Haiti’s Art Masters on Display in New York, With Help from Hollywood

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Above: from left to right, Wesner La Forest’s works (Photo: Edward Thorp Gallery)

By the Caribbean Journal staff

An ongoing exhibition at New York’s Edward Thorp Gallery looks at the work of four masters of Haitian art: Wesner La Forest, Peterson Laurent, Odilon Pierre and Bourmond Byron.

The exhibition, Haitian Masters: 1950-1980’s, which lasts through the end of this week, looks at the rich cultural landscape of daily life in Haiti; its rituals and folklore, its resourcefulness and faith.

It’s all thanks to Hollywood filmmaker Jonathan Demme, a longtime Haitian art enthusiast and avid collector.

Demme, the director of films including The Silence of the Lambs and Beloved, first visited Haiti in 1986 and has since become a strong advocate for Haiti.

According to Demme, the spirit and art of Haitian art is something that transcends national boundaries.

Byron, who was born in Jacmel in the 1920s, focused on ceremonial scenes of voodoo, in addition to portraits of daily life in Haiti.

La Forest, who was born in 1927, is something of a mystery man in Haitian art, who specialized in small paintings done on masonite — rarely on canvas.

Laurent, who worked in the 1940s and 50s and was a former railroad blacksmith, was one of the so-called “Masters of the Haitian Renaissance,” focusing on themes of rural life and drawing on themes of voodoo and ritual sacrifice.

Pierre, who was born in Port-au-Prince in 1933, focused on crowded scenes, managing to capture what the gallery called “the profound richness and mystery of the Haitian connection to the soil.”