Monthly Archives: January 2015

“A Photo Book to Remember”

By Candice Russell

With presidential elections in the United States still a long way off, it doesn’t seem to matter to television pundits already speculating about who will run for the highest office in the land and who is likely to win. All of this makes me mindful of the dismal turnout nationally for this important time in our political lives (yes, we’re all affected in ways big and small by who is in office). It all seems the sadder when I picked up a copy from my home library of Alex Web’s “Under a Grudging Sun, Photographs from Haiti Libere 1986-1988.”

In often heartbreaking color images, he documents the struggle of Haitians to live and to vote, a privilege for which some of have had to lay down their lives .Funerals ¬†and wounded bodies are part of the mix of photos in this important but difficult book. This fight for political freedom may seem foreign to us, but it is a reminder that democracy in other places isn’t a given, even when it is established as it was in Haiti but the free election of Jean Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s first freely elected leader. He was ousted by a coup then returned to the presidency on October 15, 1994 with the help of American armed forces on the ground (I know this because I was there in one of the most amazing experiences of my life).

 

There is so much beauty in Haiti and Webb’s camera captures that, too. Beautiful children with pleading faces, donkeys bearing items for market, marchands selling onions, gossipers standing next to an oh-so-blue sea, it’s all here. There are lovely churches and wrought iron balconies and brightly colored peacock-strutting buildings — the background for so much human drama. The worshippers of Vodou in the waterfall during the Saut d’Eau pilgrimage want to live their lives in peace as much as the people killed by anti-election gunmen and army recruits or those living on the brink of disaster in the Cite Soleil slum. These images collectively show desperation, mourning, freneticism, and disquietude. I cannot count how many men have assumed the presidency since Webb’s book was published. But the so-called crown of ascendancy that sits atop the leader’s head doesn’t sit there easily or without fear of political opposition to the point of violence. That uncertainty plagues Haiti. And now it is fear of another unknown — a repeat of the 2010 earthquake.

In an opening essay, Webb confessed he started this photo project, then dropped it for awhile — “my vision quailed in the face of history.” Who can blame him? Even a Haiti follower and writer as adept as Amy Wilentz has written that Haiti is a hard place to wrap one’s mind around. The lensman finishes his long, reflective essay by falling back on his photojournalist skills: “But I am certainly the wrong person to predict the future of sad and beguiling Haiti. I should perhaps just walk, and watch, and wait…”

The back cover says all there is to say about the grief that he captures. Men in blue shirts are carrying small black child-size coffins up the stairs to a pink church.

“A Great Catalog for a Great Exhibition”

By Candice Russell

Lucky for you if you were one of the fortunates attending “Lespri Endepandant: Discovering Haitian Sculpture” at Florida International University’s Patricia and Philip Frost Art Museum in Miami, Florida in 2004. Lucky are those who purchased the thorough catalog, that includes all the items in the show in color and black-and-white along with biographies of the artists. The list of lenders to this landmark show that did not travel included people in Europe, Haiti and South Florida.

Glass bottles, mixed media constructions with doll heads by Pierrot Barra, and outstanding life-size sculptures expressing the crudest attributes of visualizations of the Vodou spirits — this show held nothing back in the way of presentation. Religion, sex, desperation, recycling — it’s all here, manifest by artists too often relegated to the sideline by painters who holds the highest rungs of prominence and distinction. Their work isn’t often pretty or even nice enough that one would choose to display such things at home in a place of honor. But they are so true to the spirit of Haitian art at its most honest and raw.

Of course, this last comment doesn’t apply to etal sculptures by Georges Liautaud, Murat Brierre, and Gabriel Bien-Aime that transforms metal oil drums into crucifixes, a vampire riding a bicycle, and a woman in the process of giving birth.

My personal favorite pieces in the show and catalog are the mixed media figures or wood, metal and other found, discarded objects are by Jean Camille Nasson and Jean Herard Celeur. They are dark, fetishistic, African-looking statues with a distinctive Haitian flair. Andre Eugene’s skeleton-head sculpture “Chef Section” with a stiff pipe for a penis is all about power and willingness to use it in the most brutal ways.

Patrick Vilaire and Edouard Duval-Carrie are represented in the section called “Contemporary interpretations.” There you will also find the fanciful and fun female angels by the inimitable and un-copyable artist Lionel Saint Eloi, who also does outstanding paintings.

Even the geniuses of papier-mache got their due in this show, including Michel Sinvil’s “Devil Bat.” Curator Elizabeth Cerejido did an outstanding job of gathering a wide array of objects in different forms, sizes and materials, without their having to share the exhibition stage with paintings.

It’s the sculptors who are in need of household name recognition among Haitian art collectors. While everyone knows Liautaud, how many know Saint Eloi?

With an opening essay by Donald Cosentino of U.C.L.A., the driving force behind the travelling exhibition “Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou” which I saw in Miami and New Orleans, the catalog is a must-have addition to the library of anyone who wants to know more about Haitian art. I only wish it and the show had been bigger — but that’s a minor complaint from someone who cannot get enough of Haitian art.

The catalog is nearly 100 pages long. Please contact me through this website –www.haitianna.com — if you would like to purchase a copy. I only have a few and there won’t be any more put into production.