“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.