BELLEFONTE — “Haitian Art: Caribbean inspiration in paintings, flags and metal sculpture” is currently on display in the Special Exhibition Gallery at the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County. The exhibition will continue throughout November, according to a press release.
Contemporary Haitian Art has been influenced by the indigenous people of the island as well as the more than 200 years of colonial occupation and immigration. Haitian history includes the story of the indigenous Taino people who inhabited the island when Christopher Columbus landed there in 1492 and re-named the island Hispaniola, “Little Spain.”
By 1664, French influence had spread to various places on the island and the French West India Company was established. By the end of the 17th century France ruled the island and the land was divided between Spain and France and the areas became known as Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Under the rule of the French kings, more plantations were built on Haiti to grow and process commodities like indigo, cotton, coffee and cacao, and more slaves were brought from Western Africa to work on the plantations. Haiti became one of the wealthiest of the French colonies.
In 1791 Haitian slaves rose up to revolt and after decades of struggle the independent Republic of Haiti was officially proclaimed in 1804. From then on the island has struggled with itself as a democracy, suffered under corruption, exploited by outside influences who wanted to control Haitian resources and endured several natural disasters. But the Island nation is a story of resilience.
Haitian culture was formed by diversity and struggle and the artists who work there have a long history of recognition for producing vibrant and beautiful works representing the complexity of the culture and the people. Religious beliefs are an amalgamation of Catholicism and ancient African religions, including Voodoo, whose richly ornamental rituals have contributed to the elaborate style of some Haitian art especially the flags.
The Haitian Art Flag tradition is routed in the Fon culture of Benin, West African. For centuries the Fon (also known as the Dahomey) have made and used decorative flags for religion, cultural identity and war.
It may be suggested that the many and varied groups of people who came and intermarried with the growing Haitian culture may be one reason the Haitian people are so very creative. Art traditions from France, Spain and Africa have influenced the Haitian culture.
Due to the poverty of the country art works are created with and on all kinds of materials. Most outstanding is the example of metal sculpture. Artists use the discarded oil drums from international oil companies to create their popular metal works of art. Everything is recycled and artists use all kinds of paints they find to create paintings, which are often done on discarded pieces of wood or on pieces of boat sails.
Many of the artists, some creating excellent works may be called “Street Artists”. They sign their paintings, flags or sculptures but cannot be located and in the chaos of Haitian life, often disappear.
Haitian artists tend to cluster in schools representing regions and styles and these will be represented in the exhibition. The Cap-Haitian school depicts life in the city and villages. Art from the Jacmal School reflects the steep mountainous regions and the bays of the coastal towns. The Saint-Soleil School is characterized by abstracted human forms and is heavily influenced by Voodoo symbolism.
In this exhibit, BAM has a work by Louisiane Saint Fleurant, who confounded the Saint-Soleil School.
Haitian art as a movement was founded in 1944 by a group of artists which includes Wilson Bigaud, who is also represented in this exhibition.