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Installation : clothing, acrylic, cotton, leather boots, wooden supports, vinyl.


Lalo comme macoute explores the creation of fictional and factual stories about the Haitian figure of the Fiyet Lalo (Fillettes Lalo, or Lalo Girls). During the Duvalier dictatorship, the Fiyet Lalo were militiawomen who functioned much like their male counterparts, the Tontons Macoutes. The Fiyet Lalo were a “security” force in Haiti from the 1950s until the late 1980s. The Fiyet Lalo and Tontons Macoutes were referred to as “Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale” (VSN) or National Security Volunteers, which was the official name of this paramilitary body that worked for the supposed benefit of the country.

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Numerous stories and real incidents of violence are linked to the founding of this militia. In a common Haitian nursery rhyme, the Fiyet Lalo are described as child-eaters, and children are warned to stay away or else be killed. The most well-known Fiyet Lalo was/is Madam Max Adolphe, also known as Rosalie Bosquet, who disappeared after the Duvalier reign. Some report having seen her on a plane, or believe she is still hidden somewhere in Haiti, others believe she is dead.

Contrary to Western tradition, where the pillars of historical knowledge rest in archives and books, in Haiti history is mostly oral. Although it is sometimes archived by historians or passed on from one family to another, oral history is constantly subjected to doubt about the legitimacy of its sources and the veracity of discourses from different social classes.

In their book Fillette Lalo: Mythologie d’une figure Macoute, anthropologist Gerry L’Étang and poet and journalist Dominique Batraville examine the difference between the Tontons Macoutes, who are recognized internationally, and the Fiyet Lalo, who are almost unknown outside of Haiti. In an interview following the book’s publication, L’Étang talked about the status of these two entities within the oral tradition and national imagination of Haiti:

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The fillette lalo is essentially a child-eater in Haitian oraliture. The tonton macoute is, in his pre-Duvalian definition, a kind of bogeyman. But although they are both detestable, they still differ slightly. The tonton macoute is an unnatural human, a perverted peasant who uses his macoute (a traditional bag) to trap children. The fillette lalo, on the other hand, has a more fictional origin. She is a nebulous notion. She is like a she-devil, a werewolf (in the Haitian sense of the term), an ogress[1].

The Fiyet Lalo were considered so heinous they couldn’t possibly be human like the Tontons Macoutes.  And although they played a key role alongside the Tontons Macoutes in the repression of the regime, they have been relegated to the status of mythical beings in the country’s collective memory.

Inspired by L’Étang and de Batraville’s book, this installation reflects on the history of these female soldiers who, since the 1960s, have become near-mythical figures. Comprised of garments resembling the uniform of the VSN, Lalo as Macoute transforms the SIGHTINGS cube into a space of analysis and reconstitution. Freed from the person who wears it, the uniform is suspended inside the cube by wires anchored to flagpoles in each corner. 

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The project invites viewers to consider not only the little-known history of the Fiyet Lalo, but also the significance of combat clothing. Easily recognizable, the VSN’s uniform bore the colours of the country’s flag: a blue shirt and trousers (which was called “gwo bleu,” as in “gros bleu” or big blue) and a red bandana. Suspended in space, what does this uniform become without someone to wear it? And what does a person become without their uniform?

During the Duvalier dictatorship, wearing a VSN uniform was enough to justify committing certain crimes. At times, the VSN was said to be following the orders of François Duvalier (Papa Doc); in other instances, the soldiers’ punitive acts were said to be unauthorized. Over time their uniforms—originally an indicator of safety—became a “cover” for legitimized violence, but also of nation-wide recognition.

It is through this uniform that women like Rosalie Bosquet became known throughout Haiti. Although these clothes eventually gained a negative connotation, they were also a symbol of the Haitian president’s confidence and recognition, and as a result became a mark of prestige. To wear this uniform was to work for the most powerful person in the country and be recognized everywhere. And whether we be men, women, or other, that recognition is due.

Translated by Jo-Anne Balcaen

The artist wishes to thank Julia Eilers Smith, Michèle Thériault, Hugues Dugas and Samuel Garrigo Meza of the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Yan Giguère and Peter King of the Atelier Clark, as well as her family members who continually contribute to her practice, Miguel Sergile, Wilnie Brézault, Richard Étienne, Benny Étienne, Ji Hee Shin Étienne and Benjamin Étienne.

© Installation view of Sightings 34: Lalo comme macoute, a project by Michaëlle Sergile. With
courtesy of Galerie Leonard & Bina Ellen, Concordia University, Montreal. Photo: Jean-Michael Seminaro:
Jean-Michael Seminaro.

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