Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



On January 12, 2010, the world was stunned when a massive earthquake struck Haiti. Following the crisis, author Jeremy Rifkin described the collective spirit that developed worldwide as man’s transformation into “Homo empathicus.” The social state described by Rifkin is one in which individuals leave behind their differences and rally around the common humanity that unites all humans. Despite proclamations of the earthquake’s ability to create a sense of equality among all people, the images coming from Haiti only added to the country’s lengthy list of ailments. The spectacle surrounding the earthquake was unsuccessful in generating equality, but instead, further reinforced Haiti’s status as a nation to be pitied. By looking closer at forms of collaboration believed to produce democratic engagement, it becomes clear that these interactions can be more harmful than once believed. The 2011 Ghetto Biennale located in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is one such event. The Haitian sculptural collective Atis Rezistans, hosted the event and invited artists into their neighborhood to experience the conditions they work under every day. The biennial’s title, A Salon des Refusés for the 21st Century, and its subsequent tag line, “What happens when First World Art rubs up against the Third World art? Does it bleed?” set the tone for the event. The Ghetto Biennale’s proposed question reveals a belief that the practice of relational aesthetics is a form of democratic engagement. Relational aesthetics purports that radical spaces of equality are created by simply bringing individuals together in the already-available networks of social interaction. The utopian agendas of many contemporary art biennials idealize the practice of relational aesthetics because they are believed to transform the limitations of social interaction into points of access within the existing networks of communication. This thesis will contest these claims by showing that the 2011 Ghetto Biennale projects did not fight, but further reaffirmed, stereotypes against Haiti. This argument will not entirely condemn the Ghetto Biennale, but will propose that a redefinition of the art biennial’s purpose in society be considered to address its current social justice ineffectiveness.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Ryan, Susan