The Magnificent Edouard Duval Carrie

By Candice Russell

It’s no wonder Miamians want to claim artist Edouard Duval Carrie as their own. The Haitian-born visionary now calls Miami, Florida home. Though his creations — paintings, sculptures, and mixed media concoctions — are firmly rooted in the religion of Haitian Vodou (voodoo) and the spirits in its pantheon, the artist is a magician of the contemporary and the real, as much as of the unseen and spiritual.

Lucky for us Floridians, Duval Carrie exhibits regularly in the region. He has a brand new show called “Edouard Duval Carrie: Imagined Landscapes,” opening soon at the new Perez Art Museum in Miami. It is set to run from March 13 to August 31. Don’t expect to see anything by him that you saw previously, like the oversized, lit-from-inside heads of Vodou spirits at the Lowe Art Museum on the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables or the paintings of tearful women inspired by the tragedy of 9/11 at Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in Miami’s Wynwood district. This show features the newest evolution in his process — works created in the past year.

Also different for Duval-Carrie, known as a colorist, is the palette employed in the Perez Art Museum exhibition. Black and silver glitter are exclusively used in creating lush tropical scenes that reference specific 19th century paintings from the Caribbean and Florida. These works by artists like William Heade and Frederick Church were commissioned as part of colonial interests to promote economic development, according to the invitation to the show. Collectively, they envisioned  the Caribbean as the new Eden.

“Known for his innovative adaptations of traditional Haitian iconography, which he engages in order to address contemporary social and political conditions, Duval Carrie is presenting a series of large-scale paintings and sculptures,” states a press release for the exhibition.

In 2000, the artist’s magnificent show “New Work: Edouard Duval Carrie, Migrations” opened at Miami Art Museum. Featuring paintings and sculptures, this overview of his work included boats hung from the ceiling and populated with Vodou spirits making a voyage to the New World.

Elisa Turner, art critic of the Miami Herald, interviewed the artist at the time about the premise of the show: “The Vodou spirits are splitting! I am having the whole pantheon pick up and leave…It’s funny, but, at the same time, it’s very tragic. I decided to address the problem of Haiti losing itself, of dying. People are in total dire straits.”

That same theme — of leave-taking and abandonment of the mother land — informs a permanent installation at the Museum of Art in fort Lauderdale, Florida. Created with the help of 12 students and teachers from the city’s Dillard High School, “The Indigo Room, or Is Water Soluble” is a series of panels illuminated from behind that portray this voyage away from Haiti, along with symbolic drawings, called veves, of the spirits. objects, and photos. The beautiful installation was unveiled in 2003 as a visual representation of Haitian history and contemporary Haitian experience.

As I wrote in the catalog accompanying the exhibition: “The 20th century renaissance in Haitian art has a proud exponent in Duval Carrie, who portrays Vodou figures and rituals as Hector Hyppolite did in the 1940s and Andre Pierre does today. Yet he goes beyond their superficial depictions. Unlike fantasy landscape artists and jungle painters, fond of idealizing the mountainous island as a verdant paradise with unicorns, Duval Carrie sees farther. He has an unblinking view of Haiti in its grappling with a legacy of slavery and as a French colony. The artist pictures Haiti’s brutality along with its beauty.”

Last fall, the museum held a ten-year anniversary celebration of “The Indigo Room” and hosted Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, who signed copies of her new novel, “Claire of the Sea Light.” Museum director Bonnie Clearwater said, ” ‘The Indigo Room’ is an important work in the Museum of Art’s permanent collection that is also symbolic of its long-standing commitment to education and the community.”

Always re-inventing himself and evolving, Edouard Duval Carrie is the best-known expatriate Haitian artist. But, not surprisingly, he would prefer to be known as more than that. Having exhibited in such diverse foreign venues as the contemporary art museum in Monterrey, Mexico and biennials in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Havana, Cuba, the artist deserves the right to be called an international or global artist.

See his works in my book, “Masterpieces of Haitian Art,” and on the artist’s web site www.edouard-duval-carrie.com.