Morel Doucet: Water grieves in the six shades of death
By EMILIE MURPHY, December 2020
Over the past year, there has been a record number of environmental disasters throughout the United States. Millions of acres were burned in the California wildfires, thirty storms were named during hurricane season, devastating flooding rocked the Midwest, and over fifty days of 110-degree weather was recorded in Phoenix. Most of us recognize climate change, are united in believing that we need to care for the earth. Many of us are aware of the growing number of issues at hand and the cost of our negligence. Still, we are rarely confronted with these issues on a daily basis or reminded just by stepping outside that climate change is not only real, but a threat to us personally.
For Miami-based artist Morel Doucet, climate change hits close to home. As a resident of the city’s Little Haiti neighborhood, Doucet is keenly aware of the ways in which climate change affects not only the natural environment, but also the city’s more vulnerable populations. His neighborhood, located in an elevated and inland section of the city, has become attractive to developers in recent years as wealthy Miami residents flee the more precarious coastal areas. Doucet worries that the influx of development will force the residents – mostly people of color – out of these spaces for good. This phenomenon, known as climate gentrification, is an issue that Doucet tackles in his latest project, “Water grieves in the six shades of death.”
“Water grieves” is an ongoing project that will expand over time. The works are full of bright colors, reminiscent of the tropical environs of south Florida. Silhouettes of faces are overlain with stencils of flora and fauna, sometimes chicken wire or mesh. The works are beautiful, but something lurks beneath the surface. For Doucet, this is intentional. “If the viewer wants to appreciate the work for the aesthetic beauty, that’s fine with me,” says Doucet. “But within the work I definitely encourage them to go beyond the surface level and really sit and contemplate the context of what I’m trying to communicate.”
Doucet’s artistic process is multi-layered as well. He began this series by collecting the flora and fauna of several neighborhoods in Miami that are becoming attractive to developers, including Little Haiti, Overtown, Allapattah and Liberty City. By collecting the native plants of an area and using them to create stencils and impressions, Doucet is mapping an ecological survey of these neighborhoods. “For me, the plants are really what holds the memory and energy of these spaces that I visit,” says Doucet. “Since the communities are changing, the people are changing, but what stays constant are the plants.” Doucet has started in his own backyard but aims to expand the project over time. He plans to not only look at other neighborhoods and parks throughout South Florida, but to also explore the issue of climate gentrification through mediums like film and writing.
“Water grieves” is not the first time Doucet has been inspired by the problems in his own backyard. He has a strong history of covering topics related to climate change and climate gentrification, working to educate Miami residents in a palatable way. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that Doucet is deeply involved in education initiatives in Miami, currently serving as Curriculum and Tour Coordinator at the city’s Institute of Contemporary Art. His desire to impart his knowledge to others extends beyond his own artwork and is something that informs his overall outlook. In a video produced in conjunction with the “Water grieves” project, Doucet explains his motivations, saying “As the research started to develop, I realized that communities of color would be left out of these conversations and they’re actually at the forefront of being impacted the greatest. So, in recent years my work has been catered to these communities because, for me, they’re very important.”
One of Doucet’s previous projects, “Follicles | Cells | Biota,” considered the vulnerability of the world’s coral reefs in relation to the idea of Black Fragility. Doucet wanted to raise awareness around the bleaching of coral reefs and how the warming temperatures of our oceans are affecting the incredible biodiversity of these habitats. “I wanted to allude to the idea that if we as a global collective can come together and unify as one front to save the coral reefs, then there is hope and potential that this course of action could be reflective in other policies that could affect social change for communities of color.”
The works in that series were ceramics based, much like his “White Noise” project. In using this material, Doucet is also alluding to the history of ceramics. Porcelain, for example, is a material that has historically been a sign of status. Through his use of porcelain for the “White Noise” series, Doucet sought to imbue the biomorphic pieces he was creating with the prestige and status of the material. “I took that prestige and started to apply it to nature,” explains Doucet. “I wanted to elevate nature in the same way porcelain holds significance in our history.” It is not just the social history of porcelain that intrigues Doucet, but also the spiritual energy of using something directly from the earth, of using the same material that all earth’s creatures have walked on or returned to.
Doucet’s own background also informs his work. Born on a farm in Haiti, he has great reverence for nature. “As a farmer, the land provides for you,” says Doucet. “If you respect it, it will provide for you in return.” After moving to Miami as a child, Doucet’s appreciation for nature bloomed. He credits a high school art teacher, Susan Banks, with helping feed this interest. Banks, explains Doucet, “would go scuba diving and bring back different artifacts from her dives...and I became fascinated about the life forms underwater.” This was also Doucet’s first introduction to issues in the nearby bodies of water, such as coral bleaching and red tides. For him, the urge to look at these issues critically through his art was not a fleeting fancy, but a compulsion.
That compulsion has not seemed to wane over the years. Indeed, Doucet’s focus has only grown, and people are noticing. In 2022, Doucet will be presented at the prestigious Venice Biennale. He will also show “Water grieves” at a solo exhibition through the Baltimore-based Galerie Myrtis in 2021. But what remains at the forefront of Doucet’s mind is his mission. If, as he says “nature is a bookkeeper of time,” we should be grateful that Doucet is there to document it. WM
Emilie Murphy is a writer based in New York.view all articles from this author