Un cœur nomade

From August 20 to November 1, 2020

© Dany Laferrière


Based on the work of Dany Laferrière

Curator and creative director: Félix Dagenais
Graphic design and scenic design: Judith Portier Inc.
Music and sound design: Javier Asencio

To celebrate 35 years of Dany Laferrière’s career, the Quartier des Spectacles is paying homage to the author and his audience with the show Un coeur nomade. Made up of seven different parts, the exhibition uses words, pictures and sound to tell the story of the artist’s life.

From his Haitian childhood to the Académie Française in Paris, Un coeur nomade is an invitation to enter the world of this multitalented man, and follow the course of a lifetime of exile, women and words.

The show is an open door onto his life through a series of graphic works, beginning with his sun-lit childhood in Haiti, where his artistic sense first developed. Then, a precipitous departure for Montreal, the city of his fortunate exile where he became a writer, followed by a few seasons in Miami, another city that accompanied his life as an author. And then, Paris and the Académie Française, the traditional center of the French language.

The show takes its inspiration from Laferrière’s three graphic novels. It is a complete and gentle immersion in the colors of the unique universe of the author and illustrator so admired by the different communities of Quebec.

Presented at the Promenade des Artistes from August 20 to November 1, 2020, Un coeur nomade will also use the windows along the Pavillon Président-Kennedy of UQAM.


Based on the work of Dany Laferrière

Original idea and creative director: Félix Dagenais
Director: Nicola Lemay
Running time: 7 minutes

When night falls, Dany Laferrière’s world of many colors will spring to life on the façade of the Pavillon Président-Kennedy of UQAM with the projection of the video L’Exil vaut le voyage (Exile Is Worth the Trip). A coproduction of the National Film Board of Canada and the Partenariat du Quartier des Spectacles, this animated film will unveil the places and people who shaped the writer’s destiny and brought his pen to life.

Based on the words and illustrations from his last three graphic novels, this short film traces his path from his sun-lit childhood with his grandmother in Petit-Goâve, to the humble room on the rue Saint-Denis where he wrote his first novel.

Faithful to the writer and illustrator that he is, the film’s images are memory mosaics that come into being before our eyes. On view from August 20 to November 1, 2020, this large-scale video fresco, primitive in the best sense and impressionistic, celebrates the colors of Dany Laferrière’s wide-ranging and playful world.


Behind the words and images lies a story.
The path of a singular life. Unique.
From the Haitian countryside to the dome of the Académie française with a stop on a park bench in the Carré St-Louis, Dany Laferrière’s story has always fascinated me. And inspired me.

A man of letters and ideas, he fled the terror of a dictator’s regime for a few acres of snow.
The prince left his Caribbean port to remake his life in the North and create his works here.
He knew poverty and odd jobs.
He built his life. He set down roots.
He became a writer.
He helped us see the world.
He showed us his world.
As he drifted toward farther shores.

And now, 35 years later, he carries our voice to the Académie française.
The man the dictatorship wanted to eliminate is now a pillar of the French language.
The young journalist, the “undesirable,” is now a citizen of the world.
He turned his exile into a playground.
Happily for us, he used it to deal in words and build images.

“You only need a drop of ink to change the world and give us respite from all its memories.”
Dany Laferrière, 2020

Bon voyage !

Félix Dagenais
Curator, Un cœur nomade


“I feel like I was a child set free to write and draw on the city walls.”

What is the meaning and the origin of this “nomadic heart” – un coeur nomade – in the context of your work?

DL: First of all, “cœur” is a very beautiful word in the French language because everyone has a different interpretation of it. It is both a pump and the seat of emotions. It is one syllable long, with two letters that marry, o and e, to produce a sound that is both firm and warm. A heart doesn't stay in one place, it travels the world and sometimes returns to the starting point, which is all I can hope for. The Nomadic Heart. I remember wandering Montreal when I first arrived in the city during the 1976 Olympic Games. I wanted to get to know it better, and now this place is more alive in me than I am in it.

What does the Promenade des Artistes where the exhibition will be set up, mean to you?

DL: It is the heart of Montreal that I love. Not far from the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde and the Place des Arts, close to the Musée d’art contemporain and the colorful shops on Saint Lawrence. This residency in the Quartier des Arts is really a nice surprise in my life. I wouldn’t have taken a fortune-teller seriously if she had told me that one day I would invent a new genre. I never thought that one day I would write on the walls of the city. I feel like a child set free to write and draw on the city walls.

You once said that drawing was another way for you to write. Does the mix of words and images in your latest works give you a more accurate way of portraying your life?

DL: I don’t think I have any particular way of expressing myself. If there is one, it’s movement. It’s hard to bring forth the energy from my hands, the energy of movement, even though that’s what I’ve been looking for since the beginning. My obsession is the present tense. The superimposition of the past and the future. Drawing and handwriting help me get a little closer to the present. Though I could have the same feeling with an ordinary printed sentence.

How were the discussions with curator Félix Dagenais when it came to determining the content of the exhibition?

DL: Felix Dagenais is an inspired man. I think that’s the word that best defines him. He’s also very sensitive and makes a point of respecting an artist’s work. He’s not the kind of person who rides roughshod over other people’s imaginations. From our first conversation, I felt reassured by his well thought out proposals. If I didn’t agree with certain points, it was never because we were on different wavelengths. It was more an issue of clarifying my own thinking. For a whole season, I watched him move gracefully and elegantly through my garden.

In the graphic part of the exhibition, you share your impressions of Montreal in the midst of the cultural effervescence of the 1980s, with Les Foufounes Électriques, Réjean Ducharme, Robert Lepage and the enormous appetite for jazz. How would you say the city has made its way into your writing?

DL: I'm a writer who considers landscapes as much as faces. I don't just describe Montreal's cultural events. I am just as attracted to groups of girls chatting at night over glasses of wine in outdoor cafés as I am to the hubbub of shoppers and merchants at the Jean Talon Market, and the ducks swimming in the lake in Lafontaine Park. Everything interests me in this city where things change into culture before my eyes, as soon as I draw it. True, Montreal is a pretty hectic city in the summer, with all the festivals, exhibitions, art galleries everywhere, museums, happy hours organized by publishing houses and booksellers, dance and jazz events… All of that can make you dizzy. But what I like most is not to take part in them, and stay to one side and watch the sparkling eyes of movie-goers coming out of cinemas, or readers immersed in complex stories on a bus, on foot, on a park bench, everywhere. You have no idea how culturally powerful this city is. I’ve been around the world, my shoes have traveled, and I can assure you that Montreal is one of the liveliest places on earth.

The video L’Exil vaut le voyage (Exile Is Worth the Trip) shows the places and characters that have shaped your story. The exhibition includes a page showing the time you came to Montreal, when you furnished your "tiny library with exiles only.” What did Nabokov, Borges, Mandelstam, Mandela and other "exiles" contribute to your journey?
DL: I would like to make it clear that you should not believe everything you read. Yet what is written is more powerful than reality. Reality is what happens between the world and me. I write to make the world believe I am alive. This requires the power of suggestion. Which means I have to emerge from myself and reach out to others. The energy I was talking about at the start is at the heart of this process. We can cast doubt on the facts, but we must believe in this energy. That being said, the writers who occupied my narrow bookshelves when I came to Montreal let me see the difference between exile and journey. They each occupy part of my artistic sensibility. If Mandela and Toussaint Louverture represent resistance to all forms of domination, Victor Hugo would stand for the meaning of the Republic, while Soljenitsyn, who believed against all odds that he would return to his country to die, represents stubborn hope, and Nabokov, by becoming an American writer, gives us a glimpse of a mind in motion. Ovid is a crybaby genius. Mandelstam is the poet who says no. And José Lezama Lima gets swallowed up by his novel Paradiso, which describes Havana, in order to escape Castro's cops. All these forms of exile have me heading toward the door, the wide-open spaces.

The exhibition offers a summary of the turning points in your life. It is divided into seven showcases and as many visual and audio worlds. How did you determine the amount of space that would be dedicated to Petit-Goâve, Port-au-Prince, Montreal, Miami and Paris?

DL: Cities represent colors and emotions for me. That’s how I have been working since my first book, which was written under the aegis of Matisse's painting Grand intérieur rouge. Since then, it has been very important for me to identify my emotions with colors as Rimbaud did with vowels. And sensations too.

Petit Goâve is the black of the hot coffee my grandmother Da used to sip on the little gallery on rue Lamarre. It is also the yellow of Vava's dress that hit me like the fever of the same name. Other times it is the smell of rain and the taste of wet earth.

Port-au-Prince is the smell of gasoline by day and the scent of ylang-ylang and jasmine by night. It is also the energy that begins around three in the morning when the women vendors arrive in the city, then stops cold around two in the afternoon. The city is exhausted. The women nap under their wide hats, and the office workers drink coffee beneath the mango trees. It is politics devouring everything in its path, like an ogre. And the girls dancing in the nightclubs around the Champ de Mars.

Montreal is the freshness of the first snow as we watch from the window with cups of hot tea. The outdoor cafés in summer crowded with students remaking the world. The green of the city's many parks and the vegetables at Jean Talon Market, and the stairways that wrap around the houses like climbing plants or musical staves according to John Cage.

Miami is the vibrant atmosphere of all the accents and colors from the Latin American cities. The peaceful coexistence between people from the North who settle there to spend their last days in the warmth, using the city as a coffin, and those from the South who arrive with hopes of being reborn, seeing the city as a cradle. This coexistence of coffin and cradle defines Miami. This is the fruit that comes from all these cities in Latin America and the Caribbean. The music of the particular accent of a city where Creole is the third language after Spanish and English. Miami is the only American city where a foreign language is the first language. Spanish ahead of English. Then there are other cities where I sojourned for less time than in those other places, but that have still structured my sensibility.

And finally, Paris, where I spend a good part of the year, joining the Académie’s work on the French language. The conversation in the cafés, the wine singing in the tall glasses. My studio near the Gare de l'Est train station, my refuge most of the time to write and draw intimate emotions, hoping to make new combinations appear. My observation post near the window reduces my angle of vision so I will not be swallowed up by a city that has consumed so much poetic art. So many artistic attempts, so many imaginations, so many dreams. It is Balzac’s challenge: “À nous deux!” And Paris is where I have lived with an imaginary cat.



As a director and creative designer, along with his colleague Louis-Xavier Gagnon-Lebrun, Félix Dagenais founded ATOMIC3, a creative multidisciplinary studio that offers artistic experiences in public spaces using light, video and architecture. As designer and artistic co-director of ATOMIC3, between 2012 and 2019 he created several participative works, among others, Iceberg, Maestro and Ilot de chaleur, which were presented at the Quartier des Spectacles in Montreal and also enjoyed tours overseas.

Félix also worked on permanent light installations such as L’Esprit des lieux at the Montreal Botanical Gardens, Nuée de verre at Montreal Trudeau Airport and Translation, four public artworks installed in the Villeray—St-Michel-Park-Extension neighborhood. As a member of the team tasked with designing the Jacques Cartier Bridge lighting project, Félix was co-artistic direction of the show celebrating the inauguration of this major event, part of the festivities of the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montreal.

Educated in the theater, Félix worked with Robert Lepage for over ten years as assistant director and stage manager. He also worked on the production of some dozen theatrical works, two operas and the architectural video projection of Le Moulin à images, part of the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. Félix also teamed up with director Brigitte Haentjens for two productions, Hamlet-Machine and Vivre, and with Martin Genest for Le Hangar des oubliées, a production of the Cirque du Soleil at the Agora du Port de Québec.


The life of Dany Laferrière can be represented by a bouquet made up of the unique fragrances of five cities. Born in Port-au-Prince, he spent his childhood with his grandmother in Petit-Goâve, before exiling himself to Montreal, where he has published all of his books. He took a long detour through Miami prior to landing in Paris, where he occupies a seat at the Académie française. Since publishing his debut novel in 1985, he has brought into being a patient and powerful body of work that brightens the nights of readers the world over.

Commander of the Legion of Honour
Commander of Arts and Letters
Commander of the Order of La Pléiade
Officer of the Order of Canada
Officer of the National Order of Quebec
Companion of Quebec’s Order of Arts and Letters
Officer of the Order of Montreal

Dany Laferrière's bibliography

2020 L’Exil vaut le voyage
2019 Vers d’autres rives
2018 Autoportrait de Paris avec chat
2016 Mythologies américaines
2015 Tout ce qu’on ne te dira pas, Mongo
2015 Dany Laferrière à l’Académie française. Discours de réception
2014 L'odeur du café - illustrations de Francesc Rovira
2013 Le baiser mauve de Vava - illustrations by Frédéric Normandin
2013 Journal d’un écrivain en pyjama
2011 L’art presque perdu de ne rien faire
2010 Conversations - entretien avec Ghila Sroka
2010 Tout bouge autour de moi
2009 Un art de vivre par temps de catastrophe
2009 La fête des morts - illustrations by Frédéric Normandin
2009 L’énigme du retour
2008 Je suis un écrivain japonais
2006 Je suis fou de Vava - illustrations by Frédéric Normandin
2006 Vers le sud
2005 Les années 80 dans ma vieille Ford
2004 Comment conquérir l’Amérique en une nuit
2001 Je suis fatigué
2000 Le cri des oiseaux fous
2000 J’écris comme je vis - entretien avec Bernard Magnier
1997 La chair du maître
1997 Le charme des après-midi sans fin
1996 Pays sans chapeau
1994 Chronique de la dérive douce
1993 Cette grenade dans la main du jeune nègre est-elle une arme ou un fruit?
1992 Le Goût des jeunes filles
1991 L’odeur du café
1987 Éroshima
1985 Comment faire l’amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer


Un coeur nomade

  • 7 display windows on the Promenade des Artistes
  • 6 panels per window
  • 42 panels in all, each 108"x 72" (9'x 7') (275 cm wide x 182 cm high)
  • Large-format prints on self-adhesive vinyl, mounted on steel panels
  • Distinctive sound environment for each display window


Un coeur nomade

Curator and Creative Director: Félix Dagenais
Graphic design and scenic design: Judith Portier Inc.
Music and sound design: Javier Asencio
A production of the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership

L’Exil vaut le voyage

Director: Nicola Lemay
Original idea: Félix Dagenais
Animators: Dale Hayward, Fahad Aboubacar, Bianca Shonee Arroyo-Kreimes (See Creature Productions)
Producer: Marc Bertrand (NFB)
Executive Producer: Julie Roy (NFB)
A co-production of the National Film Board of Canada and the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership

The tribute to celebrate Dany Laferrière’s 35 years of writing is an original idea by Anne Plamondon.


The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) produces groundbreaking animation at its studios in Montreal and at NFB centres across Canada, as well as via international co-productions with many of the world’s leading auteur animators. The NFB is a leader in developing new approaches to stereoscopic 3D animation and animated content for new platforms. The NFB has created over 13,000 productions and won over 7,000 awards, with NFB animation accounting for 7 of the NFB’s 12 Oscars, as well as 6 grand prizes at France’s Annecy International Animated Film Festival, 4 Palmes d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and 2 Golden Bears at Berlinale. To access this award-winning content and discover the work of NFB animators, visit, download its apps for mobile devices or visit NFB Pause.


The Quartier des Spectacles is Montreal’s cultural heart, boasting North America’s most concentrated and diverse group of cultural venues as well as numerous festivals and events. The Quartier also hosts innovative urban installations involving cutting-edge lighting design and immersive environments. The Quartier des Spectacles has become an international showcase for digital public art.

The Quartier des Spectacles Partnership, founded in 2003, is a non-profit organization with more than 85 members active in the district. It is responsible for animating the Quartier des Spectacles by programming cultural activities, managing and animating public spaces, providing distinctive illumination and promoting the Quartier as a must-visit cultural destination. The Partnership benefits from the support of the Ville de Montréal.

For more information, visit:


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Un cœur nomade, an exhibition inspired by the life of Dany Laferrière, on display at UN headquarters

Two Quartier des Spectacles Partnership productions at the Frankfurt book fair

Un coeur nomade : une exposition pour célébrer les 35 ans d'écriture de Dany Laferrière de l'Académie française.

The Quartier des Spectacles celebrates the first 35 years of Académie française member Dany Laferrière's literary career


Un coeur nomade: An exhibition about the life and work of Dany Laferrière


Un coeur nomade
Mélanie Mingotaud
Communications Mingotwo
514 582-5272

Quartier des Spectacles Partnership
Marie Lamoureux
514 923-6772

National Film Board of Canada
Nadine Viau
514 458-9745