Gina Ulysse Captivates Wesleyan Crowd With Performance of Voodo Doll, What if Haiti Were a Woman
Gina Ulysse, an Associate Professor of Anthropology and the director of the Center for African American Studies at Wesleyan, demonstrated just how powerful performance art can be when she performed at the campus’s CFA Hall early Tuesday afternoon. Ulysse, a highly regarded poet, performance and multi-media artist, performed her avant-garde work entitled Voodoo Doll, What if Haiti Were a Woman: On ti Travay sou 21 Pwen or An Alter(ed) native in Something Other than Fiction to a standing-room only crowd.
Voodoo Doll is performance peace in which Ulysse meditates on her mother country of Haiti. The work is inspired by Gede, the Haitian Voodoo spirit of life and death, and Ulysse uses this inspiration to create a performance that combines the story of Haiti’s geopolitical history with how Ulysse identifies with the nation.
Ulysse electrified the crowd on Tuesday with an exhilarating and sometimes overwhelming performance. Through spoken word poetry, chanting and signing, the professor conveyed Haiti’s rich and tumultuous history. Ulysse focused on such subjects and events as the 1803 revolution that freed Haiti from French rule, the history of its inhabitants being forced into slavery and forced labor, the migration of Haitians to the United States and the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. It was evident from her performance just how much this history has affected Ulysse and fellow Haitians. After listening to Ulysse perform, it was easy to appreciate that history.
After the main performance, Gina Ulysse spent a few minutes discussing her connection to Haiti and her identity as a Haitian. She spoke about after migrating with her family from Haiti to the United States as a youngster, she felt disconnected to both cultures, saying that when she was younger, being a Haitian in the U.S. made her feel as if she was walking around with a stamp on her head that said, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” This disconnect was felt most strongly because of the differences between the career path Ulysse wanted to follow and the path her parents expected Ulysse to follow. Ulysse wished to pursue the arts, particularly singing, while her parents, similar to other Haitian immigrants, wanted her to go to school and eventually find a job that allowed her to become middle-class and start a family. Though Ulysse would abandoned her goal of becoming a singer to go to school and pursue a PhD in anthropology, her schooling helped her realize that she wanted to gain a deeper understanding of Haiti, an understanding that would allow Ulysse to teach others about her country. As she pursued this path, Ulysse has used the extensively used the arts in works like Voodoo Doll.
“I am a performance artist masquerading as academic”, Ulysse said in summing up her work.