world.

Finally, I would like to mention the importance of graphic elements. Benjamin’s images are jungles of lines, curves, and movements -sometimes chaotic and spontaneous, as in his series of portraits; sometimes following symmetrical structures, in which the same motif is repeated. But in every case colors are reduced to a narrow palette. Lines and rhythms play a main role in his work.

From his earliest combined painting surfaces, and collages- Benjamin’s works seem to have moved from representations of human faces to biomorphic elements. From rather dark images to brighter compositions and lighter environments; from chaotic gestures or accumulations -as in Maison, his installation shown at the Musée d’art haïtien, Port-au-Prince, Haïti, in 1997- to rhythms, which sometimes have an ornamental sense. There is also a movement towards formalistic features and patterns. His recent work has to do with environments, spaces, and the experience of walking through an art piece. However, Benjamin keeps transmitting a sense of intense expressiveness and enigma, which somehow seems to be intrinsic to both his personality and his cultural heritage.

Benjamin is creating a personal and expressionist view of Afro-Caribbean traditions through the language of postmodern art. He shows an Afro-Caribbean identity reluctant to be defined, ambivalent, which cannot be reduced to any particular belief, and which is still immersed in a strong, magical way of representation. It is an identity that dwells both in the realm of the psychological and the ancestral. It is a past under the light of Contemporary art.

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Art Nexus Issue #44, June 2002
From Art Nexus
Issue #44 , June 2002
by Antonio Zaya
Extract from
his article on the 4th Caribbean Biennial

And there were also other magnificent works that merit attention, such as that of Mexican artist César Martínez, with a sculpted wax family (El esplendor del presente [The splendor of the present]) near the Museum, not included in the competition, and that of Carlos Betancourt, with photographs that explore the plastic and ritual corporeality of animism. The same thing occurs with the splendid drawings by Kcho and the photographs by Luis Gómez, as well as the installations of Mario Benjamin and Ana Rosa Rivera.

New York Times: January 29, 1999 - Review of the National Black Fine Art Show
Review of the NBFAS
by Holland Cotter

New York Times Jan 29, 1999.

"Haitian-based Galerie Bourbon-Lally, which stocks sequin-encrusted sculptures by Pierrot Barra, a star of the recent ''Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou'' exhibition, and work by young contemporary artists like Edouard Duval-Carrie, Vladimir Cybil and Mario Benjamin. (Mr. Benjamin represented Haiti in recent biennials in Sao Paolo and Johannesburg).

Review on the Johannesburg Biennial
Artforum: December 1997
by Dan Cameron

Review on the Johannesburg Biennial "Alternative Currents " alone came stunning works by Mario Benjamin (from Haiti).

Catalogue XXIV Biennial de São Paulo
Catalogue XXIV Biennial de São Paulo

"In a country with such strong painting tradition as Haiti, and so definitely anchored in primitive art, Mario Benjamin is one of the younger artists who is seeking different ways to work and break the circularity of Haitian artistic proposals."

Otropais Catalogue
(PDF 376K)
by Antonio Zaya

“Mario Benjamin is a stubborn and complex character. He was born in a country where his experience of the absurd forced him into conflict with madness and he was obliged to recreate himself. He fashioned himself alone, far from a world in which he was unable to decently recognize himself.” Simon Njami, Curator (Otro Pais, Escalas Africanas)...(Excerpt)

Caribbean Art
Caribbean Art
by Veerle Poupeye

"They provide a newly critical perspective on Haitian issues , however , as in the work of Edouard Duval-Carrie , who lives in Miami, or younger artists such as Mario Benjamin , whos haunting paintings and installations deal with private existential questions, but also defy the conventions of the bourgeois Haitian art world."

Catalogue: La Route de l'art sur la Route de l'Escalve
La Route de l'art sur la Route de l'Escalve

by Joelle Busca

"Un imaginaire luxuriant.Une maniere fantasque."

Miami Herald, September 20, 2003: Review of MOCA Show
Miami Herald 09/20/03
You can expect to be surprised at Mario Benjamin's MOCA SHOW

by Elisa Turner

`PROJECT' DEFIES WHAT'S TYPICAL OF HAITIAN ART A cartoon girl and cat zip with manic speed among rows of golden seashells, all laid out in the methodical rows of cemetery plots. As you watch these playful figures' swerving antics in the new video installation by Haitian artist Mario Benjamin at the Museum of Contemporary Art, your ears are assaulted with a thunderous din. It sounds like a deafening mix of apocalyptic traffic jams and hurricane-powered surf. Bathing the installation is a heavenly, Caribbean blue light,another instance of the clash between the chaotic and sweet that gives Benlam's Project at MOCA its discombobulating aura.
Freedom! Sculpture
Freedom! sculpture

Haiti Freedom Sculpture
Image copyright Christian Aid/Leah Gordon

This original sculpture by a group of Haitian artists represents their continuing struggle for freedom and human rights. The sculpture was commissioned by international development charity Christian Aid and National Museums Liverpool to mark 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007.

The Freedom! sculpture, made out of recycled objects such as metal car parts and raw junk found in the dangerous slums of the capital, Port-au-Prince, was created by young Haitians and sculptors Eugène, Céleur and Guyodo from Atis Rezistans in collaboration with Mario Benjamin, an internationally renowned Haitian artist who has represented his country at Biennials in Venice, São Paulo and Johannesburg.