Diversity & Inclusion

Amplifying Black Voices: Karene-Isabelle Jean-Baptiste

Karene-Isabelle Jean-Baptiste

Nasdaq is proud to celebrate Black History Month by extending its digital series, Amplifying Black Voices, a multimedia retrospective featuring works of art and photography documenting Black life. 

We spoke with Karene-Isabelle Jean-Baptiste, who is a first-generation Haitian-Canadian based in Montreal. As the only child of an immigrant, she was encouraged to pursue a traditional career in engineering, but she soon chose her passion for photography. Fittingly, she explores the power of joy in her work and wants to center the voices of minority individuals. She is currently working on a series titled Black Women in Health Care. Karene-Isabelle is also a member of Black Women Photographers, a group aiming to disrupt the notion that it is difficult to discover and commission Black creatives.

Tell us about your background and how you made your way to photography.

I am a first-generation Haitian-Canadian. As the only child of an immigrant, I was encouraged to pursue a traditional and stable career. I was a bit of a math wiz and wanted to do a non-traditional, so I decided to pursue engineering in order to make my parents proud. While I practiced engineering, I craved artistic outlets, which led me to do pottery, jewelry making, sewing, and interior design and cake design. Following a company restructuring, I lost my job, and I decided to pick up a new hobby. I had done photography in high school working in a dark room, so I registered for a community class on photography, and I just fell in love with it. I ended up finding a job in engineering again, which is what I knew, but I was just miserable. After a bit of self-reflection, I decided to just go ahead and go into photography full-time. I didn't want to live my life wondering if I could have made it. It's been scary, but it has really given my life purpose.      

What kind of themes and stories do you explore through your visuals? 

I'm very much interested in the power of joy. I like it when it's large and on display, but I also know to look for it in unexpected places and try to catch it in fleeting moments. I also like to tell the stories of people that I feel I do not see enough of or whose lives are only seen in bits and pieces or stereotypical ways. There's a richness and a depth that is added to life when those stories are told.

Through which perspective are we seeing your visuals? 

 I am a minority Black woman living in a province (Quebec) that is a linguistic minority in North America. The fear of disappearing linguistically creates a situation where anything that is not traditionally white French Canadian can be seen by some as a threat. The result is that most of the artworks, cultural institutions and media centers and speeches to the majority, with few minority voices ever included in the conversation. As a Black woman, I want to center the voices of minority individuals and tell their stories. It is a question of affirming their presence in the space. I do so by highlighting their unicity, beauty, traditions and their moments of connection and joy. 

Please choose one piece to share digitally and tell us why you are sharing this piece and what you hope the viewer takes away.

This photo is one of my favorites. Donna is a respiratory technician and has been extremely busy in the past year of the pandemic caring for COVID patients. Her work has increased tenfold. Yet when we met to take her picture, there was so much joy emanating from her. She radiates warmth and openness despite the fact her work is quite difficult right now. I think there is something very powerful about joy and its ability to transform situations that are difficult. 

Donna by Karene-Isabelle Jean-Baptiste

 

In your opinion, what is the best way for allies to help amplify Black voices? 

We need allies to speak positively of our work, share it widely, hire us and recommend us to the people they know. We need to have people in the rooms where decisions are being taken to invite us in and insist that we be given a chance to speak and be heard. We also need to be hired and trusted to deliver concepts and projects that speak to a wide and diverse audience as opposed to a segmented one.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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Lyanne Alfaro

Nasdaq

Lyanne is a producer, host and social media strategist at Nasdaq. Her team helps reimage the way Nasdaq tells stories about Nasdaq’s role in the future of technology via video, podcasting and social content. You can find her on social media @LyanneAlfaro

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