Haiti: Paintings from Paradise [fr]

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The Exhibit

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Glenn and Yvonne Stokes Collection, Michel Obin, “Village”

This March and April, the Acadiana Center for the Arts will feature the exhibit "Haiti: Paintings from Paradise".

Herman Mhire, curator of the collection, proposed the exhibition of more than 100 paintings on the occasion of Festival International’s 30th anniversary in the spring of 2016.

The vibrant, celebratory paintings in this exhibition serve as a testament to the spirit, courage and perseverance of the people of Haiti, and simultaneously signify a return of the visual arts as a major component of Festival International de Louisiane.

The subjects of Haitian painting vary greatly: from flora and fauna to scenes of daily life in the city, domestic interiors and the marketplace, to fishing and harvesting sugar cane; from animal and botanical imagery, politics and government and biblical themes to voodoo and the metaphysical.

Herman Mhire is the Founding President of Festival International de Louisiane. Mhire served as the Director and Chief Curator to the Paul & Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum while also serving as a Professor of Art and Design at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette prior to retiring in 2005. He also service as Director for the Louisiana Association of Museums and University Art Museum. He has served on many community boards and has received many awards for his work in visual arts and the community.

The exhibit is open through April 30, 2016.

For more information, visit the website of the Acadiana Center for the Arts.

The Art of Haiti

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Glenn and Yvonne Stokes Collection, Wilson Bigaud, “Noah’s Ark"

Art in Haiti preceded the arrival of Columbus. The Taino/ Arawak people created paintings on the walls of their huts, caves and on their bodies. As early as 1807, Henri Christophe, one of Haiti’s founding fathers, encouraged the development of the arts in the newly independent republic. Christophe, who crowned himself King Henry I in 1811, had a high regard for culture and a passion to make “Haitians the most civilized, educated and creative people on earth”. In 1816 President Alexandre Petion helped French artists establish an art school in Port-au-Prince.

During King Christophe’s rule in the early 1800s, several English artists taught at the Royal Academy of Milot. In the 1820s French artists were invited to promote and train Haitian artists. The beginning of the French oriented academies in the country began with a school of art in Port- au-Prince. The artists who were trained in the academies were often commissioned to paint and decorate public buildings and houses of wealthy citizens.

The arrival of an American named Dewitt Peters in 1943 marked the beginning of a true revolution of Haitian arts. Peters had been sent by the United States Federal Security Agency in 1943 to teach English to Haitians at the government Lycee (school) in Port-au-Prince. A watercolorist on a wartime assignment, he wanted to open a center to oversee the genuine development of Haitian artists. On May 14, 1944, the Centre d’Art was inaugurated in Port-au-Prince.

Talented but previously unknown artists such as Hector Hyppolite, Philome Obin, Rigaud Benoit, and Castera Bazile worked with Peters. Hyppolite, a priest in the voodoo religion, was painting flowers with a brush of chicken feathers on doors in his local community of Saint-Marc and Mont Rouis, and is considered the father of the Southern school of Haitian art. Obin was already known for painting religious illustrations and scenes of the United States Marine occupation. He subsequently founded the Northern School of Painting in Cap Haitian. Benoit was more interested in illustrating vignettes of Haitian life. The opening of the Centre D’art in 1944 enabled Haitian artists to address contemporary issues.

The early painters who worked with Peters were known as “first generation” artists, and included Hippolyte, Obin, and Benoit. Their arrival from obscurity stimulated younger artists such as Wilson Bigaud, Enguerrand Gourgue, Micius Stephane and Toussaint Auguste.

Long before Dewitt Peters, art played a major role in Haitian culture. The walls of Voodoo temples were covered with elaborate murals depicting the Iwa or sacred spirits of Voodoo. With the rise of tourism, the rich legacy of temple painting transitioned easily to easel painting.

The Haitian painting tradition is complex, reflecting African and European influences, and expressed in a wide variety of styles from naïve / self-taught to academically trained and abstract. What is truly remarkable about Haiti is the visual feast produced by a nation of painters in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The language of this island nation lacking a written cultural tradition is art, straight to poetry, bypassing prose.

Perhaps what is most striking about the painting tradition in Haiti, unrefined and sacred, is its ability to rise above tragedy and evoke optimism.

Haiti: A Historical Overview

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Glenn and Yvonne Stokes Collection, Rodrigue Mervilus, “Butterflies"

Situated on the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea, Haiti occupies the western end of the island, with the Dominican Republic occupying the eastern end. While African-Caribbean peoples, with a history of French colonialism, primarily populate Haiti; the Dominican Republic is made up of Afro-European peoples heavily influenced by Spanish colonialism. Similar in size to the U.S. state of Maryland or just over 10,000 square miles, Haiti has a population of approximately 11,000,000.

Before Columbus landed on the island on December 6, 1492, his second landfall in the “New World,” there was a large population of Taino/Arawak people who lived on the island in relative peace. Unfortunately they were susceptible to European diseases and disappeared from the island by the middle of the 17th century.

The Treaty of Rystwik in 1697 divided the island between the eastern portion of Santo Domingo, and the western portion of San Domingue where slave labor grew sugar cane, coffee, indigo, cotton, tobacco and many exotic spices that were in high demand in Europe and Asia. The planters produced the goods but were prohibited from processing the crops in the colony itself. The goods were shipped to France and processed there. From the processing plants French merchants spread out to the whole of Europe and near-Asia creating a booming economy for France. Another huge portion of this economy was the slave trade itself.

The spirit of the French Revolution was felt in Haiti. There had been many revolts of slaves and attempts at social change, but the final moment of French rule came in August 1791 with an uprising that was more about the rights of free people of color than freedom for slaves. On January 1, 1804 the nation of Haiti was proclaimed.

The success of the Haitian Revolution coincided with the French and American Revolutions, an era that gave birth to a functional democracy. Europe and the United States refused to recognize Haitian independence, boycotted trade relations with Haiti, and made the growth of democracy in Haiti virtually impossible. Both the Industrial Revolution and the Democratic Revolutions passed Haiti by.

From the 1840s to 1915 various factions of the elite would sponsor a “president” and under the protection of this particular government the favored faction of the elite would pillage the Haitian treasury. After a certain amount of time a different faction of the elite, normally funded by foreign capital, would raise an army, march on Port-au-Prince and drive the sitting government into exile. The new faction would take its turn at the trough of the Haitian treasury and the cycle continued.

Asserting a concern for U.S. financial interests and an approaching anarchy in Haiti, the U.S. occupied the country in June 1915 and remained in control until 1934, with financial and political control continuing long after the end of the official occupation.

From 1957 to 1986 Haiti was ruled by the Duvalier family - Francois Duvalier (Papa Doc — 1957-1971) and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc — 1971-1986). This was a period of dictatorship and the suppression of most normal freedoms in Haiti, particularly political dissent.

In 1986 there was an uprising of the people of Haiti and president Jean-Claude Duvalier fled Haiti. Haiti subsequently experienced a period of struggle for control of the country, and political and social instability resulted.

On January 12, 2010 a devastating earthquake left 220,000 dead, 300,000 injured, and 1.5 million people displaced. $13.5 billion in donations and pledges subsequently flowed to Haiti from countries and charities around the world.

A nation in disarray and disorder, Haiti has long been one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries, and the earthquake destroyed many of the businesses that workers relied upon. Despite this, many continue to struggle for populist reform. 

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Last modified on 12/04/2016

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