Art Basel features art inspired by Haiti

AUDRA D.S. BURCH reports for the Miami Herald.

The artists gathered in a warehouse in an industrial nook off 76th Street to paint, to make pretty the heavy vinyl tents, similar to those that so many Haitian earthquake survivors have called home for nearly a year.

Using paints sure to withstand the harsh conditions of the Haitian earth and sun, the artists reinterpreted the most basic concept of shelter, making tents into beautiful, pitched messages of hope that will be seen from the skies as visitors fly onto the island nation.

Born from a cast of South Floridians looking for a way to help Haiti, the Base Paint Tents will be exhibited beginning Tuesday so the discerning crowds of Art Basel can see the collection as meaningful art, but also as a flare that so much more needs to be done. It is just one of several cultural and artistic projects opening in South Florida in the days leading up to the international art fair, unrelated, yet bound by the daunting mission to keep Haiti’s woeful story from becoming last winter’s memory.

“We wanted to give the children of Haiti the gift of art but also show that the hurt is still there,” says artist and curator Antuan, who partnered with artist Elba Luis Lugo to paint a tent called Barcode Noir, the French colonial slave decree. “The tents will eventually serve as classrooms for the students in Haiti.”


More organic than organized movement, art inspired by Haiti and the earthquake abounds this week, from a celebrated photographer’s look at Little Haiti to a graffiti artist’s spray-painted pleas and prayers created live in the streets of Miami to a fundraising art expo that intends to deliver homes to quake survivors. Even actor-humanitarian Sean Penn, who was among the first on the ground after the earthquake and helps to manage a massive tent city, will be in South Florida in support of his J/P Haitian Relief Organization or J/P HRO Haitian Relief Organization, which works to bring sustainable programs to Haiti.

“Art is an act of survival,” says Bonnie Clearwater, executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. “All the Haiti art that will be here during Art Basel keeps the story from being in the abstract, it tells what this all means in human terms.” Bruce Weber, who has made a handsome living photographing the perfections and imperfections of the famous, turned his unerring lens toward the Haitian community for his first solo museum show: Bruce Weber: Haiti/Little Haiti at MOCA, a 75-photo exhibit.

“Bruce Weber offers us a portrait of a community, images that show their strength and beauty and pride in heritage. It is a personal work that is very tactile, very intimate,” says Clearwater, who curated the show. “The exhibit also really brings awareness to the international art world of the issues that are still so pressing.”


In his hodgepodge of an artist’s studio in Little Haiti, Edouard Duval Carrié fretted last week about his chaotic creative schedule. He still had to paint his tent for the Base Tent Projects, add the finishing touches for sets for Makandal, an upcoming Haitian opera, and there’s the matter of his own works of art — many imbued with the history and spirit of Haiti — to be showcased in several shows during Art Basel. So many projects of great social and artistic importance, so little time.

“Haiti is facing such drama and has such a long haul, everything we do collectively must be to keep it in the front of everyone’s mind,” Duval Carrié says in between a string of phone calls.

“The visual world is a huge part of Haiti’s story.”

The Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance is producing Global Caribbean II: Caribbean Trilogy, Focus on the Greater Antilles, which opens Friday at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. Curated by Duval Carrié, the exhibition features his pieces as well as those by Cuban artist Jose Bédia and Dominican artist José García Cordero.

That afternoon, excerpts of Makandal, the Harlem Stage-produced epic opera about 18th-century Haitian revolutionary Francois Makandal and the enduring legacy of colonization, slavery and 21st-century immigration, will be previewed at the center.

“This is a living story that tries to look at the humanity immigration, that immigrants may be poor but they bring something to this country,” Duval Carrié says.


Next door, in the Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance space, a show of contemporary Haitian textiles including artist Jean Joseph Jean-Baptiste’s sequined and beaded tapestries will be presented. Kongo Laroze, a pair of artists who have reinterpreted the sequined vodou flag traditions with buttons and found objects, are also exhibiting their work.

Arts for a Better World is presenting a vast exhibition of 45 artists representing 13 countries exhibiting 400 works at SOHO Studios in Wynwood. Four artists from or living in Haiti will be included: Lika, Marie-Louise Fouchard, Asser Saint-Val and Gizou Lamothe. Lika, an artist of Greek heritage living in Haiti, is presenting a collection titled Realms, haunting, mystical images that blur the line between this world and that of the spirit.

“I was deeply moved by everything I saw and heard and felt during the earthquake. In some ways, the art just came out by itself,” says Lika, who lives in the hills near Petionville. “In seconds, more than 300,000 lost their lives. The paintings try to capture those lives. They are wandering around in the dust and wondering why people are not speaking to them. They don’t realize they are stuck between the worlds. They are frightened but also have a kind of wisdom.”


Back at the Iron Side warehouse, artists work to complete the 10 tents — each 15 by 20 feet with a door and windows — that will later become fully equipped, multipurpose classrooms amid the ruins and tent cities just two miles from the Port-au-Prince airport.

In a back room, one of the organizers, a Miami soccer mom, discusses how this ambitious project was born, now a partnership of Funacion Manos del Sur and Step by Step Foundation and the artists Antuan.

“I was at a soccer game and trying to think about how we could help the children of Haiti, how we could let them know that they are not alone,” says Paulina Montes, executive director of Fundación Manos del Sur, which helps underprivileged children in Latin America. “We knew we wanted to create a safe space.”

But that will cost money. They hope to raise about $10,000 in sponsorship for each tent — enough to send each with computers and supplies for the children.

Miami artist and musician Ruben Millares stood back to survey the “eye” and the poetry painted on his tent. He and artist Antonia Wright’s collaborative design is about possibilities and the power of language.

“Ours is all about education and literacy. We painted the words in English and Creole in hopes that the children will be curious about what it says,” he says. “This is also about keeping the message alive, Haiti needs our help.”

Among the painted words: Love, Peace, Hope, Prayer, Prosperity.

For the original report and a gallery of images by Patrick Farrell go to

Photo of Duval-Carrie from

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