Charles Jean-Pierre

Artist Statement

The lines, spaces, and gaps in my work represent the absences felt growing up in an immigrant home. My practice recognizes the erasure of our complex histories and challenges the narrative that we are perpetual outsiders.  My work attempts to create the informed cultural context needed to make sense of the American connection to the Caribbean, and vice versa. 

Meet Jean-Pierre

Jean-Pierre is a U.S. State Department Art in Embassies Artist. His work is in the permanent collection of the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou, Benin and is currently working on an installation for the new U.S. Embassy in Niamey, Niger. He has participated in two Smithsonian exhibitions and has been invited by the White House to speak on the role of the arts in youth justice. He has been commissioned to create works for the International Monetary Fund and the Inter American Development Bank. Jean-Pierre has created public art in Cape Town, Pretoria South Africa, New York, Chicago, DC, Istanbul, Panama, Port-au-Prince, London, and Paris. Jean-Pierre holds a Masters of Arts from Howard University. Jean Pierre has studios at STABLE Arts DC and 52 O St Studios in Washington DC.

Perpetual Outsiders + Immigrant Story

The lines, spaces, and gaps in my work represent the absences felt growing up in an immigrant home. My practice recognizes the erasure of our complex histories and challenges the narrative that we are perpetual outsiders.  My work attempts to create the informed cultural context needed to make sense of the American connection to the Caribbean, and vice versa. It’s important for me to situate counter narratives within my conceptual works. Travel is an essential part of my practice used to uncover new perspectives on the lives of individuals living outside of the American paradigm. As a conceptual artist, whose works are fused through collage, the layering process in my works mirrors my intersectional identity. 

I am able to create multidisciplinary works with pride and conviction because I was taught a different narrative about the complex places I come from. I was forced to embrace a positive outlook as a tool for inspiration, creativity, and survival. Ironically, I consciously practice and create art from a place of privilege and abundance. I grew up in a creole family that immigrated from Haiti. A country whose rich heritage is all too often reduced to being the most economically depressed nation in the western hemisphere. Our family migrated from one Black mecca to another. Chicago is known for its violence and black on black crime, but the city has played a central role in shaping who I am as an artist and who we are as a country. Chicago has produced some of the best in American art, culture, and political shifts. I draw inspiration from the city and its artist. AfriCOBRA artists’ collective, Kerry James Marshall, and Theaster Gates are all influences of mine. My art has long been grounded in growing up learning how Chicago was founded in 1790 by a free black and indigenous Haitian navigator, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, 75 years before the end of chattel slavery.  

My father was a videographer and allowed me to shadow him as he volunteered at the nation’s first independent museum dedicated to the collection, preservation and study of Black history and culture. I would not have had that privilege if I lived in another city. The experience gave me my early start and provided me with resources and knowledge that shaped the trajectory of my art and academic career. I would spend Saturdays shadowing my father at the DuSable Museum of African American History. It taught me that most black people north, south, and west of the 13 colonies were freedmen. I learned that Haiti was actually the richest colony per capita in the western hemisphere and they were able to employ indigenous spiritual practices to overcome the tyranny of the French, Spanish, British and the U.S. later on. It was there that I learned that the Louisiana purchase of 1803 would not have been possible without the Haitian revolution of 1750. I learned the American Revolution of 1776 was actually a counter revolution to the uprisings of Black and indigenous populations who sided with the British. I embraced what creole really meant and learned to celebrate the collage/blend of African, European, and American indigenous realities into my art. 

I employ sociology and history to create. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Issabella Wilkerson eloquently covered the history of discrimination and the creation of Black metropolis’s in “The Warmth of Other Suns”. I used her chronicles of the decades-long migration as inspiration for my works. Her depiction of African-Americans from the South to the North and West helped me better understand my story and our place within “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.” My art is a reclamation which re-imagines the parables of forgotten bodies in time and space. As a traveler, I recognize that we are facing more than racism globally in and outside of the art world. I believe there is an invisible American ‘Caste” system as described by Issabella Wilkerson. She describes it as an artificial hierarchy that helps determine standing and respect in all aspects of life. It creates assumptions of beauty and competence in the Art world, and finally determines who gets the benefit of the doubt and access to artistic resources to institutions. Often times this discrimination can mean life and death to artist and civilians. I use my art to help me better understand that there are George Floyds, Breonna Taylors, and Ahmaud Arberys across the globe that we never hear about. My art works to tell those stories. 

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