From Jacmel to Miami, A Look at the Art of Modern Haiti

Above: Promenade, Manuel Mathieu, Acrylic on Canvas (Photos by CJ)

 

By Alexander Britell

MIAMI — A new generation of artists is turning traditional notions of Haitian art on their heads.

And this week, as much of the art world descended upon Miami for the Art Basel festival, the new look of Haitian art was on full display at the Haitian Heritage Museum in the heart of Miami’s Design District.

“With Haitian art, the community at large is used to mostly the traditional Haitian art, the ‘naive’ style, the ‘primitive’ style, the scene with the lady with the basket on her head,” said Serge Rodriguez, director of operations at the Museum. “But there’s actually a movement of contemporary artists that are coming out of Haiti. So we decided that, with this exhibition, we wanted to focus on that.”

The exhibition, Les Jacmeliens: Contemporary Haiti 2012, features works by five artists: Philippe Dodard, Manuel Mathieu, Ronald Mevs, Jean Adrien Seide and Mario Benjamin, from new takes on landscape paintings to thoroughly abstract pieces.

It’s a partnership between international curator Michele Frisch, the director of MUPANAH (Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien) and the Consulate General of Haiti in Miami.

“We wanted to show the nontraditional side, so people would say ‘well, Haitian people are a part of this whole big Art Basel movement in South Florida,” said Eveline Pierre, executive director of the Haitian Heritage Museum. “That’s the direction we were trying to go in.”

The name Jacmeliens derives from the Jacmel Art District, a hub of Haiti’s contemporary movement.

“With us being in the Design District, and Art Basel happening, we felt this would be an opportunity to link both districts together,” Rodriguez said. “People are very interested in finding out what other genres of art Haitian are in to.”

And the response from Miami’s art tourists this week was very positive, he said, with more than 300 people turning out to a VIP opening event on Thursday night.

While Haiti’s artists suffered setbacks due to the earthquake in 2010, in the nearly three years since the art movement has begun to regain its momentum. Now, the hope is to develop a thriving art district in Haiti, with its epicentre in Jacmel.

“It’s a whole movement starting,” Pierre told Caribbean Journal. “This is really interesting — because before this, the last movement was in the 1970s, so this is a new movement that is shaping up.”

The artistic shift parallels that of Haiti itself — which has, particularly on the tourism front, been making an effort to rebrand the country’s image (including a large new “Visit Haiti” billboard on I-95 in Miami not too far from the museum branded with Haiti’s new hibiscus logo.)

“The main focus is to show the beauty and the good side of Haiti,” Pierre said. “I think being a part of international fairs like this is letting people know, if you get a little snippet of what this is, wait until you get to Haiti — you’ll get a bigger snippet. So this will show people how to get involved and go see Haiti for themselves.”

Les Jacmeliens runs at the Haitian Heritage Museum, 4141 NE 2 Avenue Suite 105C in Miami.