Lenelle Moïse Explores Haitian History in "Ache What Make"

On Tuesday, March 13, I saw Lenelle Moïse’s latest work in progress, Ache What Make, at the month-long Women Center Stage Festival in New York.Moïse is Haitian-American, and “Ache What Make” is a series of performance poems about her responses to the Haitian earthquake and its aftermath. As a member of the Haitian diaspora, she has a unique perspective on the crisis in Haiti. She still has relatives there, and she is acutely aware of the fact that if her parents had made different choices, “it could have been my hand sticking out of the rubble.”

As Moïse said in an interview with Women Center Stage, “The media bombarded us with blurry images of dusty, nameless faces or distant, bird’s eye shots of shattered shacks and limp bodies in mass graves. But for me, as someone in the Diaspora, the Haitians on the screen were individuals with middle names, favorite colors, recurring jokes, hopes and dreams. Ache What Make offers a new way of seeing. It’s about zooming in and affirming life. I hope the audience takes in my Haitian hope.”

Ache What Make invites audience members to see the current Haitian crisis in its historical context. In one of the opening poems, Moïse talks about the successful Haitian Revolution against the French which lasted from 1791-1804. Under the brilliant military leadership of Toussaint Louverture, the revolution established the independent black state of Haiti, transforming an entire society of slaves into a free, self-governing people. In fact, Haiti abolished slavery in 1804 – five decades before the U.S. did.

However, the French and other slave-owners in the New World were deeply alarmed by the successful slave rebellion. To make sure that no other slaves followed the Haitian example, they imposed economic sanctions that did lasting damage to the financial stability of the island.

Moïse looks at post-earthquake Haiti in the context of that proud moment of successful rebellion, and the two centuries of racist backlash that followed it. The current poverty in Haiti meant that the earthquake had a much bigger impact there than similar quakes in richer countries. Moïse sees that poverty as the result of two centuries of economic polices towards Haiti that still reflect the original harsh response to the slave rebellion.

I have been following Moïse’s work for over a decade, and she gets better every year. She is an amazing poet, and in the past couple of years she has added music to her shows. She often records a vocal sound loop at the beginning of a poem, and then plays it back as the accompaniment for the rest of the poem.

Ache What Make is a brave exploration of a complex and timely topic, and I look forward to seeing the finished version. The play is a perfect example of the ways that artists can help us see the emotional and historical dimensions of current events and help us find the hope we need to move towards a better future.

Women Center Stage is one of our official Support Women Artists Now/SWAN Partners this year, and WomenArts is proud to be collaborating with them. Ache What Make is only one event in their month-long festival of plays by women artists.  Be sure to check out their full schedule at: http://www.CultureProject.org/wcs/2012-schedule/.

Read the Women Center Stage interview with Lenelle Moïse at: www.CultureProject.org/wcs/spotlight-lenelle-moise/