Monthly Archives: December 2014

“A Request of the Haitian President”

By Candice Russell

Just as I made a plea to Haitian President Michel Martelly on behalf of the earthquake-demolished Le Centre d’Art, I am making another request that I hope he can fulfill — if not through his own government, through the help of non-governmental agencies, even foreign ones with French and Kreyol-speaking volunteers, to get the job done.

I make this request in light of the fact that Martelly is himself a musician and therefore more in touch with the value of artistic expression than his predecessors and successors in office. Knowing that your country is subject to cataclysmic weather events, from earthquakes to floods, here is my suggestion:  please formulate an encyclopedic list of ALL the artists — visual artists, musicians, poets, dancers, singers — in Haiti. Concentrate on one city or region at a time. Gather information that is biographical about birthdates and addresses/contact information currently of domiciles, studios, and places of performance, and information about contacts like friends and relatives.

Why am I making this request? In part, it’s a remarkable record of Haiti’s cultural heritage at the moment. In part, it’s a means of knowing or trying to know who is still alive after a major  weather disaster. At this point, there is still no official record of which visual artists died during the earthquake, nearly five years after the event. And then there is the aspect of cultural tourism, which is partly why the airport in Cap-Haitien was recently opened, in the hope of bringing foreigners to the city to visit the famed Citadelle fortess.

Imagine if there were such a directory of artists. Tour organizers in Haiti and outside could craft group trips of interested people who wanted to visit the studios of ten artists in less than a week and buy their art directly from them, as well as from galleries. What a boon that would be to the tourist industry, especially if travel writers spread the word about their positive experiences on such a tour in the American media — most major newspapers still have Sunday Travel sections where such stories could appear with splashy photographs.

This is something unique and different that Martelly could do, instead of just focusing on the political. Focus on the larger picture and your legacy in the future to help the Haitian people as they live. Haitian art in Haiti needs a boost. Once the infrastructure of roads is improved and criminal activity is lessened, Haiti-focused people may be more likely to want to visit with a purpose in mind — seeing and buying art. That activity of artistic creation continues; the earthquake didn’t stop it, though many, many lives were lost.


Martelly could even put out a call for people to come to Haiti to help him in doing the interviews and visiting the artists. Where are they? All over. My friend Jean (last name unknown) could always be found on downtown streets. We would pick him up in a car and he knew the directions to every artist’s house (though he didn’t own a car or drive) and all the artistic activities going on in the capital. How he knew these things, I don’t know. My point is – this information is out there and easily available.  It just needs to be harnessed, organized and compiled for the benefit of Haiti and the world.

“What About Le Centre d’Art?”

By Candice Russell

This is an open letter to Michel Martelly, the President of Haiti:


Dear Mr. Martelly,

As a Christmas gift to the Haitian people and the world, I implore you to commit funds and manpower to rebuild the vaunted Center of Art (Le Centre d’Art) in Port-au-Prince. Yes, I know you have had other things on your mind, like political protests and elections for other offices. Yet this is an important topic.

But, being a musician and an artist yourself, you should have cognizance of exactly what le Centre d’Art has meant to the development of Haitian art and the collecting acumen of untold thousands of visitors to the island since the 1940s. It is as much of a landmark for people who know and love Haiti as the Citadelle in Cap-Haitien.  It is where so many art careers were begun and nurtured. Who can put a price on the synergistic conversations between artists over the decades that provided them with much-needed encouragement or set them forth on a new path of creation?

As a musician, you know how vital the arts are to a country. But also, Haitian arts of all kind are valuable experts to the rest of the world — much cherished and not duplicated anywhere else. Haitian art, in my opinion, is your best export — worthy of display in museums from Los Angeles to Paris, lionized in books, hanging in homes and offices in countries around the world. For new generations of artists, unfamiliar with the gallery system and in need of nurturing, le Centre d’Art is an indispensable cog in the wheel of discovery. By not rebuilding this vital institution in Port-au-Prince, you are squandering the hopes and dreams of many self-taught artists who need that kind of boost in their careers. Many may also need access to materials to create art that they cannot afford on their own.

My suggestion is to interface with France, Canada or Italy, even the U.S., to funnel funds dedicated to Haiti after the earthquake to be specifically earmarked for rebuilding the Centre d’Art. Yes, private donors may do this in years or decades to come. But why wait, when the need is so great right now? Let this rebuilt institution be a beacon of hope for new generations and a commitment of faith in the artistic promise of Haiti, which is always evolving, no matter what the political climate?

I have fond memories of visiting Le Centre d’Art under the leadership of Francine Murat. I remember marveling at its collection of Jasmin Joseph paintings and asking to go into the back rooms that were locked, home of many treasures.

This decision would be merry-making for many Haitian art lovers, not to mention Haitian artists who need a place to go, to find their artistic voices, to learn, find mentors, talk with other artists, and soar.


Please make it happen, Mr. Martelly. Thank you.



“Christmas Themed Haitian Art”

By Candice Russell

It is possible, as an art collector, to be drawn to the same subject or artist multiple times. Who knows why these affinities develop? It happened to me in the summer after I broke my ankle. Part of my recovery to full walking health was strengthening my ankle by swimming in my backyard pool. When I went to Haiti in August with a friend, our buying trip caught the notice of one gallery owner who remarked that I seemed to be drawn to images of La Sirene, the Haitian Vodou lwa whose domain is the sea. She works as a benefactor for people in trouble on the water — swimmers, fishermen and voyagers. No wonder I liked La Sirene.

In the case of another sub-category in my Haitian art collecting, I was more conscious. I love artwork that depicts Santa Claus, generosity, the Christmas tree and all the lights and glitter associated with the season. I own a two-foot-tall papier-mache Santa Claus, a painted metal Sant Claus and a Jacques Valmidor painting of Santa and a snowman, measuring 20 inches by 24 inches.


These are happy paintings celebrating a happy time. At Slotin folk Art Auction, I bought an 8-inch by 10-inch painting of Father Christmas by the great Alexandre Gregoire. It’s not as overt as my other Haitian Christmas pieces, but I love it all the same.

I also have a Saincilus Ismael of Joseph leading Mary and the baby Jesus as they ride on a donkey. One of my favorite is a 30-inch by 40-inch painting by Wagler Vital, pictured in my book “Masterpieces of Haitian Art.” It’s a village square with a stunning centerpiece of a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. I don’t know if this is how Haitians celebrate the holiday, but this festive painting makes me hope that there are public acknowledgments in town squares with lights and colors and tress (and maybe even a gift-giving Santa).

But the sweetest Christmas work is in my bedroom year-round because it is too nice to put away in January. It’s a painting by Jacques Richard Chery, ten inches tall and eight inches wide, of Santa Claus handing out presents to children. He carries a satchel of gifts and the children are beyond delighted.

My friend, Dr. Carlos Jara, an art dealer in Haiti and psychiatrist by profession in his native Chile, had a collection of crucifixion paintings, which he carefully amassed.  These are even harder to source in Haiti, years ago and especially now.

What ever you decide to focus on, make the journey fun. Go to Haiti, if you can and visit galleries. Talk to people on the street. Even buy art from the street, if you feel confident to tell the good art from the bad art.

The beauty and wonder of Haitian art are seemingly limitless. Bossou, for example, when on Vodou flags, is either just the head with two horns or the full-bodied beast, usually tied up. Many different representations in visual form of the same Vodou spirit means a wealth of very different images by a variety of artists. There’s no better time to collect than now.



“Great Book About Haiti”

By Candice Russell

If you love Haiti and Haitian art or know someone who does, there is a great paperback book available that your friend will enjoy — “Farewell, Fred Voodoo” by Amy Wilentz. She is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction book “The Rainy Season,” abou the fall of Baby Doc Duvalier and the ascendance of priest-turned-politician Jean Bertrandn Aristide.


Like that previous book, “Farewell, Fred Voodoo” is a personal view of experiencing Haiti at a critical moment in its history. She returns to the country that so fascinates her after the earthquake ofJanuary 12, 2010 and returns again, sorting through the non-governmental agencies, medical personnel and Haitian survivors to figure out something about why she loves it so.


I’m not sure Wilentz comes to great conclusions about Haiti, a hard place to get your arms around and figure out. Perhaps she raises more questions than she answers — but that’s all right. She’s on the front lines, making assessments about people and self-sacrifice, narcissism and desperation, with a marvelous degree of understanding and avoidance of harsh judgment.

Fred Voodoo is the slang term journalists used for any man or woman on the street with something to say. Here is what the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper  wrote about Wilentz’s book: “The book’s literary journalism ispart history lesson, political analysis, travelog and personal journey. wilentz’s informed commentary is sobering and witty, her analysis insightful and her descriptions of the people and places of Haiti riveting. a must-read.”

She goes to the front lines — the gritty camps that grew up among the rubble in Port-au-Prince. One poignant interview with Moise Philippe reveals the essential dilemma in Haiti, where obstacles prevent action and governmental corruption is rampant. With his house damaged, he lives in the camp with his wife and their two teenagers: “I’m not waiting for someone to come and give me a house somewhere. I’m rebuilding my own house. We have to organize ourselves. In this camp, if we hadn’t known how to organize ourselves, we’d be dead.”

Apart from the medical teams from abroad who descend on Haiti with more ego than good intentions, there is the noble female Dr. Megan Coffee, whom Wilentz strongly admires. This is because she is inventive in solving problems for patients and getting what they need, she is also dedicated. She stays long past the time that small armies have left, along with the TV cameras and print journalists. That degree of commitment is impressive in a country that didn’t work very well prior to the earthquake. And she is truly making a difference.


There is also praise for the efforts of Sean Penn, movie actor turned do-gooder, who fails to abandon his efforts in Haiti months after the earthquake. She talks about a phone company making great strides in progress for Haiti, despite serious odds against anything getting accomplished.

One night, she is sleeping outside the Oloffson Hotel (people feared another earthquake and buildings toppling while they slept) armed with her must-have survival items: bug juice, Valium, a flashlight and rum. She goes over in her head the images of the day: including a girl inconsolably crying and a camp set up on a soccer field.


There is much more beauty and horror to be had in Haiti in coming years. With luck, Wilentz will chronicle her impressions and adventures as Haiti evolves.