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Didier Civil at Montserrat College of Art
Didier Civil.

BEVERLY, MA.-Didier Civil, painter, and paper-mâché artisan and founder and director of the Centre Formation Artistique de Jacmel (CFAJ), an art collective in Haiti, will give an interactive demonstration of traditional Haitian paper-mâché techniques (used in Haitian Carnival) at Montserrat on Saturday, April 21, 10:30- 12:00 in room 202.

He will also give a public talk on Tuesday April, 24th at 11:30 in room 201 about Haitian art and carnival history, Gede (Day of the Dead), techniques and symbols in Haitian painting and carnival artistry, especially papier-mâché. Both events will be free of charge; the Saturday event is especially good as an activity for families and kids.

Civil learned about paper Mache by studying Lyonel Simonis, a master and pioneer of papier-mâché mask-making.

“He was the first to make masks representing the indigenous inhabitants of Haiti,” Civil says. Being an artisan allows me to show this art form —and its place in mask-making history — to the world.

Civil, who, incidentally, is the most compiled artist in film director Jonathan Demme's collection, creates colorful Carnival masks and paintings depicting the personalities of Vodou and scenes of life in Haiti.

“Vodou is part of my culture, and painting it is a way to show the world what it means, and the value it holds,” he says. “I paint street kids because I care about children and I am affected by watching how they survive on the street. I paint them to expose their situation to the world and to encourage people to think about their own lives.”

Jacmel, the arts hub of Haiti, and the capital of its Carnival festivities, is famous for its art galleries, often called "cooperatives". Unfortunately, Civil says, these cooperatives are generally owned by businessmen, not artists or groups of artists. The owners take up to 75% on commission sales and artists are not invited to participate in any decision making. Civil saw a decline in the number of artists who could persevere in their work under these conditions, and fought to maintain studio and gallery space for struggling artists.

Civil’s international connections have helped him as he builds this collective, which now has six full time members. They are dedicated to supporting the artist as an individual, providing teaching opportunities to member artists and learning opportunities to the public, mentoring destitute children, and boosting the local arts economy. CFAJ presents thought-provoking events to the public throughout the year, and specializes in high theatre productions for carnival. They also host an annual International Artist Retreat during carnival.

“I have spent a long time teaching my trade to young adults and kids, and some of them are now [making art] to provide for their families,” Civil says. “This is the reason I founded CFAJ - to keep the ripple effects of mentorship and teaching reaching into the future. Haiti is an underdeveloped country and we need help from other nations so we can advance. In that sense, we feel that anyone who wants to support CFAJ or one of our members, monetarily or otherwise, is helping not only CFAJ, but the town of Jacmel and the country. The members of CFAJ have a common goal and dream: to render CFAJ autonomous. You can help by buying and promoting our products. This supports the teachers and the children. It is also an investment in Haiti’s future.”

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