Art Exhibition: “Life and Spirituality in Haitian Art”

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] “Life and Spirituality in Haitian Art,” curated by Francine Birbragher, will be on view from November 18, 2020 to March 14, 2021, at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (MOCANOMI).

Description: Influenced by an island whose history is cultivated with elements from African, American Indigenous, and European culture, the masters featured in this exhibition range from self-taught artists to academically trained painters. The merging of techniques, methods, and cultures is seen through their work, ushering forth a style that is uniquely and quintessentially Haitian. The paintings explore the Haitian identity through deep, rich, vibrant colored scenes depicting historical figures, tropical flowers and fruits, rural landscapes, and daily activities infused with spirituality and Afro-Caribbean religious symbolism, particularly from a voodoo tradition.

This exhibition marks the first time these paintings, which belong to a private collection, have been shown together. It features works by Hector Hyppolite, Philomé Obin, Wilson Bigaud, Jacques-Enguérrand Gourgue, and Gérard Valcin, renowned masters from the first and second generation of artists associated with Port-au-Prince’s Centre d’Art. The exhibition also includes some of their contemporaries and pupils, including Ernst Louizor, Célestin Faustin, Adam Leontus, Diodonné Cédor, and Laurent Casimir.

[Above: Detail from Célestin Faustin’s “Vendeuse au marché,” 1972, Betty and Isaac Rudman Trust Collection.]

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3 thoughts on “Art Exhibition: “Life and Spirituality in Haitian Art”

  1. Well, cool beans, this exhibition may not be on backwards par with the oozing mess over at the Figge (response posted below), yet what is the curatorial internet. Slapping art on the wall, referencing the Centre d’Art, even syncretism in Haiti, does not make an exhibition nor does it explain the nature of the collection being shown. Examples are needed. Words that assess what the art presents as well as why it is being exhibited. Could be that the museum and curator are being overly cautious, but what comes across is not a nuanced show.

  2. This has been passed around as a curator’s statement from the Figge. Could be. Even if not, it requires a response:

    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.

    1. 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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