Painting 250 Years of Racial Violence in the Americas
By Olivia Jia
In his brightly-colored acrylic works, Haitian-born, Philadelphia-based artist Claes Gabriel addresses the Haitian Revolution, global migration, and police brutality in the US.
PHILADELPHIA — In Claes Gabriel’s crisp, vibrant paintings, somber subjects become darkly comic reflections on having power — and losing it. Inspired by a line of poetry by Kahlil Gibran, “You’ll be quite friendly with your enemy when you are both dead,” the three works featured in Between Us, on view at Automat Collective in Philadelphia, offer stark reflections on the Haitian Revolution, global migration, and police brutality in the US. Spanning 250 years of subject matter, this sparse solo exhibition is impressively comprehensive in its scope.
Born in Port-au-Prince and now based in West Philadelphia, Gabriel uses painting to approach the history of racial strife in the Americas with both the weight and brevity his heritage affords. As the only nation in the Americas founded by former slaves who successfully fought for their freedom and overthrew their captors, Haiti exists as a counterpoint to colonial power. White-ruled nations considered the very existence of a Black republic a threat — the US refused to recognize Haitian nationhood until after the Civil War, then continued to deny Haiti basic respect for its sovereignty. White leaders of the time thought the Haitian Revolution had such potential to inspire similar movements for self-emancipation that colonial nations attempted to censor its very existence.
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