Haïti: Two Centuries of Artistic Creation – Réunion des Musées Nationaux - Grand Palais

Stephanie van den Hende
Nov 3, 2014 3:33AM

Placed under the high patronage of Mr. François Holland, president of the French Republic and Mr. Michel Martelly, president of the Republic of Haiti.

This exhibition focuses on Haitian art from the 19th century to the present day. Constructed around a core of contemporary works, some produced specifically for the event, it presents the highlights of Haitian art history in a non chronological approach and takes a fresh look at an art form insufficiently known in France.

The aim of the exhibition is to go beyond stereotypes of naïve painting and transcend the magico-religious and exotic vision too often simplistically associated with Haitian art. Without ignoring the syncretic influences of Chris- tian, Masonic or voodoo symbols on the collective imagination, the exhibition explores the extraordinary vitality of art in which everything is metamorphosed in all circumstances and the “real country” coexists strangely with a “dream land”.

Since the late 20th century, the teeming conglomeration of Port-au-Prince and the effervescence rippling through Haitian society have fostered a contemporary aesthetic expressed in painting, graphic art, installations, videos, sculpture using recycled materials...

In seven sections, including a Duo with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Hervé Télémaque, the exhibition leaves plenty of space for contemporary artists of all generations living in Haiti (Mario Benjamin, Sébastien Jean, André Eu- gène, Frantz Jacques called Guyodo, Céleur Jean-Hérard, Dubréus Lhérisson, Patrick Vilaire, Barbara Prézeau, Pascale Monnin...), in France (Hervé Télémaque, Elodie Barthélemy), in Germany (Jean-Ulrick Désert), in Fin- land (Sasha Huber), the United States (Edouard Duval Carrié, Vladimir Cybil Charlier), or Canada (Marie-Hélène Cauvin, Manuel Mathieu).

Visitors to the Grand Palais are greeted by a monumental sculpture by Edouard Duval Carrié.

After Haiti gained its independence in the early 19th century, art academies were founded by the leaders of the world’s first black republic. Most were directed by European painters and developed the art of portraiture (Colbert Lochard, Séjour Legros, Edouard Goldman), mostly portraying the men and women in power faced with the need to create an historical identity. This tradition of official portraiture was later interpreted in a satirical manner to comment on Haiti’s political turmoil.

The Art Centre founded in Port au Prince in 1944 became a rallying point for Haitian artists. With their powerfully evocative work, popular artists made their mark on the city and won recognition of their particular sensibility (Hec- tor Hyppolite, Philomé Obin, Préfète Duffaut, Wilson Bigaud, Robert Saint-Brice...).

In a dissident vein, a new creative burst came in the 1950s with the opening of the Centre of the Plastic Arts and the Brochette gallery. Artists such as Lucien Price, Max Pinchinat and Roland Dorcély explored abstraction and surrealism in search of new paradigms in a time of constant interaction with American and European artists and intellectuals.

With nearly 60 artists and over 160 works from public or private collections in Haiti (Musée du Panthéon national haïtien, Musée d’art haïtien du Collège Saint-Pierre, Bibliothèque des Pères du Saint-Esprit, Loge L’Haïtienne du Cap-Haïtien, Fondation FPVPOCH / Marianne Lehmann, Fondation Culture Création), France (Château de Versailles, Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, Musée d’art contemporain de Marseille), and the USA (Milwaukee Art Museum), the exhibition presents art free of any rigid framework, readily mingling poetry, magic, religion and political commitment.

Many of these extraordinarily rich works thrown up by Haiti’s agitated history – some were restored after the ear- thquake in January 2010 – are presented in France for the first time.

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Curators: Régine Cuzin, freelance curator, founder of OCEA, Paris and Mireille Pérodin-Jérôme, director of Ateliers Jérôme, Port-au-Prince.
Exhibition design: Sylvain Roca and Nicolas Groult. 

Stephanie van den Hende