The sounds of my heart

Title given by Ornette Coleman

01 07598R1-R01-008Next to Freeman Subway Station, South Bronx, 1970-1976, © Martine Barrat.

11The Chair Waiting For Ramiro, South Bronx, 1970-1976, © Martine Barrat.

12 07598R1-R01-012Ramiro Having Fun on The Chair That Was Waiting for Him, South Bronx, 1970-1976, ©.Martine Barrat.

13 07598R1-R01-013Ramiro, A Dear Friend, at Home, South Bronx, 1970-1976, © Martine Barrat.

15 07598R1-R01-016Antonio Rolling His Way, South Bronx, 1970-1976, © Martine Barrat.

17 07598R1-R01-018Roman Kings Together, They Asked Me to Take Their Picture, South Bronx, 1970-1976,  ©.Martine Barrat.

18 07598R1-R01-019Roman Kings Children, South Bronx, 1970-1976, © Martine Barrat.

22 07598R1-R01-025My Friends, South Bronx, 1970-1976, © Martine Barrat.

23 07598R1-R01-026Williams and His Dog in Front of His Home, His Home Had No Electricity and No Water, South Bronx, 1970-1976, © Martine Barrat.

27 07598R1-R01-028Vicki, President of The Roman Queens, and Jennifer, Her First Daughter, South Bronx, 1970-1976, © Martine Barrat.

28 07598R1-R01-021Baba, Husband of Vicki, Holding Their Second Baby, South Bronx, 1970-1976, © Martine Barrat.

29 07598R1-R01-0159Pearl, President of The Roman Kings, 20 years later, leaning on an old monitor playing a video of his trial that was shown at the Whitney Museum years before, South Bronx, 1970-1976, ©.Martine.Barrat.

The show including photographs of Martine parallel to photographs of Helio Oiticica  at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York is part of the full retrospective of Helio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium. The show opens on July 14- October 1 2017.

You do the crime, You do the time : Une série de vidéos de Martine Barrat, Africadaa 2015 (page 22-45)


Martine Barrat, le sac du semeur 2017.


Ianthe Thomas in La Revue 10/02/1978

Archivist of the South Bronx

Martine Barrat and her Ghetto friends are writing
the real story of the African American people,
on video

Happy WorkingGang member and Martine sharing the video equipment, © Helio Oticica

Martine Barrat was a dancer, acrobat and director. For eight years she has carried her video equipment across a forgotten region of America. A place where the people are invisible, where the houses die a painful death, crumbling little by little into rubble, where rats are king of the aging garbage heaps, and where babies wait for sunset to be fed: they have to steal to eat and only under cover of night can the looting begin.

For eight years she has been walking the streets of the South Bronx with her camera, capturing the light, the beauty and the hope in the midst of incredible desolation. Maybe America will some day see her archives and recognize that she has shown the truth.


In June, the Whitney Museum of New York showed two of Barrat’s films entitled Vickie and You Do the Crime, You Do the Time. The museum told her not to expect more that 50 visitors a day. More that 2,700 people came during the six-day exhibit; a record for the Whitney, a museum with an excellent reputation but a limited public. Her friends came down from the South Bronx, mixing with the high class residents of Madison Avenue; their t-shirts and jeans next to the Gucci, Vuitton and Lapidus ensembles.

“Seeing these people rush in to the exhibit, I hoped something was going to happen. A job for a kid. Conditional freedom for another one in prison. I saw their eyes; I caught a glimpse of hope, the hope that something was going to come out of this.
– Martine Barrat at the reception, after having sold one of her photos for $150. Eight years.

Eight years. A hundred hours of film. Children playing in the gutter with old jelly jars, water trickling from fire hydrants, dogs wading in it up to chest level, junkies hiding away like hermit crabs in the shells of deserted buildings with their orange juice and their needles, two lovers lost in their passion in the middle of the city and its monsters. Among the people who came to the exhibit, several asked her: “ Do people really live here? ”

Barrat collaborates. The street gangs learned to use video to show their lives — the outside world’s and Barrat’s. They show their work, their written dreams. Some settle with saying:
“My name has no importance.
Because I’m not a happy tenant of the South Bronx.
My story is not very different from any other ghetto story except for two things; one is that I’m telling the real story, the cold, horrible story of a man who fights to make his life and that of his people worth living.
This story tells how I founded the Ghetto Brother and Sisters army to fight for peace in the jungle called the South Bronx.
And second, it’s the manner and the techniques used to show the changes that have already taken place in the jungle.
“Everything is allowed.”
I run around the South Bronx making plans with my generals so the life of the poor. changes a little.
– Excerpt from Charlie’s Thoughts, President of the Ghetto Brothers in Rambling by
Carlos Suarez.
The editors said: “It’s interesting, but it’s too real.”

Journalists ask Martine who she is, where she’s from, what she wants. She holds out a sheet of paper for them to read: The South Bronx is what is called a ghetto community, where Blacks and Puerto Ricans make up the ethnic majority, a little area of the It some New Yorkers call the Big Apple while others call it Hell. The South Bronx is so small that in the summer you can hear the beat of congas three or four blocks from the smell of fire — a burning demolished catastrophe which takes place regularly — and the bookies running their numbers.
The smell of soul food from a restaurant or pulled pork with rice and beans. Just another ghetto story? No, a truthful report of an agonized New York neighborhood, the South Bronx. The Bronx is a knight without a king or queen, forced to live in an environment where he only knows prison, people on Welfare, the suffering of drug addicts, and the reality of those who have no way of changing there lives. But there are knights in shining armor: Martine Barrat’s film tells the story; past, present, and God knows what the future holds. A few of the scenes would be cold and factually surreal if they weren’t from this world (the South Bronx.) The South Bronx is 89% old rental apartments.
4% drug addicts.
8% anti-poverty programs
and 1% education..
Less Welfare assistance and even less health care.
Sometimes the journalists hand back her paper and ask again who she is and what she
– Carlos Suarez to Martine Barrat on the eve of her exhibit after having spent
several sleepless days and nights together editing bits of film with $5 betweenthem.


One of Martine Barrat’s films shows Vickie, a sixteen year old girl who is president of the Roman Queens, the female counterpart of the Roman Kings (the gang from You Do the Crime, You Do the Time.)
In July 1977, Vickie and her little girl, Jennifer, lived with Martine Barrat, sleeping in her bed, borrowing her paper to write this epitaph:


The reason we called him Husky is because when he was little they called him Husky
because he was young and too big for his body.
He always wanted to be a Roman King since he was little. First, he was a Baby King, then a Junior King, then a Roman King.
He was a Roman King for about three years.
He was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known.
I love him like he was my brother. He had his own way about him. But he had a good heart.
He had his own things like holding up places and fighting with different gangs.
But he had to do it to live; he wasn’t like me and you with money, clothes, and a place
to sleep.
He didn’t have any of that, so he had to steal to live.
His mother was on welfare, she couldn’t support herself or do the same things that people with money do. He was a nice guy. And a really young guy. But he died at the age of 17. He died in a bad way.
He was holding up a store with a toy pistol and the dude with him fired. The thing was, he didn’t know the gun was a toy so he wasn’t in any hurry to take the money out of the cash register. Well, the store owner noticed the pistol was a toy so he pulled his own gun out and shot him in the head.
And once in the neck.
He died on the spot.
He was in the morgue for three days before anybody knew he was dead.
We all begged and put in what we could to give him a funeral.
I love him now and he’s been dead for two weeks.
And now I’ll remember him from now on and I’ll keep him in my heart.
I love you, Husky. Rest in Peace. Vickie.”

“It’s the South Bronx, ” Vickie said to Barrat, “you have to take it like it is.”


We find in Martine Barrat’s work the smell of the story, dying and lost. Days, months, years of film and recordings have given a voice to these people. When we listen to Black Gold, a 95 year old Black woman who was the first female wrestler in America, we want to know more about her. We would like to find books about her — her name, her renown, her triumphs. But like the true wonders of the marble mosques of black Timbuktu, nothing is recorded… no way of knowing, of learning. Also, Black children continue to choke on the old lie about George Washington sitting under the cherry tree who never lied, but who owned slaves. And the story of Black Gold dies before our eyes. No one will ever know.
I am not a collector, ” says Barrat. “ I want the information to reach the children so they’ll know that they come from somewhere, and that can build their own future with their own strength. I want to make films with children so that they will see teach me later on what they saw in their dreams and in their light. I don’t dream of being able to get these children out of the South Bronx like a neo-colonial Pied Piper. I would like to see these people regain possession of their land and rebuild their lives and the lives of their children, like they hoped. That’s all. People ask me what I want to do. Me ? Nothing. It’s not mine to do. I am someone who listens to the words of these people. Someone who sees where the junkies piss and at what point the wounds of despair come quickly. I am neither a film-maker, nor a collector, nor a person who exploits the pain of others. I am a woman who learned, from the voices of the children, that the fight continues.”

Letter to the curator of the Whitney Museum : (written by the President of the Ghetto Brothers, Carlos Suarez, the opening day of the exhibit)
Your series on young American film-makers was very enlightening to me, especially the photos and video recordings of Martine Barrat. Just imagine what world would be like if we could let go of prejudice, hate, ignorance. That would be crazy ; we could even suppose that it would cause a world catastrophe. Just imagine peace and goodwill on the earth.

English Translation by Dana Mooney


Martine Barrat, le sac du semeur 2017.