Issue 24: Head of Earth

Laura Castro

Reading time: 10 minutes



Yo = Them

From Haiti, Daphné Menard shares the process of YO, which in Creole means them, a work that revolves around the history of the massacre to define other ways of sensitive reflection on the issues of forgiveness and the collective need to heal.

A bad memory can be cured by looking in the mirror, just as a sick gaze can be cured by remembering. To heal both, the best way is to look at oneself in a river. There, when self-image and memory converge, it is possible to heal the eye and amnesia. From the east of a red mirror, I begin by telling you about the Parsley massacre to lead you to the words of Daphné Menard, a Haitian artist based in Port-au-Prince and the artistic director of the Sol Scène Cultural Association. From Haiti, Daphné tells us about the process of YO,[1] which in Creole means them, a work that revolves around the history of the massacre to define other ways of sensitive reflection on the issues of forgiveness and the collective need to heal.

Santo Domingo is, by instinct of survival, the most Spanish and most traditionalist town in America. Dismembered by the Peace of Rijswijk[2] . . . it has nevertheless clung to its Spanish ancestry as a means of defending itself from the denaturalizing work done against it by Haitian imperialism. The language and the Hispanic tradition were the only walls that served as a defense against the dreadful wave of color and against the disintegrative forces that since 1795 have been invading, in an uninterrupted and systematic way, the Dominican territory. Without the binding agent of language and the cohesive power of customs, Santo Domingo would have already disappeared under the thrust of . . . “the savage Ethiopian domination.”[3]

It is said that rivers are the veins of the earth. In the northwest of the Dominican Republic, there is an open vein called Masacre [massacre]. The Dajabón River bears this nickname because of the ancient crimes that buccaneers and Spaniards committed on its banks in a dispute over territory. Despite being declared a border in 1777, a city grew up around it, today also called Dajabón, in which a mixed society was formed as a result of the flow between two peoples. Already in 1937, Dominican-Haitian couples were numerous, bilingual, and had a dual culture and a complex and variable identity. For the state and the Dominican elites, the shared land constituted an obstacle to the national project.

There are several links between parsley and death. The leaves of the plant stimulate blood flow in the area of the human pelvis and uterus, which is why they have been used since ancient times to induce abortion. Native to the Mediterranean, in Greek mythology it was believed that the herb was the daughter of the hero Archemorus, the harbinger of death, and that it first sprouted from his blood. As a good remedy for the scurvy suffered by sailors on the high seas, parsley arrived in Santo Domingo with the first colonizers. Christopher Columbus left in his diaries instructions for its rapid cultivation in our lands: “Soak the seed in vinegar for three days. Then carry it under the armpit for three days, and when you want, sow it; then in an hour it sprouts and can be eaten.”

Perejil[4] is also the name of a genocide. Also known as “El Corte”[5] or “Kout kouto-a” in Haitian Creole, the Masacre del Perejil [Parsley massacre] was the massacre of more than twenty thousand Haitians and Black Dominicans ordered in 1937 by Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo as a solution to the “Haitian problem.” “El Corte” began on the night of October 2 and was applied mainly in Dajabón, where thousands of mutilated bodies were thrown into the river. The problem was a well-established myth: that of the Dominican national identity imagined as an identity against the Haitian. The massacre is named after the herb because to identify the “enemy” one was made to pronounce its name, a verbal act that for French and Creole speakers presents difficulties, and “El Corte” because the solution was implemented mainly with machetes, as when cutting cane and weeds.

. . . everything began to smell of blood and rot. The river was red with blood and smelled of putrefied blood. Down its waters the corpses bobbed or piled up on both banks with their fetid breath of death. Mutilated and decomposed bodies appeared in every corner, on country roads, in the lonely streets of the villages, in any gully . . .[6]

Eighty-five years later the Masacre River continues to be the limit where one political authority begins and another ends. “El Corte” continues to be the essence of Dominican identity: that of the divided island. The Dominican state continues to secrete coagulated identities. Logging and sand mining threaten our border vein. From the memory of that red riverbed, other flows open up.

Daphné Menard: We are very close, but in many ways we are very, very far away, and I realized that I knew many artists from Europe, the United States, and Canada, but I didn’t know anyone from the Dominican Republic, the closest country. In 2015 I created the Sol Scène Association, a Haiti-based initiative interested in transdisciplinary research with the body as the main raw material . . . the goal is to find a common territory.

In 2017 I came across the story of the Parsley massacre. Before that time I did not know of it, because in the educational programs in Haiti this is not studied. But there is a legend in the border villages: they say that during the massacre the river was red for three or four days. At Sol Scène we have a residency program and that’s how I met the artist Jean Pierre Michel, who produced the short film L’oubli est un mensonge [Oblivion is a Lie] where he documents the testimony of a Haitian survivor. I was first interested in the image of the red river and I had the idea of making an installation where there would be a body hanging upside down in front of a red carpet.

By getting to know people who work on the subject of the relationship between Haiti and the DR, slowly my small idea grew and became a performative work. I also realized that there was more to know, more to build, more to learn. The more I discovered, the more I realized that I had this need to go, to touch, to meet, and little by little my idea became a piece that brings Haitians and Dominicans together around the topic of the massacre. It was a kind of force that attracted me more and more. The point is that I am not just an artist looking for means to do my work, I was a cultural apparatus that realized that I had more possibilities to do a project in a distant country than in the DR.

I gradually got to know more Dominican artists through the Azueï Movement[7] and in 2018 I planned the first laboratory in Port-au-Prince with two Haitian artists and two Dominican ones. The laboratories, or Haitian-Dominican Creation Encounters, were initiated in 2021 by the Sol Scène Association with the goal to foster peaceful relations with the Dominican Republic through art. The laboratories allow pairs of Haitian and Dominican artists to meet and create around a theme; a dynamic in which networks are created, mental boundaries fall away, and differences are sources of opportunity. Planned in several stages between Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo, the encounters give great importance to the question of the island’s memory, its questioning, and its transmission to the younger generations. A series of workshops, screenings, and conferences on Haitian-Dominican relations are also organized in schools and universities.

But due to the situation in Haiti at that time after the earthquake, the Dominicans decided not to come. So the first work was only with two Haitian artists: Ketsia V. Alphonse and David Charlier. It was a very important moment for us, because there are not many places where we talk about the massacre, there are not many activities where we talk about the relationship between Haiti and the DR. So during the first lab it was kind of a gift to be together and dialogue about what we know, what we think we know, what we should know, what we will never know. I realized that it is a love story, but a love story with many wounds. And I also realized that the process was not artistic, but a human process, a need to heal, to talk, to forgive, and a very heavy process. After two weeks of work we had a framework for the work. Instinctively we did not use words.

In this first stage it was important to do the lab, but we also did an exhibition of my friend Pierre Michel and showed his audiovisual work in schools. The second lab was planned for 2019 and I went to Santo Domingo to meet artists. An objective of my work is to build links, because linking ourselves is something we are missing between the cultural areas of Haiti and the DR; we don’t have a network.

Finally, in February 2020, we held the second laboratory in Santo Domingo. During the first week, to balance the process, we spent two or three days with only the two Dominican artists, Isabel Spencer and Amín Domínguez. It is very important in this project to have time to talk, to discover the two sensibilities, the stories about the massacre, the Dominicans’ version and that of the Haitians. Then we all got together, and for a week and a half we worked together. I remember that the first meeting was tough, everyone entered the room, said, “Hello,” and each one went to a corner of the room. I felt the tension between them and it was important for me not to go around it, but to use it properly, to create something. So I just told them to enter the space designated for rehearsal and to move, to discover themselves and the others. And OMG! it was the most beautiful moment of my life. At the end they were in tears, big hugs. You could see the tension in their muscles, in their tears, but there were no words. No words.

During this second lab we talked a lot about how we were looking for an other, but the way was through ourselves. Knowing me, I have the best part of the puzzle to connect with the other. We also talked about contemporary dismemberments, such as Judgement 168-13, which was issued in 2013 by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic. The ruling established that descendants of Haitians residing irregularly in the country since 1929 were not entitled to Dominican nationality.

The process is like a journey into ourselves, and I had an intuition. During the first lab in Haiti we had a large mirror on the ceiling that was not very noticeable to the public. Before traveling to Santo Domingo for the second lab I had the feeling that I wanted to continue having the mirror, this time in a more concrete way, more in this relationship of the self with the other. For me it was important to link them with the movement. The massacre was a nonsense that is impossible to imagine. When one reads the narratives it is unimaginable, and I am not here to reproduce this unimaginable thing. I put the mirrors on stage one day and told the artists to interact with them, and they became part of the flow of the movement. I am always looking to create a single movement, even if the piece lasts forty-five minutes. A single movement from beginning to end, like a river. For me the mirrors reflect the title YO, which in Haitian Creole means them. So, it’s a way of saying that when I see myself, when I talk about myself, I also talk about them. At the end of the work we share the mirrors with the audience, perhaps to say that this journey is also yours.


  1. In Spanish, yo means I.

  2. The Peace of Rijswijk was signed on September 20, 1697, in the Dutch city of Rijswijk, ending the War of the Grand Alliance, in which France faced the Grand Alliance formed by England, Spain, the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire, and the Netherlands. The foundation of the treaty was that all of the cities and districts captured since the Treaties of Peace of Nijmegen (1678) would be restored; in this context, France obtained from Spain the western part of the island of Santo Domingo, which would later become Haiti.

  3. Joaquín Balaguer, La isla al revés. Haití y el destino dominicano (Santo Domingo: Fundación J.A. Caro Álvarez, 1983), 59.

  4. Perejil means parsley in English.

  5. “El Corte” literally translates as “the cut” in English.

  6. Pedro Conde Sturla, “La masacre,” Acento, August 1, 2019,

  7. Azueï is a movement of Haitian and Dominican artists and people involved in the promotion of a culture of peace, which, through art and culture, seeks to guarantee a space for dialogue between the two peoples who share the Quisqueya Island. The Azueï Movement was born in August 2015, on the banks of the lake which separates the Republic of Haiti from the Dominican Republic, taking as its name that of the natural common border between both countries, the Taino name Azueï. The movement is made up of more than forty artists who are already involved in and committed to advancing together towards the goal of creating spaces for dialogue and exchange between the two peoples through art, culture, and education.


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