Virtual Curator Talk: Vanessa Sage and Joshua Johnson, November 12, on Haitian Masterworks

Thursday, November 12, 6:30 p.m.

Presented by the Figge Art Museum

Held in conjunction with the venue’s new exhibition Haitian Masterworks, the Figge Art Museum’s Vanessa Sage and Joshua Johnson will host a Virtual Curator Talk on November 12 introducing this fascinating showcase for numerous gifted artists, with the Figge home to one of the largest collections of Haitian art in the United States.

In 1967, Dr. Walter E. Neiswanger’s generous gift of Haitian paintings and sculptures established the Figge’s expansive collection, which has grown to include a dynamic range of artwork in a variety of mediums and styles. Significant works by influential artists of the mid- to late-20th century including Hector Hyppolite, Philomé Obin, and Rigaud Benoit are featured in Haitian Masterworks, as well as the work of contemporary artists Frantz Zephirin, Edouard Duval-Carrié, and Didier William, among others. In addition to a range of talented artists, a variety of techniques are represented, including beadwork, oil painting, woodcarving, and mixed media assemblage. Visitors will be able to appreciate each artist’s dynamic vision while also experiencing the broad cultural and social context that connects Haitian artists, and the exhibition as a whole focuses on prevalent themes in Haitian art including spirituality, transformation, the natural world, everyday life, and Haitian history.

“We are proud to be one of the few places outside of Haiti where visitors have the opportunity to view such a large and diverse collection of Haitian works,” said the museum’s Executive Director and CEO Michelle Hargrave. “Our vibrant, colorful, lively, and thought-provoking collection reflects the boundless creativity and vitality of Haitian art and sparks meaningful conversations about the Haitian culture, people, and history.”

Since Dr. Neiswanger’s initial donation, the museum’s Haitian collection has continued to grow through strategic purchases and gifts. Haitian Masterworks demonstrates the ongoing expansion of the Figge’s collection, as well as the continuing evolution of Haitian art and artists of the Haitian Diaspora. The Figge’s recent acquisition N’ap naje ansamn, n’ap vole ansamn, by contemporary Haitian-American artist Didier William, is a powerful work melding William’s personal experience as a Haitian-American with the cultural history of Haiti in a dramatic combination of artistic styles and techniques.

“Our Haitian art collection is an important community resource, and through Haitian Masterworks we will share outstanding as well as rarely seen artworks with the Quad Cities,” said Figge Assistant Curator Vanessa Sage. “The stunning variety of artwork will amaze longtime museum-goers and new visitors alike, and engage our community with Haiti’s cultural, historical, and artistic significance.”

The Virtual Curator Talk with Sage and Joshua Johnson is free, but advance registration is required, and participants will receive an e-mail with a Zoom link two hours before the program begins at 6:30 p.m. on November 12. Haitian Masterworks itself will be on display through January 24, and more information on both the exhibit and its companion events is available by calling (563)326-7804 or visiting

2 thoughts on “Virtual Curator Talk: Vanessa Sage and Joshua Johnson, November 12, on Haitian Masterworks

  1. The following has been posted in several places as though it were a curatorial statement from the Figged Art Museum. Here’s hoping that what’s written actually isn’t. In any case, one of many necessary responses follows.

    The purported statement:

    The power of the image! You know, the whole world is not verbal; we Haitians are a very visual group….These people are projecting into these works what they think life is all about — their concept of morality, their concept of equality, their concept of everything! 

Edouard Duval-Carrié on Haitian art, 1995

    Haitian Masterworks celebrates the dynamic vision of Haitian artists while exploring the cultural and societal contexts that connect their work. Curated from the museum’s collection, the exhibition is organized thematically into sections on history, everyday life, spirituality, and the natural world. Ranging in medium, style and date (1945-2019), the works in the exhibition offer a stunning look at Haitian art and its evolution over the past 70 years.
    Haiti’s turbulent and remarkable past features prominently in the nation’s artwork. Revolutionary figures who fought to establish an independent Haiti are portrayed as heroes, while other artists highlight the continuing struggle for self-determination amid oppressive social conditions. Images of everyday life, including market scenes and family gatherings are also popular subjects amongst Haitian artists and communicate universal themes of community and family. Many of the other artworks in the exhibition explore the complex spirituality of the Haitian people through the rich symbolism and fascinating mythology of Vodou and Roman Catholicism. This mythology is also present in the many Edenic scenes of animals and nature which are prevalent among Haitian painters, in spite of the widespread environmental issues that plague Haiti. While the artwork in the exhibition shares common themes, each artist brings an individual point of view to the subject matter.
    The origins of many U.S. collections of Haitian art can be traced back to 1944, when the Centre d’Art opened in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Founded by American artist DeWitt Peters and a group of Haitian intellectuals, the center encouraged artistic production while also generating interest in Haitian artwork on the international market. The Figge has one of the first and most significant collections of Haitian art in the United States thanks in large part to Walter E. Neiswanger, a dedicated supporter of the museum. Dr. Neiswanger established the collection through a generous gift of Haitian paintings and sculptures in 1967. Since then, the collection has grown through strategic purchases and gifts to include hundreds of artworks, reflecting the continuing evolution of Haitian art and artists working within the Haitian diaspora.

  2. A response:

    In an attempt to create a pretense of legitimacy for their rant, the curators reference a 1995 Duval-Carrié quote. Do they wish to sully him, or rather bolster their foolishness? Their words, however, are either naive, complacently compliant or a performative act of sorts. The unnamed, nudged out, or, depending on the reader’s sensibility, possibly shoved, permanently faceless Haitian intellectuals have been processed into un-thought lepers, bereft of tongues and hands with no way to express themselves. Is this additionally a bonus comedy routine mocking a certain manufactured Hollywood obsession with brain eating Zombies? All that aside for a second or two, the curators present collections histories as though they are best understood through cliched plucky cultural pronouncements, apparently read as neologisms, yet only palatable through the use of artificial hierarchies that somehow keep replicating through a new-ish set of words spoken by an ever-ready new set of mouths. Mouths that always seem to hover in Metropolitan spaces and now even regularly make appearances in Metropolitan adjacent locations, places where more sense is expected. The chatter results in a ‘portend speak’ on behalf of Haiti, that is Haiti as entity. Perhaps the curator’s deliberate intent is a reversal of sorts that challenges conquest-style art histories, and in that sense this curatorial statement is pound one’s sides, possibly wet one’s pants, hysterically funny and incredibly revealing. If so, we have an unexpected brilliant take-down that would, based on archival letters and oral memory, allowing for an accurately informed prediction, make Philippe Thoby-Marcelin quite proud while keeping Dewitt Peters from cringing. I’ll continue to read between the lines while imagining the revelatory best. Perhaps somewhere in Gertrude Stein’s poetics we can score the motion picture: Genius; Not Genius; Genius. Could even be sung to a Ronnie James Dio inspired lullaby of sorts à la “Rainbow in the Dark.”

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