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Review of Artists, Performers, and Black Masculinity in the Haitian Diaspora.

In Artists, Performers, and Black Masculinity in the Haitian Diaspora, Braziel describes the work of different artists that came to the U.S. as part of the Haitian diaspora. The author explores particularly the struggles and satisfactions in the work and lives of Raoul Peck, Dany Laferriere, the musician Wyclef Jean, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Assotto Saint (Yves Francois Lubin), and Dred (Mildred Gerestant). These artists performed under the shadow of the Haitian dictator Duvalier and in a context of a nation marked by violence and imperialism. By drawing connections between this history, their art, and their lives, Braziel argues for the importance of examining the work of these Haitian artists who migrated to the U.S and represent through their art what it means to be a foreigner. She uses the term gwo negs to recognize these artists. This term implies the status of a "big man" who has the ability to perform and attract followers (1) but it is also a term that plays an important role within cross-generational, transgender, and transsexual frames in Haiti (3). However, her main point is to remark that, through their work, these artists understand and illustrate "their relationship to nation-state and diasporic location ... to heterosexuality and homosexuality, to masculinity and femininity" (11).

In the introduction and throughout the book, Braziel explores the idea of how black men are a political target for "police brutality, employment discrimination, and other stereotypically loaded cultural anxieties ... " (6). To that end, Braziel highlights a variety of discourses such as race, immigration, gender, citizenship, asylum, and also national identity within art and culture. She also examines the trans-American tensions that exist among Haiti, the U.S., and Canada.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section, "Straight, Queer, and Street," describes the black heteromasculinity in Laferriere's novels and Peck's films. By using the term "desiring machine" the author explores Laferriere's controversial novel How to Make Love to a Black Man without Getting Exhausted that plays with American cultural imagery. For example, Laferriere creates a character that says, "America is simultaneously very stimulating and very deceiving. She reminds me of a fully ripe adolescent reclining on her bed at two o'clock in the afternoon, nothing to do, despairing of boredom" (28). He also compares America with the rest of the world, showing his deepest feelings not only about being a black male immigrant but also about America itself. In the second chapter Braziel portrays the filmmaker Peck who is a gwo negs in Haitian cultural production (59). She focuses on one of Peck's movies, Haitian Corner, set in Brooklyn during the late 1970s. Braziel also investigates the collaboration between the U.S. and the late Duvalier dictatorship.

In part two, "Queer Fist," Braziel analyzes Assotto Saint's poetry and the performance art of Dred that both reveal the frame of citizenship and political belonging (87). Braziel deciphers Dred as drag queen and drag king, exploring the stereotypes of black masculinities and how they can be reconfigured as femininity within the diaspora. She proves that Dred deforms Blaxploitation, revealing different dimensions of black masculinity in music's representations. She adds that Saint plays along with Dred with the mobility of sexual difference within the construction of nation, home and diaspora (6).

Part three, "Rapping B(l)ack," examines music and visual art of the "black masculinity" within the diasporic productions of the hip-hop musician Wyclef comparing the roots of his music with the rock band Boukman Eksperyans. Both implement in their music the sound Rara that articulates music and linguistics to conjugate diasporic resistance to problems like corruption, racism, oppression and anti-immigrant policies in the U.S. (21). In chapter six Braziel turns her attention to Jean-Michel Basquiat whose art disfigures stereotypes of masculinity and blackness. She analyzes paintings that show criminalization and marginalization of black urban youth (22).

In sum, through reading these chapters, the reader finds a unique analysis of the Haitian diaspora as well as black masculinity within it, its artists and performers, and a way to understand life, migration and adaptation. Finally, Braziel's work is an instrument for those who want to explore manifestations of voice, empowerment, dictatorship, sexuality, and art.

Work Cited

Braziel, Jana Evans. Artists, Performers, and Black Masculinity in the Haitian Diaspora. Bloomington: UP of Indiana, 2008. Print.

Angela Castro

University of Minnesota
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Author:Castro, Angela
Publication:Journal of Caribbean Literatures
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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