Throughout his early life, Charles Jean-Pierre felt a void inside. A core part of himself was missing.

Jean-Pierre, who was born in the United States soon after his parents fled violence and instability, believes migrants may feel insecure about their identity in cities. He says his identity has often been called into question, as he is sometimes deemed either too Haitian or not Haitian enough.

“As I grew into a boy, then a man, I knew that there were stories my parents had torn up and discarded. These included parts of their plight in Haiti,” he recalls.

The son of immigrants to the United States, Jean-Pierre craved a closeness to his ancestral land, but was unsure how to achieve it. Everything changed when he found art.

In his work, Jean-Pierre portrays the beauty of Haiti – but even more so, the disconnect felt by those who have left their homes for new parts of the world. Across his canvases and installations, lines and spaces tell a story of absence.

“I’ve always felt like I was away from home. On a sabbatical of sorts,” he says. “I always thought it was important for me to touch the soil and touch the ground in Haiti, but I think, in hindsight, it was even more important for Haiti to touch me.”

The Discarded Scraps of History

The artist also explores what he calls “the discarded scraps of history” through small, colorful sections of canvas that seem pieced together.“The exclusion of people of color from the imagined Western time-space continuum plays a major role in my art creation.”

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Jean-Pierre’s Black (w)Holes, featured in the recent IDB exhibitA City of Questions,” is an installation made out of doors. They represent the “wholeness” of diversity and the “holes” left by displaced communities.

“The exclusion of people of color from the imagined Western time-space continuum plays a major role in my art creation.”

Charles Jean-Pierre

The artist’s goal was to create “a healing space where people could really sit back and ask themselves how they interact and relate to city and space.”

“[It’s also about] people of color, people from the Caribbean, people that aren’t always represented, creating space for ourselves.”

“A City of Questions” was conceived as an opportunity for Charles Jean-Pierre and other artists to explore the idea of the inclusive city and the quest for more whole urban spaces.

The theme pays homage to Washington, DC, home of the IDB’s headquarters. All featured artists work in the area and are of Latin American or Caribbean origin.

The exhibit was a collaboration between the Washington Project for the Arts and the IDB’s Cultural Center, which designs several exhibits each year that address development topics and the Bank’s mission through the lens of creativity.  

Manuela Reyes, the exhibit’s curator, says the perspective of artists can inform and support the IDB’s work – on improving life in cities, for example.

“Art has this transformational power, where people can provide different insights and reflections and dialogue. When you go to an art show or to a concert, it goes through some inner fibers that make you think and perceive reality differently,” she says.