Asser Saint-Val is a man with a purpose. A self-proclaimed artist since childhood, Saint-Val’s mission is simple albeit complex: to convey, without a doubt, the significance of melanin within the world.
Simple because his pieces offer substantiated evidence on the importance of melanin, and complex because in practice he's addressing Haitians self-hatred of blackness.
Are South Florida's Haitians ready for his lesson?
Amongst press and art lovers, Saint-Val's exhibit debuted as part of Global Caribbean IV: A Celebration of the French Caribbean during Art Basel on December 6th.
Categorically abstract and symbolic, Saint-Val's work is not for your average art connoisseur. "I include both modern and contemporary [influences] in my work because I like the surrealistic movement," he explained. "And," he continued, "contemporary art is disturbing enough to arrest the mind of this disturbing society."
Typically anchored by the presence of female legs, his work addresses the various embodiments of melanin throughout history: in cells, organs, blood vessels, the nervous system, and the visual and auditory systems, and in human beings. His work explores the way in which science has previously been used to justify false perceptions concerning black people.
His medium of choice in sharing his message is the canvas. In it he utilizes acrylic paint and other media like coffee, shoe polish, flour, and food coloring.
A native of Haiti, Saint-Val emigrated to the US with his family for “a better life" and relocated to Florida when he was 14 years old. It was during his pre-teen he discovered that art could help him express the prejudice of some Americans against people of color. After studying art in high school through Linda Payne, he went on to study art at New World School of the Arts under Aramis O'Reilly and earned a bachelor's degree in Fine Arts.
"This form of expression is more helpful for me to convey my message because it was more assessable," he explained. "My parents couldn’t afford to pay for piano lessons so I got creative with pencils and paper. I had lots of those," he joked. "Later, I graduated to paint."
To find his own answers about America's fixation on stereotypes he began his art series on melanin that included his love of science, metaphysics and history.
Saint-Val revealed he just wants young Haitian Americans to understand who they are and how the world is through art, just as he did.
“In the course of my search for my own identity, the issue of melanin continually surfaces,” he said. “This recent body of work is an attempt to express this phenomenon called ‘melanin’ and the role it plays among people of African descent.”
Saint-Val does this by transforming melanin into an ambiguous living form, while commenting on the social taboos associated with the melainated individual. The compound itself is found in the plant, animal, and Protista kingdoms and aids in coloring human skin, hair, and eyes.
He referred to this predominant theme in his work as the "phenomenon of melanin" and its manifestation in the world. As a nod to his love of science, the titles of his paintings reference the scientists’ findings that he’s incorporated in his work. “I want to give tribute to those finders,” he said. “I want art to be for an educational purpose; a guide for the viewers.” In 2006 and 2011, he earned the prestigious South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowship Grant for Visual Artists. His collection has exhibited throughout New York City, Fort Lauderdale, St. Petersburg, Palm Beach, and Miami and internationally in Aruba, Grenada, Jamaica, Bahamas, Haiti, and Puerto Rico.
In a partnership with the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance and support from the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, Saint-Val will launch Art In The Sky in Miami this year. The highly-anticipated new public art project will feature three-dimensional air sculptures floating across the sky in South Florida.
When asked how his artwork is reflective of Haitian culture, he replied, "My work reflects my Haitian heritage because I am black male who was born in Haiti [to] Haitian parents; everything I make is a reflection my Haitian culture."
Saint-Val's exhibit is presented by the Cultural Section of the Haitian Consulate of Miami and Little Haiti Cultural Center along with the Green Family Foundation.
Admission is free and open to the public at the Little Haiti Cultural Center, and will end February 16th, 2013.