In Mousmée, the Diary of an Orchid Woman, an exploratory artistic piece that soulfully combines poetry, music, dance and language, Stéphanie Melyon-Reinette in tandem with Martinican musician Gérald Toto, talks about love, intimacy, sexuality in ways that reminded me of Edouard Glissant’s decolonial rendering of the process of creolisation as innately universal and intrinsically connected to essence.
Stéphanie exudes a humanity that is both poignant and discursive. Let me explain myself (beyond the fancy and cryptic phrasing). Because of the breadth of her work and talents, the native Guadeloupean sociologist, PhD scholar and researcher, writer, poet, dancer and cultural practitioner embodies a sort of all-encompassing practice and discourse that were in part birthed from her wanting to discover her lineage, her self as well as her very own temporality. Stéphanie says that upon settling as a university student in Paris, also known as the “metropolis” for post-colonial Caribbeans, she experienced what Frantz Fanon* described as alienation and alterity. Her being French on paper did not grant her any form of special privileges whilst in the metropolis, rather it assumed and pointed at her otherness, the diasporic reality of many which she took upon herself to then reclaim, explore and validate.
“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” ― James Baldwin
Her appetite and gift for storytelling in its multiple forms led her to research the Haitian diaspora in New York City for her doctoral thesis, to lecture at the Université des Antilles et Guyane (UAG) in Guadeloupe, to write and have published articles, papers, poems and stories, to share, tell and perform constantly and consistently in Paris, Cuba or New Orleans, to organise the France- based edition of the “Cri de Femmes” festival**, to create profusely, endlessly…
Melyon-Reinette wears her Guadeloupean identity on her sleeve especially as her academic research and writing filters through her creative juices as she takes on a vast array of issues that all involve bodily expression, memorial vernacular and women’s freedom(s) at the core.
“Guadeloupe history is an unavoidable and inexhaustible source which feeds all the sociocultural and political phenomena which characterise, plague, or single out the French Caribbean islands.”― Stéphanie Melyon-Reinette
In the piece Kepone (“kepone” is also known as chlordécone, the infamous molecule used in pesticides in the French Antilles), she makes the connection between the effective harm done to Caribbean and Black bodies under the auspices of the French government and the societal repercussions that could very much lead to a form of “ethnocide”.
In CLIT REVOwLUTION, a sociopoetic project in the form of a series of performances and dialogues (“cycle-circles”) which originated during the Festival Cri de Femmes, she advocates for women’s sexual freeing while acknowledging the misconceptions, traumas as well as diverse experiences of Black and therefore universal womanhood and femininity.
“Halfway between sociology, ethnology and poetry, a strategy of resistance which I named gynecologism- the ecology of the feminine contrasted with the cultural itineraries of each one of them, from the West Indies to North Africa, passing by France”.― Stéphanie Melyon-Reinette
The ebullient creative has also written on mysogynoir, a term that has now fully entered the gender inclusive and intersectional repertoire of feminists globally and specifically of the experience of francophone Caribbean women at the confluence of Black feminism and Afro-feminism in France.
In her ability to coin concepts and terms that resonate with our global experience (in such poetic fashion), Stéphanie Melyon -Reinette shared her fascination for what she calls the “Blackstream” as the preceding force of the “mainstream”, the creative language of the oppressed, a reverse triangular scheme of artistic nature but very much capitalistic in many ways. Citing Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, it is an explicit reference to the idea that the paradigm of discrimination has become the Black experience and as such, many that are oppressed have appropriated the styles and musical genres birthed of the African American and in extenso the Black experience worldwide to fuel their revolt against western imperialism and White supremacy.
In our conversation, I was struck by the prolific nature of Stéphanie’s work but truly what I find prodigious is its impermanence. Those who know me know how much I speak of legacy and certainly not the material kind but rather the immemorial, the creative, the universal. Stephanie’s work will undoubtedly be remembered and praised and studied for it is all that and much more.
“You must live life with the full knowledge that your actions will remain. We are creatures of consequence.” ― Zadie Smith
*Frantz Fanon – Black Skins, White Masks, Editions du Seuil, 1952, published in English in 1967.
**The International Festival of Poetry and Arts, “Cri de Femmes” (Grito de Mujer) was founded by Jael Uribe, founder of Mujeres Poetas Internacional (MPI) in the Dominican Republic in 2011. Throughout the month of March and in about 70 countries worldwide, 900 events are organised in order to amplify women’s voices and to raise awareness on gender-based violence. Stephanie founded the festival’s ‘chapter’ in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.
**Stéphanie Melyon-Reinette’s Published Works
« Haïtiens à New York City – Entre Amérique Noire et Amérique Multiculturelle », L’Harmattan, 2009
« Mémoires de Jaspora – Voix intimes d’Haïtiens enracinés en Amérique du Nord », Editions Persée, 2011
« Marronnage and Arts Revolts in Bodies and Voices », Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013
« Les Bleus de l’existence » (The Blues of Existence), L’Harmattan, 2009
« Ombres » (Shadows), Editions Persée, 2011
« Mousmée Journal d’une femme orchidée » (Mousmée, the Diary of an Orchid Woman), bilingual anthology, illustrated by Gerald Toto, self-published, 2013
EP, “Melt In Motherland”
“MUSUMÉ”, Bagherra, produced by Gerald Toto, 2014
**You can see Stéphanie perform as Nefta Poetry (her stage moniker) on her Youtube channel, and follow her on Instagram.
Photo Credit (Featured Image): Daniel Dabriou for Sensitive – a performance by Nefta Poetry