In the Bahamas, Chantal Bethel Prays for Haiti through Art

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - February 1, 2012

By Alexander Britell

NASSAU – At Nassau’s Vincent D’Aguilar Art Foundation, a gallery that is one of the great new spaces of the quickly-growing Bahamian arts scene, Haitian artist Chantal Bethel is producing “Poto Mitan,” a three-dimensional production of work she created in an attempt to find healing after the earthquake in Haiti. Bethel, who fled Haiti during the Duvalier regime, has created a vivid show across all media – from sculpture to painting. To learn more about her and the work, Caribbean Journal talked to Bethel about Poto Mitan, the relationship between Haiti and the Bahamas, and how the two countries influence her work.

What brought you to do this show?

I grew up in Brussels, and I’ve been living in the Bahamas since 1971, which is quite a long time. This was etched in my memory for a long time after the earthquake happened. I decided that I needed to make art – that was my way of dealing with it. And the first piece I actually did is not here – it was acquired by the Haitian Embassy in Washington. After that, I decided I should do a whole body of work. The first piece was “Poto Mitan,” which are the words for “Pole” and “Middle,” which is usually the centre of a voodoo temple and has the same connotation as the tree of life, which is the place where heaven meets earth in the voodoo religion. I decided to go there because voodoo is something I was always afraid of – as a child, when I grew up, it was taboo in my family. I was raised as a Roman Catholic. So I met a Haitian artist who lives in Florida, [Edouard] Duval-Carrie. He presented the Haitian mythology in a very nice way – he had a talk [in Nassau] and said that since all the Haitians are leaving Haiti, the gods should leave as well, so he put them on a boat and sent them to Miami. So you saw the goddess of love in Miami Beach [in his work], so it gave me a different feel. I wanted to explore the voodoo religion, which is not the voodoo like it is presented by Hollywood, like black magic.

The first piece was “Poto Mitan,” which are the words for “Pole” and “Middle,” which is usually the centre of a voodoo temple and has the same connotation as the tree of life, which is the place where heaven meets earth in the voodoo religion.”

This is the actual African religion, which, in the 16th century, when slaves were brought into Haiti, they were not allowed to practice the religion, because the priests wanted them to convert them into the Christian religion. So they hid behind the Catholic saints – so you see a lot of Catholic connotations here [in my work], like the rosary on some of the works, and then something voodoo. So there is a mixture of the two religions – they blend the two very well. So I decided to use a sacred space and to pray for Haiti – this is a prayer for Haiti.

How much does Haiti influence your work?

I am told that you can see Haiti in my work. But sometimes it looks very Bahamian. In this particular body of work, Haiti is very strong, because of what I’ve used – I’ve been inspired by the voodoo religion, using all of the masks. The calabash, which is a very spiritual fruit in many religions, in Haiti is used by a lot of people to carry water to drink. And the calabash is actually a gourd – which is why the Haitian currency was named for a gourd by King Henri-Christophe – and that’s why I’ve used it in this show because it’s very strong in Haiti.

How much does the Bahamas impact your art?

What I learned is that when I do work about Haiti, the colours seem to be darker. And when I do work about the Bahamas, I use a lot of pastel colours, so this probably shows what Haiti meant for me – having left under the Duvalier regime my father was exiled and all of that, all the misery in Haiti – so the Bahamas is more like a paradise. So the colours actually show you the difference – when I’m painting the Bahamas and when I’m painting Haiti.

How would you describe the relationship between the two countries?

There is a strong relationship. There is a big problem in the Bahamas because there are so many illegal immigrants that come to the Bahamas, and that poses a big problem for the Bahamas. But I think that the Bahamas and Haiti have been working together for a long time. When things are good in Haiti, there is a lot of business between the two countries, and there are a lot of people of Haitian origin in the Bahamas – including me! So it’s good.

The colours actually show you the difference – when I’m painting the Bahamas and when I’m painting Haiti.”

Moving into art was something of a career shift for you.

It’s an interesting story, because I studied business administration, and I worked as a financial comptroller for many years, and the story is that I never felt totally fulfilled with what I was doing. I remember, in 1992, I was going to have surgery, and I was talking to my doctor, and he said, “why don’t you try doing something you like to do?” I used to dabble here and there, and do drawings, so I decided I would start painting. The first work I did was a painting of his house, and I gave it to him, and decided at that point that I was going to go into art – but I was also working as a financial comptroller. So for almost 10 years, I was doing art part-time and accounting full time. And then I decided I was going to give up accounting figures for art figures.

What are you working on now?

Well, I’ve been working on this show for two years. And right now, my studio is absolutely empty except for two pieces I’m working on with fiber. There is a show that will be produced in two months, “Transforming Spaces,” and it’s going to be during the month of March, where I do sculptures with the royal palm tree, and that’s my fiber.




Popular Posts all-inclusive montego bay resort by marriott

Marriott Just Opened Its New All-Inclusive Resort in Montego Bay 

Marriott has continued its rapid expansion into the Caribbean all-inclusive space with the debut of its newest adults-only resort in Montego Bay: the new Hideaway at Royalton Blue Waters, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort.  The 352-room resort is part of […]

Yes, You Can Stay at an All-Inclusive Resort in St Thomas, USVI

the beach at the bolongo bay resort

The Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on St. Thomas may be the most popular all-inclusive resort you’ve never heard of. It’s not that the resort itself isn’t well-known: this family-run and managed, beach resort has been in business since 1974. But […]

A New Way to Fly Nonstop to the Turks and Caicos Islands

beach at the palms in providenciales

While Silver Airways has been steadily expanding its network in the Caribbean out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, it’s easy to forget that the carrier is actually based in South Florida.  For years, Silver has been operating a host of […]

Related Posts bahamasair

Bahamasair Just Resumed Its Raleigh-Grand Bahama Flights 

Bahamasair’s landmark service between Raleigh-Durham and Grand Bahama has officially resumed for the season, Caribbean Journal has confirmed.  The nonstop service resumed on Nov 12, with the first plane from Raleigh arriving in Grand Bahama with approximately 100 passengers on […]

Travelers Are Flocking to The Bahamas Right Now

white bay

Tourism in The Bahamas is stronger than it has ever been, officials said this week.   In the first three quarters of 2023, The Bahamas welcomed more than 7.2 million visitors, equalling in nine months the total number of arrivals […]

This Eleuthera Luxury Resort Just Reopened 


One of the top luxury resorts in The Bahamas has officially reopened for the season.  The Cove. Eleuthera has reopened for the 2023 winter season, on the heels of a multi-phased, property-wide renovation.  The project included everything from the guest […]


Sign up for Caribbean Journal's free newsletter for a daily dose of beaches, hotels, rum and the best Caribbean travel information on the net.

No. Thank You