By Candice Russell
If I could be a global agent of change to spread the word about Haitian art and only had one genre of painting for this purpose, I would pick fantasy landscapes, those idealized visions of a perfect Haiti with billowing clouds, placid seas, harmonious colors, and a profusion of nature’s bounty that is ridiculously abundant and beautiful. Is there a culture on earth that wouldn’t respond positively to such paintings? I cannot imagine one.
I write this in full view of a painting called “Three Women on Path” by the underrated Serge Labbe. Measuring 12 inches high by 16 inches wide,this acrylic painting on canvas on a wood stretcher has all the charcteristics of a wonderful fantasy landscape, including an orderly vision of nature, plus impossibly oversized orange flowers with bright pink interiors. The hills are green and blossoming. Sailboats are in the sea. All is calm and peaceful. A story could be written about the female field workers on the path who will enjoy their day in the sun.
The rain forests, wading birds and waterfalls painted by J.R. Bresil made him enormously attractive to Japanese collectors who came to Haiti in the early 1990s. And this kind of visual ambassadorship can be passed on to the works of Labbe, his peers and followers.
People who think they know about Haitian art are inevitably surprised by the wide range of artistic expression coming from the country. The universality of fanasy landscape paintings can excite people from other countries and continents to also appreciate Haitian art.
I encourage other art collectors and academics to become unofficial missionaries for the cause of Haitian art. Soon it will be the fifth anniversary of the terrible January 12, 2010 earthquake. While much has been done to rebuild, there is much left to be done. The Toussaint Louverture Foundation is doing its best to rebuild the Haitian Art Museum in Haiti. But why not cast a wide net to art lovers living far and wide away from Haiti, who may not know much about the country’s incredible artistic output and legacy, a lot of which this natural disaster destroyed?
Hang Haitian art in your office, not just your home. Get people talking about it. Give Haitian art as a gift, rather than a bottle of wine or flowers that will die in two days. Explain how resourceful Haitian people are, working with discards and repurposing metal oil drums by hand-carving them into works of sculptural art. They use what they have.
People are also incredibly impressed by the beauty and workmanship of Haitian Vodou flags, and that’s before they know the whole story behind their ceremonial function. These are richly historical sacred textiles with aesthetic roots in Africa. Maybe interest the curator at your local college’s gallery to do a show on Haitian art. We all have a part to play in diseminating the wonders of it to others. So start November with a bang and get involved. Make a difference to the wonderful artists of this country. It’s a way of giving back without going to Haiti and building houses or just sending a check.