The Shake of a Man in Fever: Haiti’s February Revolution through the Lens of Danny Lyon
“The Shake of a Man in Fever” presents photographs from the museum’s permanent collection of U.S. photographer Danny Lyon’s series “Merci Gonaïves” (1986). This series spans Lyon’s time in Haiti (1983-1986) from his initial role as a brothel photographer to his observation of Haiti’s February Revolution. The exhibition highlights the interplay of routine daily life with revolution and the different versions of life in Haiti at that moment. While Lyon was shooting “Merci Gonaïves” Haiti was in the midst of the February Revolution. Lyon expresses his support by referencing Gonaïves, the village in northern Haiti where manifestations began. He recounts:
The Haitian Revolution is a wave of human history passing through ten million people, like the shake of a man in fever. Few Revolutions in history have been so welcome by so many—it draws support from every class of Haitians.
Haiti was convalescing from the reign of terror of dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, self-proclaimed president for life, who ruled Haiti for fifteen years (1971-1986) with secret police known as the Tonton Macoute. In Merci Gonaïves” Lyon sought a “true” Haiti. One in which a young girl counting coins in the market and women planting a field coexist with the conflict: an injured man in a hotel bed, a Tonton Macoute intimidating a crowd. Lyon intended “Merci Gonaïves” to challenge mainstream depictions of the Haitian Revolution in the U.S.; coverage which Lyon claimed took a “single style”. Rather he presents a visually complex and multivalent portrait of a country in the throes of revolution. Blending idealized daily scenes with hectic action shots undercuts the simplistic view of Haiti, but it is once again the country viewed through a U.S. lens.
Danny Lyon is an award-winning documentary photographer and socio-political activist. For more than four decades, he has focused on the freedom struggles of marginalized groups in the U.S. and abroad. His subjects include members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (The Movement, 1964), Texas prison inmates (Conversations with the Dead, 1971), and Indian tribes in the American West (Indian Nations, 2002).
This exhibition is curated by Alexandra Madsen, Curatorial Intern at the Pomona College Museum of Art through the ArtTable Summer Mentored Internship for Diversity in the Visual Arts Program, with generous funding from the Kress Foundation.