At the center of my work is the quest for understanding family trauma, inheritance, and transformation. I seek out pathways in my artistic practice for unlearning, storytelling, and transference of power and trauma within family. These practices allow me to expand my family’s narrative beyond single perspectives, from gatekeepers of information within my family to xenophobic narratives of Haitian people.

Questions I keep coming back to are who am I in relationship to others culturally as a black woman, Haitian American woman and spiritual being? My mother is my point of reference.

Over the last few years I have turned my creative focus to my current project Gwo Fanm, a multi-layered project that consists of found images, original photography, audio interviews and installations. The project began as I developed tools to investigate my origin stories with a depth that only time could help me access. I was brought up mostly around my mother’s family– a big family that currently consists of a majority of women. My mother was a heavy-set woman; she swayed as she walked and took very purposeful steps. An immigrant to the United States, my mother fought for her family, fronting the costs of many relatives to immigrate here. A lot of the women in my family have shouldered unimaginable burdens, and my mother was instrumental in creating a foundation to stabilize their transition. There is a name in the Haitian Creole language for women like my mother: “Gwo Fanm.” Literally, “Big Woman,” a Gwo Fanm is a woman who stands out in life and stands up for the ones they love. This project is about these Gwo Fanm, and about my own role in my family’s story.

Through this project I have been exploring the role of Vodou within my family history. Enslaved Africans had to hide their spiritual practices behind Catholicism and Christianity. Continued to be seen negatively in western society, the role of Vodou is defined as a sacred dance with the ancestors. The nature of the dance is the manifestation of ancestral energy and divine energy within oneself working its way through our flesh. It encourages honoring and respecting the physical environment that we’re in as well as each other and ourselves. We as individuals are the culmination of many others that came before us. Practice of Vodou is respecting ancestral knowledge that comes out of our trials and tribulations, acts of submission and acts of resistance as beings. What’s at stake in my work is how the black body is perceived and I examine this through the lens of family history, religion, the African Diaspora and against western perspectives.

GWO FANM by Naomieh Jovin

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