Monthly Archives: October 2014

“A Trip to Haiti”

By Candice Russell

Have you ever wanted to travel to Haiti? Not as a worker in a hospital or a clinic or a builder of houses, but as a cultural consumer of what the island has to offer? Where would you begin? How would you get around from place to place? Who would you trust?

 

A first trip to any foreign country you’ve never been before is always daunting to plan. That’s why group travel is so popular. The organizers of such trips take the angst out of getting around and guarantee that you will see the best of that country.

 

According to a report in the Travel section of last Sunday’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper, there is a new 10-day trip to Haiti being offered by G Adventures. Called “Highlights of Haiti,” it includes two nights in Cap-Haitien and a visit to the mountaintop fortress of La Citadelle,the peaceful seaside town of Jacmel, a meeting with a Vodou priest in Port-au-Prince, plus a visit to beautiful caves.

The cost is $2,499 per person, double occupancy, including lodging for nine nights, most meals, internal flights, and a variety of tours. To ask questions or sign up, call 888-800-4100.

My list of questions for the company include: do you have room for solo travelers, who would pay a single supplement? Will we see a Vodou ceremony? Will we visit galleries and street vendors selling crafts?Do we have free time to explore on our own for a morning or aftrenoon? Will we see RAM perform on Thursday night at the Hotel Oloffson? (The latter, in my mind, is a must). Will you visit Kenscoff and Soissons-la-Montagne, where the original Saint Soleil artists lived and thrived?  If it’s up and running, will you visit the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince? It’s a shopping experience like no other.

Having been to Haiti many times without a travel company coordinating my itinerary, I might have been relieved by someone else in charge of the planning. It’s also nice to share meals with (one hopes) like-minded adventurers who found Haiti fascinating enough to warrant a visit and maybe even plan a return.

Of course, there are advantages to going alone, too. You inevitably meet people along the way, especially in places like the verandah of the Hotel Oloffson at mealtime or the bar? Share your stories with new friends, pick up tips about where to go next or what to avoid.

People who visit Haiti are inevitably disarmed by the beauty of the country, the welcoming nature of the people, the color everywhere (man-made and from nature), and the sense of industry that never lets up, even on Sunday. It’s a remarkable place, not as easy to visit or get around as before the 2010 earthquake, but certainly worthwhile for the intrepid.

 

Please share your trips to Haiti with me via the email posted on this web site: admin@haitianna.com. It’s an exciting place, like no other on earth. I have friends who are Haitian who haven’t been to the island in decades. Yet, for next year, they are planning a group trip of friends and relatives to go back to Haiti for a month-long trip. Can’t wait to hear about their experiences.

“Invitation to Other Collectors of Haitian Art”

By Candice Russell

 

This week I received a go-ahead for a major Haitian art project. I am inviting others to be join me in this endeavor. If you are reading this blog, you love Haiti and Haitian art and perhaps have a collection of it. If you would like to know more about it, please send me a message on my Facebook page — Candice Russell’s Haitin art — and leave me your name, phone number, and/or email address so I can make contact.

 

I am interested in the art of Vodou — whether it take the form of a painting, a sacred textile, a wood sculpture or a mixed-media constuction of the sort done by Pierrot Barra.  Certain painters exclusively mined the rich field of Vodou ceremonial preparation and enactment, like Hector Hyppolite, Andre Pierre and La Fortune Felix. Certainly there are other lesser known artists portraying Vodou spirits doing their jobs. I’m interested in these expressions, too.Hyppolite, for example, started the pictorial trend of portraying Vodou’s most fearsome myth — the legend of the zombi, with other artists in subsequent generations putting their own spin on the subject.

 

Photos of Vodou ceremonies in Haiti are also welcome.

Please get the word out. I’m trying to cast a large net and get started early. I hope for a wonderful response.

Thank you in advance for your interest.

“The Superb Paintings of Jean Baptiste Jean”

By Candice Russell

The opening last weekend of an airport in Cap-Haitien, Haiti — construction that was decades in the making — is a reminder of the wonderful artists in the unofficial Cap-Haitien school of Haitian art. Sparked by Philome Obin and his relatives, this school has painters who work under the same principles — representing history and daily life in straightforward fashion, uncluttered and orderly scenes (unlike the teeming crowds found in works by Port-au-Prince painters), and inclusion of colonial architecture like  tall-shuttered buildings with balconies in ice cream colors.

Jean Baptiste Jean is one of the most remarkable artists who ever lived. As part of the Cap-Haitien school, he created a body of work that falls into two distinct categories — the spiritual and the real. In the former category, he was fond of populating 20-inch by 24-inch canvases with tiny angels, the hands of God, oversized doves symbolizing peace, and even pitchfork-toting devils. He even made a political painting with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, as the focal point, but within a spiritual context.

During recent lectures I’ve done in Broward County, Florida, through the generous auspices of the Life Long Learning Institute at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, I include two paintings by Jean as part of the visual portion of my talk. “School Children at Play” shows nuns at a table handing out toys to children, who are peaceably gathered in groups. They stand in front of colonial era buildings. Tiny hands are held by siblings and parents as a sign of love and protection. The painting is a perfect evocation of life in the town.

The other painting, “The Flood,” is unusual in several respects. It marks a distinct departure from the oeuvre of Jean Baptiste Jean. It is also rare to see tragedy portrayed in this form because the vast majority of Haitian art is about joy, getting on with the job, working hard and triumphing over circumstance. But here it is — people clinging to the roofs of flooded homes in fear of losing their lives and children climbing trees for the same reason. Even the trees in the background are stripped of all their leaves in this scene of terrible devastation.

Both paintings are pictured in my book, “Masterpieces of Haitian Art,” along with others by Jean. He remains one of the best artists Haiti ever produced, though he is far less lionized than most artists of the first and second generations. I cannot account for this.

In my view, Jean had a delicacy of hand perhaps unparalleled among his peers. How else could he populate his paintings with dozens of tiny angels? His sense of color — the dreaminess and subtlety of his blue tones in the sky, for instance — is worthy of admiration and contemplation. He also could create clouds that look divinely inspired in their puffy perfection.

But just think of the range Jean Baptiste Jean had, moving easily from the realm of Christian-influenced angels to the dailiness of life, like a bicycle race through the streets of Cap-Haitien. If you want to know how distinctive and special he was and is, he has no imitators, no one with the talent and patience to copy his style or even take that style to another level.

There was only one Jean Baptiste Jean in Haitian art. If you have a painting by this artist, treasure it.

 

 

 

“A Film About Haiti”

By Candice Russell

This week I’m writing about a film made in Haiti about a social problem affecting both Haiti and the United States. It represents another form of art from Haiti — the art of storytelling through pictures and words on the big screen.

Though I’m a big fan of documentary-style programs on TV networks and a reader of two daily newspapers, I was completely unaware of the issue it explores. It is a classic “fish out of water” story about displacement and it’s happening with alarming regularity all the time.

The film is “Deported,” a riveting documentary directed by Rachele Magloire and Chantal Regnault. It was shown in several South Florida counties in a four-day period, from Miami to Lake Worth. The venue where I saw it with my friends Margareth and Reynolds Rolles was the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, where a crowd packed the small room for the Saturday afternoon screening.

Men of all ages, many of whom don’t speak Kreyol or French, commit crimes of greater or lesser severity in the U.S. and they are sent back to Haiti. They often arrive without skills, money, or a single relative to whom they can turn for shelter or advice. No help is provided by the Haitian government to these newly arrived deportees, who are lucky to have even the clothes on their backs and the shoes on their feet.

Some adjust better than others. The most desperate are homeless and crazed, wandering the sidewalks of Port-au-Prince and depending on the kindness of strangers for a plate of spaghetti as a day’s meal.

Others find their niche, as rappers expressing their angst through spoken word, or as counselors to other deportees who arrive without hope. One man, who left behind a family of five children, is furious at the injustice of it all. He has started over with a new woman and a little girl, but the desperation he feels is palpable.  Some even find paying jobs, which is the best outcome of all, because they are proud and self-supporting.

The film asks if deportation is a human rights issue. Hard-liners, of course, will see it as a proper administration of the law, but at what cost in splitting up families and returning men of Haitian heritage who have no ability to transition smoothly into Haitian society? After twenty years as a deportee in Haiti, one man stands on the roof of a building where he used to sleep at night and pronounces Haiti a prison from which there is no escape.

After the movie, co-director Rachele Magloire answered questions from the audience. I asked her how many Haitians had been deported from the U.S. to Haiti. She said there were no official records of the number, but guesstimated between, 7,000 and 10,000. That is a shocking number of men in Haiti who are more American than Haitian, considering where they grew up and what land they know.

The good news is that “Deported” exposes a problem that will get a harsh spotlight and some social action to solive it. Look for more movies with a Haitian focus by Haitian filmmakers. “Ayiti Images: A Florida Traveling Series” will bring more such films to the state. Follow the series on Facebook and Twitter. We need their voices.