Join Gabi Jean-Paul Aguilar and the City of Evanston for a pop-up exhibit, "Sankofa Haiti Art Exhibit," featuring works from Gabi's art collection.
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 3, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
WHERE: Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, 1823 Church Street
MORE: Exhibited is a collection of work acquired by first-generation Haitian-American, Evanston native, Gabrielle Jean-Paul Aguilar. "Sankofa," a word in the Twi language of Ghana, translates to “Go back and get it.” That's what Gabrielle calls her travels to Haiti, the homeland of her maternal lineage, as she explores her heritage through her ancestors' art, culture and cuisine.
I talked to Gabi to find out more about the exhibit--and more about her.
DE: How long have you been going back to Haiti to collect art?
GA: Since June of 2014, three months after my mother passed away. It had been over 23 years since I was last there as a child, but when my mother suddenly died of a heart attack, I found being in Haiti the most consoling way to experience her energy.
DE: Why do you do it?
GA: There’s more than one reason why I travel to Haiti and collect art. As I said, being on the homeland of my maternal lineage has sacred and spiritual significance to me. Also, I’m an entrepreneur and I love to support the artists of Haiti, so traveling back and forth allows me to fulfill many of my passions. Being on the land, living my culture, acquiring beautiful art and sculptures, and sharing them with my community here back home in Evanston.
DE: What can people expect to see at the exhibit?
GA: "Sankofa Haiti Art Exhibit" is a collection of work I’ve purchased or have commissioned by Haitian Artists. Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates to “Go back and get it.” It's what I’ve chosen to name it because it is quite literally what my 2014 travels signified. I traveled back to Haiti acquiring my culture, my memories, the energy of home.
After my mother passed, 35 of my family members and myself journeyed together back to Haiti with my grandfather Pierre Jean-Paul and my grand-aunt, Louise Lauture for the first time--for my grandfather--in over 50 years. My mother had only died three months prior, so my wounds were still very fresh and raw.
That first trip in June 2014 was life-changing for me. It completely lifted the darkness of grief and helped me to experience the warmth that life still had for me in the memories I held with my mother.
My travels to Haiti became a medicine and with that, "In Memoriam," I commissioned portraits of my mother and grandmother, "Spirituality," a collection of paintings, metal art and Voodu sculptures, and many other paintings have been added to my collection of Sankofa Haiti.
DE: Were you born in Haiti?
GA: I was born here in Evanston in 1977. My wonderful parents were Linda Jean-Paul and Melvin Walker. My mother came to the US with her parents when they immigrated here from Haiti in 1957. She was four years old and lived on the 1300 block of Pitner, which was recently named after my grandfather, Pierre Jean-Paul Way (you can read more about Gabi's grandfather here).
DE: Why do you want to share this art with Evanstonians?
GA: I’m collecting the artwork because I love to share the culture and artistry of Haiti. One of my aspirations is to open a real funky boutique-art-gallery and event space where people can enjoy and learn about Haitian art and culture, and also use the space for private events.
DE: When it’s not hanging at Gibbs-Morrison, where do you keep your art?
GA: When it’s not being shared, it’s stored in my home office.
DE: What else do you do — hobby-wise, work-wise, and for fun?
GA: My husband and I live in Evanston with our four sons Ulai, Olu, Yuma and Miles. I own and operate a juicing business that I started last year in 2018 called 4 Suns LLC. It’s a pop-up juicing booth.
We are typically privately contracted to do juicing demos and presentations, and we also juice at public events that we book booth space at of our own accord.
Last summer we did a series of pop-up juicing days at Fleetwood-Jourdain, which we look forward to getting back to this spring. We’re also working toward having a kitchen space where we can juice more frequently for those requesting detoxes/cleanses and juice for wholesale use.
I also work as a substitute teacher for District 65, and along with sharing my Haitian culture and heritage, I love to share my passion for health and wellness with friends, family, and people in the community.
Please be on the lookout for a series of wellness events produced by 4Suns, primarily documentary movie showings with plant-based meals and fresh juice in the spring.
Editors note: If you're interested in more information about 4 Suns LLC, check out their Facebook page or contacted Gabi at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773-860-7611.
[Photos: Gabi in Haiti; Gabi as a young girl with her mother; the new street sign honoring Gabi's grandfather who recently passed away]