Featured BCL Artist: Nathalie Jolivert’s Carnet de Voyages — A Visual Story of the Haitian Diaspora

Carnet de Voyages is BCL’s latest art installation, located on the third floor, by Brooklyn-based Haitian artist and designer, Nathalie Jolivert. Nathalie is a BCL member, currently working at TOLA Architecture.

A Rhode Island School of Design graduate, Nathalie tells us that she was committed to carving out personal time for herself to continue producing work after graduating. Around 2014/2015, she focused more on developing specific themes and compositions for her work, thinking about how she could visually challenge herself. It was during this time, where she began painting pieces for Carnet de Voyages.

When Some Have the Rights to Travel and Others Don’t

Carnet de Voyages means travel by diaries and it’s a collection of work that keeps expanding. When we spoke to Nathalie, she shared that this collection is a reflection of her personal experiences and thoughts on the Haitian diaspora and the challenges faced by Haitians in their home country. Her work explores urbanism, human relationships and migration. She told us that in Carnet de Voyages, she’s questioning who has the right to travel, who doesn’t, and what are the difficulties experienced by those who try by any means necessary.

In 2015, Nathalie was doing freelance architecture and design work in Haiti, and mentioned that when she thought about coming back to the United States, she realized that she was fortunate to even explore this option. Leaving Haiti is a privilege in itself that many Haitians don’t have. The country was in economic turmoil, and though a lot of people wanted to leave, they couldn’t. The poverty in Haiti is wide-reaching and has a detrimental effect on its residents.

Longing for “Home”

Nathalie provided some background context to her work, explaining that the political unrest and lack of post-earthquake reconstruction in Haiti added more stress to an already fragile country and economy. She, and other Haitians began to take note of the increased corruption, which negatively impacted the country’s power dynamics and infrastructure—many of them trying to find their way out. Ultimately, she made the trip back to the United States in the summer of 2015. Nathalie said that she couldn’t help but compare and contrast the infrastructure and public transportation between here and Haiti.

Offering more insight to the specific imagery in her paintings, she told us that while back in the U.S., she thought of how people seem to walk more leisurely, especially here in the northeast. This observation was contrasted by her realization that the failing political systems and a lack of access to essential services in Haiti is often a matter of life or death.

While sharing the inspiration behind her piece, Cafe NYC (seen in first image to the left), Nathalie said that she was working in a coffee shop in NYC, and felt introspective as she worked and thought of her troubled homeland. She knew that the decision to move meant that she would become another member of the diaspora, whose “longing for a feeling of home may only exist in nostalgia. I realized I was eating and drinking Haiti,” said Nathalie.

Storytelling with Saint Soleil and Symbolism

Painted in the fluid, Haitian Saint Soleil style of art, Nathalie’s figures aren’t fully formed, and many of the pieces incorporate aspects of spirituality and Vodou. “The Vodou faith is strong in Haiti, and you have to have a lot of faith to travel,” said Nathalie. Some Haitians end up on overcrowded boats and rafts, trying to traverse the waters, even though many of them don’t know how to swim.

In addition to incorporating boats and planes to highlight the theme of migration, Nathalie includes imagery of Vodou gods and spiritual phrases and divine sayings to convey the faith Haitians place in their journey. What really brings all of these ominous, yet lively images together is her usage of black, white, yellow, and gold paint, to highlight the Saint Soleil figures, which represents an anonymous person. “I think of the anonymity of black people in poor countries when disasters happen. They only become a number, I think about what’s the value of a person,” explained Nathalie.

Why only work with these specific colors? Nathalie shared that it first started with black and white to keep the images simple, to convey reality. It was also a challenge to herself as a visual artist to learn how to work with positive and negative space and composition. Then, she brought in yellow, which is a color of warning in urban infrastructure, also alluding to the problems in Haiti. Lastly, Nathalie began using gold as a suggestion from a graphic designer to make the work “pop,” and shared that she connected the use of gold paint to a larger concept of the exploitation of Haitian gold mines. An aspect that may add another layer of complexity to Haiti’s ongoing struggles.

Community Building and Arts Exploration in Gowanus

We’re proud to feature Nathalie, who’s been involved with the BCL community for about two years. She attends events like salad Wednesdays and enjoys making friends in the space, especially since she works with a small team at TOLA Architecture. Like other fellow artists, she partakes in the annual Gowanus Open Studios gallery crawl, and appreciates the convenience of the Gowanus Textile Studio, also located in the same building as BCL.

If you haven’t been to the third floor, we highly suggest you take a quick ride up here and walk around. Extending beyond the cafe, you’ll be delighted to see her work pop up in unexpected places. We recently held a gallery reception to welcome the public into the space to view Nathalie’s gorgeous work, check out some of the pictures from the event, below!

To see more of what Nathalie is up to, visit her website at Jolivert.com.