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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Florence Alexis: A frantic and jovial personage

By Ardain IsmaCSMS Magazine Staff WriterThe commanding prestige that Jacques Stephen Alexis, forty-five years after his death, continues to enjoy in many academic venues of the world could not have been possible without the passionate and sustained hard work of a small but devoted group of people among many of Alexis’ admirers who are dedicated to making sure that Jacques Soleil’s great works live forever. One of these people is his daughter, Florence. Most people in the literary world may not be aware of that mere fact because Florence’s low-profile attitude has always camouflaged her dazzling, uncompromising and unconditional love for his late father.I myself, a great fan of Alexis, had no clues of Florence’s devotion to keeping alive his father’s legacy until two years ago in a trip to Paris when a friend, whom I had been working on a project to commemorate the 45th anniversary of JSA’s disappearance, suggested that we should contact Florence.I took the initiative and contacted her. She responded with great enthusiasm and became a part of the team, working and committing to the success of the unforgettable event that was held last March at the auditorium of Florida Atlantic University (FAU) before an audience of about 300 people. And when I introduced her on the stage following the presentation of a mini-film featuring Florence and her Dad during the glory days of the 1950s. it was with tears that she reached the microphone to address the audience under a sea of applauses. “It is a great honour to be here and to be able to celebrate with you the life of this great man,” she began, as she stood erect and faultless. The crowd listened with utmost attention. “The devotion of these students to work tirelessly with Dr. Ardain Isma to make this event a reality warms my heart, and I’m sure if my father were alive tonight, he would certainly have been immensely pleased,” she continued in her soft but her flawless and well-articulated French.I really came to know Florence during her days in Florida last March—her love and aspirations for Haiti, her gloom, her joy, her frown and her passion for the Haitian literature. For sure Florence lacks the Romanesque profile and the iconic persona of that characterized her father throughout his short but fruitful existence; but the unyielding gaze that awesomely crafts her personality and the progressive ideas that she continues to cherish can certainly make due and land her the acceptance that she wholeheartedly deserves as the daughter of one of the great thinkers and visionaries of the Caribbean.Florence holds a rich archive of many important JSA’s unpublished documents, including Alexis’s voice and pictures of the famous 1956 Paris first congress of black writers and artists in which featuring legendary writers like Dr. Jean Price Mars, Leopold Cédar Sengor, Leon Damas, René Depestre, Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire etc… It was during that congress that JSA presented for the first time to the world his Prolegomena to a Marvellous Haitian Realism, a speech that Louis Aragon acknowledged as one of the masterpieces along with his famous novel Compère Général Soleil that catapulted Jacques Stephen Alexis to the world stage as a world-class author.           Florence may be the only person in the world who is in the possession of her father’s voice. Even famous authors and JSA’s best friends like Paul Laraque and Gérald Bloncourt do not have such documents. Florence, although does not excel at the same level of her father, she is a well-known professional and a brilliant intellectual in her own right. Born in Paris in 1951, she studied literature, archives, and library sciences. She speaks, writes and reads fluent English, Spanish and German. Since 2000, she has been the head officer for the Programme Afrique en créations attached to the Visual Arts Department of the Association Française d’Action Artistique / AFAA designed to promote African contemporary creativity worldwide.Serving cultural dynamics as mainlines for sustainable development, she has been the head of the visual arts department at the Foundation Afrique en Créations. In this framework, she coordinated travelling exhibits like African Encounters, Haïti /500 Years (as artistic director of its curator Jean-Marie Drot), “The Little Big Horn Battle” by the major Senegalese sculptor Ousmane Sow on the Bridge of Arts, with the City of Paris (attended by over 3 millions visitors in 2000), and the Program of “TransAfrican Bursaries of Exchange” with the International Fund for Promotion of Cultures/ UNESCO.She also implemented the periodical programs of residencies (creation, training, exchanges), educational workshops, exhibition projects, catalogues, partnerships with galleries, museums, artists’ collectives, sponsors, public and private institutions. Florence was attached to the African participations to the Kassel Dokumenta (2003), the Biennales of Johannesburg and Venice (97, 2001, 2003), La Havana 98 and 2000, Dak’Art 96, 98, 2000, 2002, and Sao Paulo 98, 2000 and 2002. She also directed “L’Afrique en Créations” for the 1st International Biennale of Design in Saint-Etienne (France, Nov.98: Public Award and Innovation Award), the participation of the South African artist Sandile Zulu (Grand Award 1999) at the Seychelles Biennale and was the curator of “La Cour Africaine” (The African Courtyard), African furniture design exhibition presented in Lille (France 2000) and Torino (Italy 2001).She has been invited to many international gatherings and consultations, most recently with the Daniel Langlois Foundation (Montréal, Canada) and the tiftung Niedersachsen & Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum (“Kleine Götter”, Hanover, Germany).She has published a number of articles, analysis and essays in reviews and publications like UNESCO Features, Race Today (London), Présence Africaine (Paris), La Documentation Française (Paris) and has collaborated or contributed to a number of exhibition catalogues like“The Encounters of Two Worlds…” (Carte Segrete, Rome 92), “African Encounters”  (Institute of Arab World, Paris 95), “Gendered Visions..” (Africa World Press, Trenton/USA 97), “L’Afrique en Créations” (in Azimut N°15, Nov.98, St-Etienne), « Afriche, Diaspore, Ibridi », with Eriberto Eulisse, Afriche e Orienti Review N°3, Bologna (Italy), 2003 and Champs Libres to Africa: “Ghetto Exit” (Champagne, France 2005).Florence is without a doubt a person with a lot of accomplishments. I will never forget the night after the event last November on my house lawn under a starry night of the tropic where Gérald Bloncourt, French filmmaker Mhedi Lallaoui, professor Carrol Coates, Florence Alexis, Jacques Alexis Junior (JSA’s son) and his charming wife and my wife sat for an evening of remembrance. Bloncourt seized the moment to review his legendary past, his revolutionary romanticism and the last time he saw JSA alive. I also discovered another side of Florence that night: she is really funny!  It was one of the nights one wished would never end. Although Florence Alexis grew up in Europe, and she did not go to Haiti until she was 30, she has an acute knowledge of all things Haitian, most noticeably all renown Haitian authors, past and present. She cultivates a great passion for the Haitian cuisine and the Haitian folklore.Finally, I believe that Florence Alexis must be encouraged in her tireless works. She is truly a role model, a great example for younger Haitians born in the Diaspora as well as those born in Haiti, for it is the younger generation committed to the well being of the Mother Land upon which the future of Haiti must and will be built.Note: Dr. Ardain Isma is the chief editor of CSMS Magazine. He may be reached at publisher@csmsmagazine.org Also see Alexis Commemoration: https://csmsmagazine.org/news.php?pg=20060428I74

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