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Haiti’s Art, Outside the Box

Above: Jean-Baptiste Jean, untitled, Oil on Wood (All images courtesy Pan American Art Projects)

By Alexander Britell

While Haitian art rose to international prominence in the second half of the 20th century, a four-year economic embargo in the early 1990s presented serious challenges.

Now, Haitian art is beginning to recover its place in the global art scene and return to the consciousness of international collectors.

A new exhibit in Miami, one of the centres of Haitian culture in the United States, takes a look at a collection of Haitian masters working in a variety of themes.

“Outside the Box,” which is being held at Pan American Art Projects in Miami’s emerging Wynwood neighbourhood, features Haitian artists including Antoine Obin, Burton Chenet, Gerard Fortune and Jean-Baptiste Jean, among others.

Above: Etienne Chavannes, untitled, Oil on Wood

“A lot of these artists were artists that were well known back when Haitian art was popular before the embargo,” said Janda Wetherington, director of Pan American Art Projects.

Caribbean art in general has seen its profile grow in the United States in recent years, and several high-profile exhibitions have featured the region’s art this year, including shows at El Museo del Barrio and the Studio Museum in New York City.

Outside the Box honours this trend with a significant share of Jamaican art on display as well, including pieces by Jamaica’s Kapo.

“They’re divided thematically, instead of by country,” said Irina Leyva, curator at Pan American Art Projects, who has previously worked at the National Gallery of Jamaica. “If you look at this type of art in general, you’ll find common elements.”

Above: Antoine Obin, untitled, Oil on canvas

The thematic sections range from works of fantastical visions to scenes of daily Haitian and Jamaican life.

“What these artists do, is they reflect in their art on whatever they experience in their lives,” Leyva said.

Approximately 50 percent of the exhibition is Haitian art, with the remainder covered by Jamaican art and a small group of Cuban works.

Above: Kapo, Coconut Grove, 1985, Oil on wood

“It’s an interesting dialogue, to look at the way that different Caribbean cultures have approached this style of work, during pretty much the same time period,” Wetherington said.

Al of the work belongs to the permanent collection of gallery owner Robert Borlenghi, who acquired many of the pieces in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the heyday of Haitian art in particular.

Above: Jerome Polycarpe, untitled, Oil on canvas

Haiti’s recent art rebound came in part due to international awareness following the devastating earthquake in the country in January 2010.

“Especially after the earthquake, everybody started coming out and doing fundraisers, and Haiti got on the map on a more national level,” Wetherington said. “I think that it is starting to get a resurgence — it’s something that’s helping the living artists to be able to have some sort of forum again. I really think it’s the biggest resurgence since the embargo.”

Pan Ameican Art Projects is located at NW 2nd Avenue and 25th Street in Miami. “Outside the Box” runs through July 28.

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