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Les Jeunes Urbains par Natalie Mc Guire

From March 16th to April 26th, 14°N 61°W exhibits Vis à vis by Robert Charlotte 


 J’ essaie de joindre les deux bouts

Ça fait mal mais je reste debout

– Sexion d’Assaut

 Ghetto. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as: “part of a city, especially a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups.” U.S. Hip Hop music in the 1980s made it trendy to live or come from a ghetto area, and contemporarily for a large part of society in the Caribbean, style and culture is directly influenced by the glamorized ghetto lifestyle. In a series of portraits for his solo show Vis – a – Vis at 14°N 61°W contemporary art space in Fort de France, Robert Charlotte addresses the social implications of this ever increasing “ghetto youth” culture in Martinique. Are this generation just carbon copies of the gang culture they emulate….or do their stories run deeper through the veins of the French Caribbean’s social conflicts?

Robert Charlotte

Robert Charlotte

 Take for example the piece Sans Titre 8 (Untitled 8). In this image lies the embodiment ofthe ‘thug’ stereotype: a netted wifebeater vest, thick chains, a self rolled smoke hanging from the mouth, unkempt dreads and crossed muscled arms occupy the frame. His stare is impatient, confrontational, though not looking directly at the viewer.  Yet the impression is that he’s waiting for the viewer: to judge him, jump to conclusions perhaps, to do/say something that will push him across the impatient threshold and into physical aggression.

 The black and white tones in these photographs reference ethnographic portraits of native cultures encountered by Europeans during Colonization. Documented to exhibit their primitiveness and difference, indigenous communities were categorized and labeled for archival purposes. Similarly, Charlotte appears to be classifying these groups who are ‘native’ to Martinique in terms of their style and attitude.  But unlike the superiority methodology carried out by the Europeans, Charlotte is not attempting to generate labels for these contemporary culture communities. Instead, he is presenting them for discourse. Because there is nothing per say about the people portrayed that stands out as them being from Martinique. They could be from any island in the Caribbean or any country in the world for that matter.

 Charlotte’s aim through this series of images then could be said to highlight cliques present in the inter-twining social structure of Fort de France that may be underrepresented in the national image of Martinique. His argument seems to be that despite the stereotyping ‘ghetto lifestyle’ of these individuals living on the brink of poverty being somewhat undesirable in society, they can’t be rendered irrelevant.

 The photos in the Vis – a – Vis exhibition therefore act as an imagery dot-to-dot exercise: all of the cultural groupings in a place are connected to each other in order to create a complete picture of Fort de France. Of Martinique. And to understand individual identity in this framework is to acknowledge the existence of those connections.   

Natalie Mc Guire

You could have a look on two another texts about Vis à vis : Les portraits photographiques de Robert Charlotte par Agata Frankowska-Thuinet et A propos de la série Vis à vis de Robert Charlotte par Jean Baptiste Barret




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