Culture played a significant role in the emergence of visual artist Kiki Toussaint. Born and raised in Long Island, Kiki was sent to Haiti by her parents to Haiti. After graduating from high school in Port-au-Prince, she moved back to the United States where she attended Long Island University. From there, life took her to Las Vegas where she currently lives with her family. Out of all the moves she made, she feels that her years in Haiti played the biggest role in her creativity. “Even before I moved to Haiti,” she says, “I understood through my parents that Haiti has a rich tradition in music, dance, and art.”
Art is, of course, the tradition that Kiki prescribes to. Women are the subject of practically all her paintings. The women she portrays in her works have a nonchalant air, a defiance to them, and lots, lots of attitude.
Kreyolicious: How did you find the artist in you?
I lost my father on January 12, 2010. After the earthquake, I tried everything in my power to get to Haiti. Only people in the medical field were able to travel there. I even considered flying down to the DR to see if I could make my way to Haiti from there but it was way too risky to do alone. I felt so disconnected and far away from Haiti that I drew the Haitian coat of arms on a canvas and began to fill it in with sequins and beads. Not in the same fashion that “drapo” is made but visually it appears similar. I distinctly remember watching Anderson Cooper report on survivors while I pieced together my coat of arms with glue in one hand and tweezers in the other. It was my connection to Haiti. To help me work through my pain, I started a blog where I mentioned street merchants selling various goods. I decided to paint one, I knew I wasn’t a painter, but I figured it can’t be too hard because Haitian art is known for being “primitive”. I tried to make the image as primitive as I could but wasn’t content with it. I kept refining it over and over until I came up with my first piece which I call “Machan Feuille” [Herbs Seller].
Kreyolicious: So you’re based in Vegas. Is there a huge Haitian-American community there?
There isn’t a huge Haitian-American community in Vegas. It’s pretty small especially in comparison to New York and Florida. I know of a church, a small store that carries some spices and talk radio that airs on Sundays. I think once a year a party in thrown in the park, but for the most part it’s small.
Kreyolicious: Do you think that art education is something that should be emphasized in schools?
Absolutely! I believe art allows a child to express themselves which in turn boots self confidence. Art allows you to develop emotionally, mentally, and socially. It gives a kid the freedom to bring to surface what’s inside of them without judgment. I think it also helps with problem solving. Have you ever watched a kid paint and when they’re completely satisfied with the last stroke, they lay the brush down and throw their hands in the air and say “finished” watching that is such a great feeling!
Kreyolicious: Has a painting every made you cry out of frustration?
Good question! Cry? Never! Stress? Absolutely! My most difficult painting was “La Cubana”. She sat unfinished for a long time because I hadn’t tackled a project with so much detail, I was afraid I wouldn’t get what I wanted. I didn’t know how I was going to make here wrinkles as crisp as I wanted them. I just kept going until it worked. There was a point when I kept adjusting her gaze because she kept staring out into nowhere, and I wanted her to look at straight at you. Once again, with trial and error, it eventually worked.
Kreyolicious: Would you say that your parents have been supportive of your career choice?
Always supportive. My poor parents. [Laughter] They’ve dealt with a lot because I was all over the place.
Kreyolicious: I notice that you paint women more than any other subject. Who’s the strongest woman you know?
Goodness that’s a tough question because I don’t have just one. I come from a long line of strong women, each generation dealing with challenges of that era. I remember when the earthquake happened so many people were on Facebook reposting each other’s timelines in order for news to circulate and keep people informed. After I learned of my father’s fate, I posted it on my timeline to thank everyone who helped and instead of putting Facebook away, I continued to help circulate news of loved ones by posting and reposting. I received a private message from a friend who’s name is also Kiki. The message said, “Ou se yon bon jan fanm lakay” [You’re a real woman]. Simple words, but I took so much pride in that message. I hope to one day join the ranks of my long line of strong relatives. I paint women especially old women with wrinkles because their faces tell a story. I have respect for old women—women who carry the so much on their shoulders, women who have pain written all over their faces. I paint women because women are the backbone of our country.
Kreyolicious: Do you think that the fact that you live in an exciting state like Nevada has had an impact on your art or given you a sense of urgency as an artist?
Las Vegas is just now emerging onto the art scene. The sense of urgency is lower than it would be if I lived in a major city with more appreciation for culture.
Kreyolicious: Do you visit Haiti often and what affect has that had on your artistry?
I don’t visit often. The last time I visited was after the earthquake.
Kreyolicious: What would you say has been your biggest moment of triumph?
I know this is not related to art, but it would have to be my son. I was told by three doctors that I would never conceive. After four years of trials and tribulations, we started to consider adoption when I was blessed with my baby boy.
Kreyolicious: That’s awesome…What advice would you give to the Kiki Toussaint that was just starting out?
I would say stick to what pleases you and create what you want to surround yourself with. The right audience will appear.