• Rachele Viard

A Glimpse into the Creative Mind of Tessa Mars

Recently Caribbean Essence was afforded the opportunity to interview Haitian visual artist Tessa Mars, who is part of a new generation of Haitian artists. Mars, the daughter of renowned author Kettly Mars, has exposed her work nationally and internationally including Canada, France, Italy, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. Currently she is a resident at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in the Netherlands, home of Amsterdam Impressionism.

As a young child Mars was encouraged by her parents and family to explore her curiosity. “I have always been a curious and handy child, very committed to understanding how the objects and tools around me work. I liked “touching” things, making, and repairing things, and my two grandmothers fed into my interest by teaching me how to sew, knit, embroider and letting me use their colors (pencils, chalks, paint tubes and fabrics), they were both dedicated to their creative hobbies,” Mars said.

"A vision of Peace, Harmony and Good Intelligence I" 2020

Her artistic journey began with drawing and painting classes early on from Haitian artists. With each of them she learned a specific skill. As a pre-teen Valcin II taught her the basics about the proportions of the human body, Ménard Derenoncourt colors and light, and Ralph Allen observation. Tools that she still applies to date. However, what stands out the most for Mars “My biggest take away from those weeks of being around them was grasping how, using the same tools, they were able to create wildly different universes.”

When posed the question if her mother Kettly Mars encouraged her creativity, she explains that “Both my parents gave me the freedom to cultivate my love of knowledge and of experimentation. I had the run of the library and no books were forbidden, be it the very "adult" novels, the technical science manuals, and the colorful art monographs. They never tried to guide my explorations in any one direction beyond calling my attention to a certain notion or subject or bringing clarification on certain points.”

"A vision of Peace, Harmony and Good Intelligence II" 2020

Mars goes on to explain that, “My mum started writing in earnest when I was ten, so I was old enough to observe and accompany her through her journey as a writer and in this way, she had a big influence on how I understand creativity. When I chose to study visual arts in 2003 both my parents encouraged me.” It is then no wonder how she thrived and carved for herself the career she has.

After obtaining a License in visual arts in France at Rennes 2 University in 2006, Mars returns to her native country and secured a job as a Cultural Projects Coordinator alongside artists Maxence Denis and Barbara Stephenson at the AfricAméricA Foundation.

In 2012, after dealing with the after effects of a car accident, which led to a long recovery, she found a way to represent her body in her work and persevere. In 2015, during an artist residency at the Alice Yard space in Trinidad and Tobago, she created an alter ego called Tessalines (a fusion of the artist's name and that of the first Haitian emperor, Dessalines).

“Tessalines started as a joke that turned serious very quickly, a joke about elections and how Haitians make use of the heroes of the revolution to defend their current agendas. This memory serves as a reminder to let myself play and consider ideas no matter how ridiculous they may seem at first. My humor is one of the traits that I like the most about myself but sometimes I forget that it is also where some of my best ideas come from.”

"Côté jardin" 2020 Install shots Photos provided by Tessa Mars

It is via Tessalines that Mars researches the notions of identity, femininity, history and resistance. Her first solo exhibition, Tessalines et Moi, in 2016 at the French Institute in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, tell a very personal story and comprises the work she produced during her residency in Trinidad and Tobago.

When speaking of what inspires her creativity, Mars said “I am still very much that curious kid that likes to use her hands. I find a very deep satisfaction in problem solving by creating, fabricating, repairing, making things work in new ways. That's how I understand the world, and that's key to understanding the work I do. I’m trying to puzzle through many questions, questions that have to do with who we are and how we got to be this way and why. I read a lot about history, decoloniality, feminism because I am looking for myself in this world, gaining and losing certainties over and over again, and finding new answers in every new body of work that I make.

I pay close attention to the production of black and queer artists and scholars worldwide and to that of Caribbean women in particular. The answers I find in their work to the questions I have about my place as a black woman in the world are very nourishing to me. I like the works of Kelly Sinnapah Mary from Guadeloupe, Oneika Russel from Jamaica, Dalton Gata who lives in the Dominican Republic and that of many others.”

For the past couple of years, Mars has been contemplating new mediums, installations and papier maché. “One medium I have been most excited about recently has been papier maché, a technique that is a staple of the Haitian craft scene but that is virtually left untouched by Haitian visual artists to my knowledge. I’m looking forward to where this technique will take me, a whole new world of ideas is opening to me.”




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