Photo: Nick Moise Noel
“Art is life. And life always finds its way,” says Keithy Antoine, founding president of the cultural and artistic organization Union Urbaine, created in 2020, and coordinator of the Afro Urban Fest, which will celebrate its 3rd edition from April 9 to 11, 2021.
Of Haitian origin, having grown up on the South Shore of Montreal in the eighties and nineties, in a family with only boys, the question of identity has always been at the heart of Keithy Antoine’s life, whether it be in relation to her gender identity, her family rank, her cultural identity and her spirituality. Faced with sexism in her family and racism in society, Keithy has always been on a quest to find herself. She remembers how she enjoyed participating in so-called “manly” activities, and how she was better than many of the boys around her. However, at the time, she could not pursue her desires and interests because she was a girl. “I was forced to do things like cleaning and helping my mom in the kitchen, while my brothers and cousins could continue to play. ”The expectations and prejudices about her gender made her question who she was. “Until I was 12, I didn’t understand why I was a girl,” she says, because she didn’t fit and didn’t want to conform to the image of a woman that her environment imposed on her. At the same time, she discovered another difference; “One day, my best friend called me the n-word because I had won a game. But she was still my best friend. What do you do with that the next day?” Faced with these questions of intersectionality, art presented itself to Keithy as an answer to her quest for identity and life’s adversities; “Art is the answer to our lack of visibility, our need for identity, our need to occupy space, our need to be seen and heard. Art can sometimes be pretty, but it can also shake things up. ”
Montreal being a large city rich in diversity and where many cultural communities live side by side, questions of identity arise more and more. We all seek to recognize ourselves in our shared environment. For Keithy, who has always had this question of identity at heart, whether on a personal or community level, art can be a solution for understanding ourselves, finding ourselves and shaping our urban spaces in our own image. Thus, the Afro Urban Festival presented by the Maison d’Haïti is one of the ways in which Montrealers can rediscover each other with the theme “Space and Passages”. This theme highlights the way in which Afro art has marked and continues to mark the city of Montreal. By programming several multidisciplinary Afro-descendant artists (visual arts, dance, music, cinema, literature), the festival attempts to establish a balance between the alternative and media scenes. It will be an opportunity to celebrate key figures in Montreal culture, such as Mr. Lamine Touré, the founder of the famous Club Balattou, which has been in existence for 35 years and is a key venue for world music and black communities in Montreal (Mr. Touré is also the father of the Festival Nuits d’Afrique). The festival will also highlight the work of the recipient of the René-Jodoin Award, Martine Chartrand, a pioneer in the animation film in Montreal.
This festival is a platform for artists from the Black communities to show themselves to the public as they are without restraint. The Art-Fropolitain opening will present five visual artists in residence who will share their work with us on the theme of “Space and Passages”. All of this in the hope that in a few years other initiatives of this kind will emerge, and that the city will be able to offer its residents more places to share, create, disseminate and laboratory.
If today, Keithy is thriving in her field of interest, it has not been an obvious path. Even if she felt the need to express herself artistically since childhood, whether it was through drawing or animation, she was pushed by her entourage to deviate from her natural path. The arts, not being considered a worthy profession, her parents directed her to so-called more honorable professions. “Art was not a solution for them. Art was not part of a rewarding discipline. ”To reconnect with herself and her true desires, she had to re-educate herself. “I had to free myself from the eyes of others to see myself through my own eyes. ”This liberation, which she allowed herself, eventually led her to her artistic path.
“Art is not a luxury. It’s an essential need. ”Keithy believes in the importance of art creation in her life and wants to offer others the chance to connect with it. While in Montreal, most cultural venues are concentrated in and around the downtown core, Keithy feels it is important that art be accessible to everyone: “La Maison d’Haïti is in the heart of the Saint-Michel district, and it is important to have this cultural center in this neighborhood. It allows us to have access to a population that does not often have the opportunity to travel downtown and around. (…) And, art is even more important for people who live in precarious situations. Art can have a positive impact on their lives. Art gives hope and courage. (…) Dreaming is part of our survival,” says the artist who was inspired by Dali and Basquiat. Their artistic expressions where the dream is true, where there are no rules and everything is to be invented challenged her as an artist who sought to develop her own lexicon.
Although Keithy has come to terms with her gender identities as a woman, with her skin color, her spirituality and her interest in the arts, the questions of identity do not end there for her. The construction of identity is endless. “Life is an adventure. Our role is to dive into the quest for identity, to construct and deconstruct it. What is interesting is not the stopping, but the moving. The path is strewn with destinations. And each destination is a pause for a new beginning. ”The same is true for our city. Montreal’s identity changes with the people who inhabit it. And cultural events are part of this constantly evolving creative process.
Don’t hesitate to discover the program of the 3rd edition of the Afro Urbain festival, which this year will be accessible virtually everywhere in Canada and around the world.
To follow the festival :
Laurent Maurice Lafontant is born in Haiti and has immigrated in Quebec in 2001 where he has been living since then. He has graduated in Fine Arts from Concordia University after achieving a double major in Film Studies and French Literature. Laurent has been involved in the LGBTQ+ community since 2008. He is a volunteer for Gris-Montreal an organization that raises awareness against homophobia. Laurent has been a volunteer and an employee at African Rainbow, an organization that worked with Black LGBTQ+ people in Quebec. He directed two short documentaries Be Yourself (2012) and Beyond Images (2014). Both films talk about Black LGBTQ+ people in Montreal. Laurent is now president of Massimadi Foundation, the organization behind Massimadi: an Afro LGBTQ+ Film & Art Festival. Laurent is also a self-published writer who launched his book “La dernière lumière de Terrexil” in spring 2018.