Goodbye Carnival 2007, Goodbye Tiga

The last time I saw Tiga (a.k.a. Jean-Claude Garoute) was 4-5 years ago in Haiti. As usual he was preaching and pontificating about art and the value of his various methods and schools. He was surrounded by the mill of children, women and disciples I had always known him to attract. I myself had been one of his students 10 years earlier as a teenager. Every saturday morning for several years, I traipsed up to Kaytiga near Place Boyer and --first as a student and later as an assistant -- attended one of his "artistic rotation" workshops for children. The method almost always disappointed parents eager to see their children draw or paint classically because Tiga was not about what he called "joli-joli" or nice figurative painting. Instead, he favored a complete sensory rotation in which children freely moved around from drumming to paint to clay and created what they fancied. The point was that Tiga believed in creative freedom and limitless expression.

When I saw him that last time, I can't say I was excited to hear the spiel all over again 10 years after leaving Haiti but it was unbelievable to see how his energy for life, art and the propagation of his teachings had stayed intact. The man was unstoppable!

And why wouldn't he be? All of his life had been spent creating safe havens of artistic expression and of daring bohemianism even under--and indeed despite-- the repressive Papa Doc years. The first institution he created was Poto Mitan in downtown Port-au-Prince in the 1950s I believe where he welcomed all and in particular groomed a whole generation of future modern Haitian painters including Philippe Dodard, Edouard Duval Carrié and Occénad. (It later became Kaytiga and survived to his death last December and through many different addresses.) And while he did Poto Mitan in the capital he also paired up with Maud Guerdes Robard to do the same in Soisson-La-Montagne, a rural area near Port-au-Prince but with farmer pupils -- a setting quite similar to his native Jérémie where he spent the first 6 years of his life. Basically, wherever he was -- in Haiti or abroad during his many travels -- Tiga spent his life bringing people of all walks of life together in spaces that invariably ended up being reminiscent of the Lakou, the unit of Haitian rural life.

I was shocked to find out about Tiga's death in January, one month after the fact. Death was so incompatible with the way he lived his life. It was in passing conversation with my mom who was then visiting. In many ways my mother Eddie Calvin Backer and Tiga are of the same ilk. People who spent their lives passing on knowledge and teaching people of all social classes, whether art as in Tiga's case or French, literacy and teacher training as in my mom's case. And just like one receives their mother's advice often begrudgingly only to find out later just how valuable and vital it was, I often received Tiga's teachings begrudgingly. Only to find out today as I mingle with Haitian-Americans full of questions about Haiti how lucky I was to have taken in his philosophy, that unique mix of Haitian artistic and folkloric sensibility laced with eclectic modernism.

What consoles me though is that in his lifetime, Tiga's very quality of almost never shutting up ensured that he did not only impact me but really a whole country. From the "post-naive" St-Soleil school of rural Haitian painters now known the world over to the modern school of the more cosmopolitan Port-au-Prince crop he mentored, many many more beyond me had the chance to take in his energy and spirit of expressive and artistic freedom.

So it made complete and total sense to me to find out that this year's Carnival was not only dedicated to him but also took on one of his favorite symbols, the sun, as a theme: "Solèy Leve" (Risen Sun). The sun was always present in his concepts. Saint-Soleil (Saintly sun) was the name of the painting school he made possible in Soissons La Montagne. Soley Brile (Burnt Sun) was the name of the technique he often used in his own paintings (using what I believe was a combination of ink and acid). And though my memory stops there, I'm sure any number of his other students can come up with any number of other solar references in his speech and ideas.

Now it's time for his former pupils to continue his work and legacy by firstly making sure that we document it for other young people in Haiti and elsewhere. Thank God we have blogs and the internet. It would be nice if all his former students took it upon themselves to use free online publishing of all sorts to make sure we or future generations don't forget his incredible spirit.

For more on Tiga's life and work check out Arnold Antonin's video documentary Tiga-Haiti: Rêve, Possession, Création, Folie.

Other Links:

Miami Herald Article on Tiga's Life

Top Photo: Tiga courtesy of Haiticarnival.org

Middle Photo: "La Ronde" by Dieuseul Paul in the Saint-Soleil style courtesy of artactif.com.

Bottom Photo: Painting by Tiga using the Solèy Brile technique.

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Geoffrey Philp said...

We are all lessened by this tremendous loss...


Unknown said...

I did not know about his death either until I read your post :(. Very sad indeed. The only painting I have hanging in my room until now is Tiga's.

Alice B. said...

Wow, Lova! What a coincidence? was it you who lived in Haiti as a child? Had you ever met him?

Unknown said...

hey Alice,
My mom worked in Port-au-Prince from 1998 to 2002. She had the chance to discuss with Tiga a couple of times. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to meet him when I stayed in PaP for a month.
OT: thanks for taking care of the profile issue. I am all set now :)

David Tsal said...

Tiga was one of the best people I have ever met.

Rest in peace, friend.