Visualizing Haiti's Health Regime: Vodou as Toxic Subject


Haiti has been imagined as "already dead" within the Western visual regime (Philogene 2015). The nation is oversaturated by representations of environmental problems, health disparities, and political upheaval. Most of the health issues that the population face can be linked to environmental degradation, slavery, and imperialist processes that have altered the landscape, producing mass precarity (Farmer 2003, Moore 2017, McNeille 2015, Verges 2017 ). This project is an attempt to illustrate the actors and forces that have shaped the nation's health politics - through the lens of toxicity. After the 2010 earthquake, Vodou priest/believers and sexual minorities were indicted by the masses for the earthquake (Ulysses 2010). The religion was also blamed for the Cholera epidemic that took thousands of lives in the Artibonite region. Historically, Vodou functions as a paradox being both a tool of biopolitics and portrayed as a "social Hygiene" problem by both Haitian elites and Western powers (Ramsey 2011). Toxicity in this project is used to speaks to toxic discourses that seek to scapegoat instead of addressing the lasting impact of the plantation economy in contemporary Haitian health.


Mintz, Sidney, and Michel Trouillot. "The Social History of Voodoo." Ghettobiennale: 123-47.

Moore, Sophie Sapp. "Organize or Die: Farm School Pedagogy and the Political Ecology of the Agroecological Transition in Rural Haiti." The Journal of Environmental Education 48, no. 4 (2017): 248-59.

Philogene, Jerry. "Dead Citizen” and the Abject Nation: Social Death, Haiti, and the Strategic Power of the Image." Journal of Haitian Studies 21, no. 1 (2015): 100-26.

Ramsey, Kate. The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Verges, Francoise. "Racial Capitalocene." In The Futures of Black Radicalism, 1-266. Brooklyn, New York: Verso, 2017.



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Abject Saint

 During the 1940s, Voodoo temples and ritual objects were destroyed as part of the Catholic Church anti-Voodo campaigns. Voodoo priests in rural locals serve as leaders in times of distress and crises. Post Earthquake many missionary organizations such as Protestant and the church of Scientology went into Haiti with the intention to save the souls of the people (Grossman 2010). This, of course, angered many local traditional healers who saw it as disrespect to their authority. 

Design Statement (In progress): 

This picture on the prayer house and resting space at a Voodoo Pilgrimage. The Black dressed figure is the picture of Grand St Anne, a Voodoo synchronized saint that is known for her miracles (Healing, personal wishes, and justice) throughout Haiti. This picture demonstrates the strong synchronized bond between Catholicism and Voodoo, her counterpart Saint Jacque is on the left. Although Grand St Anne is known throughout Haiti, some Catholics and Christians in Haiti see the saint as a monster- "djab". This demonization of this famous saint speaks to the long history of anti- Voodoo campaigning carried out by the Catholic Church (Ramsey 2011, Trouillot 1990). Grand St Anne is a complicated idol because of her image, dark skin, lack of arms, and legs, and oversized dress have made her subject to criticism of being satanic. Ansafole is a small commune in the Northwest of Haiti and is known for being the location of the oldest Voodoo Church in Haiti. The small cove town is subject to flooding due to poorly sustained colonial Dutch infrastructure (Novelliste). 

Dominique, Rachel Beauvoir. "The Social Value of Voodoo throughout History: Slavery, Migrations and Solidarity." Museum International 62, no. 4 (2010): 99-105.

Mintz, Sidney, and Michel Trouillot. "The Social History of Voodoo." Ghettobiennale: 123-47.

Ramsey, Kate. The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Garbage Dystopia

 Garbage is a major issue in Haiti. Port tau Prince, Haiti, does not have a centralized sewage system(NPR). In Saint-Marc, Haiti, not only is garbage burned in the city, but large garbage dumps have developed outside of the town, near the country-side. Poor Haitians are left to deal with clean environmentally hazardous situations that have long term health impacts. President Trump’s  2017 comment describing Haiti as a “shite- hole” country inspired this project. The stunting of Haiti's political, social, and economic development is a result of Western imperialism. The association of something to “ shite” elicit a form of abjection, which harkens back to similar racist’s utterances that helped produced Haiti’s environmental reality. The body continues to be the site where environmental degradation, unequal global flows, and the unequal world system is embodied (Agard-Jones 2013, Martin 1996). This picture was taken by photographer Marie Arago for NPR,  a post-2010 earthquake dumping site in Port tau Prince. According to Argo  NGOs dumped hundreds and thousands of gallons of raw sewage in a landfilled outside of the city, that intersected with the sea.

Design Statement (In Progress)

The toxicity produced by the polluted air propagated by the garbage fill landscape speaks ubitiqouse e nature of toxicity. This image speaks to the oversaturation of toxins. Wast sites as these are " new museums of humanity" ( Yusuf 2017).

Agard-Jones, Vanessa. "Bodies in the System." Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 17, no. 3 (2013): 182-92.

Martin, Emily. "The Society of Flows and the Flows of Culture." Critique of Anthropology 16, no. 1 (1996): 49-56.

Yusoff, Kathryn. “Epochal Aesthetics: Affectual Infrastructures of the Anthropocene.” E-Flux Architecture , 2017.

Voodoo Institution

( Taken by Guil )-This is a prayer house at- a renown Voodoo pilgrimage site in the Northwest of Haiti called Ansafole. These houses are right next to the ocean and very vulnerable to flooding. This space functions as a "spiritual center" for those in search of some form of relief(Laguerre 1986).Voodoo pilgrimages are circuits deeply entrenched in national politics (Laguerre 1986). In my personal observation at staying at that pilgrimage stories, remedies, affect and secrets where exchanged.

Design Statement (In Progress)

These spaces are considered toxic by Christian believers. The suppression of Voodoo must be discussed along anti-blackness. Voodoo  is a paradox although negative, still is a life-line of Haitian society, a religion born out of the horrors of the plantation economy.  

Micro Menace

 Kate Ramsey reminds us historically Voodoo has been described as a “social hygiene problem” by state and health officials. In 2010 according to BBC news close to forty-five  Voodoo priests in Haiti were lynched around the Cholera outbreak. The logic behind the malicious act was that Voodoo practitioners were causing Cholera with their sorcery. Similar utterances were attributed to the devastating earthquake that had taken place earlier that year. Later it was confirmed that Cholera was brought over by U.N troops from Nepal, whose fecal matter had entered into the Artibonite river. Due to a hydroelectric dam that was built displacing an agricultural community and redirecting the stream the effects of  Cholera was multiplied. The ravages of Cholera came in the form of diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. 

Ramsey, Kate. The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Kolera and the U.N

Kolera (Cholera) has not been seen in Haiti for over 10,000 years until 2010. This is a picture of a protester holding a sign calling for the condemnation of the U.N, who at that time refused blame for the epidemic. Instead, Haiti's lack of infrastructure and Voodoo was cited as the reason for such devastation. In the poster, there is a question about Haitian liberation. The presence of NGOs and the Ministah(U.N), has been exacerbated has reproduced precarity . Most of these organizations take up resources, and function like shadow states regulated who has access to resources and who should not (Fassin 2007). These connections force us to ask ourselves in what ways are these infrastructures impeding on Haiti's development instead of helping.

Design Statement (In Progress)

This picture explores the toxic relationship that the U.N has with the people of Haiti. In many cases, Haiti and the larger Caribbean has been an incubator for larger anti-imperialist agendas( Mintz 1974 ). Since the countries inception, foreign entities have benefited the most from the country resources, and even exacerbated epidemics. This picture is an anti-imperialist message as much as it is a conviction of the U.N.


Design Statement (In progress)

Mosquito Domination

Caption (In progress) Mosquitos have been important social agents within the larger Carribean since colonialism (McNeille 2010). The plantation economy that destroyed most of Haiti's Forrest, made the Island an ideal location for the  Aedes aegypti mosquito (McNeille 2010). Today, mosquitos dominate the landscape due to canals and a lack of sewage infrastructure. Mosquitos are "parasites of capitalism", the aftermath of Neoliberal processes that results in inevitable ecological disasters such as rampant epidemics (Mitchell 2012). 

Design Statement (In progress)

Mosquitos are toxic,  modern problem that is proof of the different scales in which environmental degradation affects human life. For the Mosquitos is just a medium for the parasites in their bellies.

McNeill, John Robert. Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Mitchell, Timothy. Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. University of California Press, 2012.


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Created date

January 21, 2019