Among the latter is the Haitian artist Didier Civil, who has been working the entire month of October at the legendary creative (and communal) Rokeby Estate in Rhinebeck, creating masks for the big day in his chosen material, papier-mache, on a coveted O-1 visa as an artist of exceptional ability. Considered one of the rising stars of both Haitian and Caribbean art, Civil has gained notice in recent years both for his representation of his home city of Jacmel’s preeminence as a cultural hotspot in his recently earthquake-ravaged country as well as for his teaching and exhibition record, reaching from Montserrat College near Boston to shows in Geneva, Switzerland and other sites throughout Europe.
For the coming Big Apple ghoulish extravaganza – watched by more than 2 million spectators with 60,000 costumed marchers – Civil is set to design an entire section of the parade being grouped, this year, around the macabre theme of Memento Mori (“Remembrance of Death”). His massive voudoun-inspired masks and papier-mache heads and forest creatures will augment featured sections, including the first 1972 parade’s Day of the Dead puppets and a festive funeral cortege drawn by galloping nightmares, an illuminated Ghost Train and a dozen brand-new dancing Calaveras skeletons designed by master puppeteers Alex Kahn and Sophia Michahelles.
“Between 1989 and 1990, I founded a masquerade group called La Paix (Peace). That group is still active today, and participates annually in Carnival. Working for the group gave me an opportunity to practice making many masks, which is how I managed to perfect and hone my skill,” Civil said of what drives him, and how he sees his art as an extension of the culture within which he grew up. “I’m always very proud whenever I see one of the masks I’ve created win a prize at Carnival, in a masquerade ball or in an exhibition. I also gain a lot of satisfaction from seeing people that I’ve trained at maskmaking start their own masquerade group and win their own prizes. This proves to me that knowledge can and has been transmitted… I have a dream that one day I will be able to reopen an art school in Jacmel that will allow us to share our skills and foster cultural exchanges with artists from other countries.”
Didier Civil works with red clay and scrap cardboard to bring the inert into life, to constantly reinvent, with passion, the tools and forms of Haitian folklore into a universal esthetic, says one of his first European collectors. “Didier Civil, who has chosen the simplest tools to create his masterpieces, is not only a magnificent artisan; he is also becoming one of the most outstanding artists from an island that has so many,” noted filmmaker Jonathan Demme, when first faced with Civil’s work nearly 20 years ago when the artist was still in his early 20s.
Locally, Didier Civil’s time at Rokeby and involvement in the Halloween Parade are being partly sponsored by Verna Gillis’ great Soundscapes, based in Accord.
For further information on all things Didier Civil, visit www.didiercivilartsjacmel.com. For the big parade itself, head down to Sixth Avenue in the City, between Spring and 16th Streets, and mind the crowds. But enjoy them, too.