On view this winter at MOCA North Miami is Didier William’s largest retrospective to date, entitled “Nou Kite Tout Sa Dèyè.” He was born in Haiti and grew up in North Miami, so the show acts as a homecoming of sorts, including more than 40 works across mediums, as well as new paintings and his first monumental sculpture. Whitewaller asked the artist about addressing memory, loss, and what remains unspoken in his work.
WHITEWALLER: “Nou Kite Tout Sa Dèyè” translates to “We’ve Left That All Behind.” What does this mean in relation to the show and how you feel about your evolution as an artist?
DIDIER WILLIAM: This is an often-cited phrase by many Haitian immigrants who’ve relocated to Miami, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or any of the other large Haitian American communities in the United States. I think unpacking our histories as immigrants means contending with various layers of trauma, particularly with a country like the United States, which has such a complicated and deeply problematic history with Haiti. There’s so much loss to cope with when a family has to relocate to another country. Some of it is said and some it remains unspoken. Some of it is seen and some of it remains invisible. But it is always deeply felt and held within our bodies. I sometimes think of my practice as a lifelong excavation of those delicate moments.
WW: The exhibition includes some new work, including your first monumental sculpture. Can you tell us about this piece?
DW: In thinking about this exhibition as a total space, an apparition of Miami conjured by these paintings came together, and it felt appropriate to include a Poto Mitan. In Haiti the Poto Mitan is the central structure in a vodou temple. It is usually a decorated wooden structure, sometimes a living tree. It is believed that the loa, or deities, travel through the Poto Mitan down to earth to inhabit the bodies of worshippers. In my work, the post itself is made of a totem of bodies.
WW: You grew up in North Miami—how did that impact your thoughts around this show at MOCA in Miami?
DW: Miami is a city of cultural overlaps and intersections. As a kid growing up there, I think much of this was lost on me. But looking back now, the Latin American corridor that is South Florida was hugely influential in shaping what I now know to be the inherent and maybe even necessary untidiness of representation, especially when we’re talking about the histories of Black and Brown people. The immigrant populations of South Florida are cross-cultural, intergenerational, and multinational, sometimes all within the same household. Living in Miami, this isn’t intellectualized for you—it’s a fact of life for Haitian Americans. The spaces in my paintings are also very much influenced by the landscape in South Florida. The houses my brothers and I spent our adolescence in show up specifically in two new paintings for this exhibition at MOCA North Miami. Like many South Florida homes, my parents’ house has a very lush backyard with mango and papaya trees, sugar cane, and avocado. These lush scenes have now claimed not only the space within my paintings but have also established a geography of memory.