Haiti’s anti-slavery birth amid slave-holding countries and expanding colonial powers made its struggle for self-realization tough from the beginning. Yet Haiti became the symbol for black volition and freedom in the 19th century, and ever since it has enjoyed the empathy and love of all of us who cherish freedom and justice, despite its many political and economic challenges. Throughout its history, its two strengths have sustained Haiti and renewed the vision of its potential. They are its imagination and resilience. For seven decades, imagination and resiliency have found profound expression in Haitian visual arts. Haiti’s artists, by combining aspects of Surrealism and “magic” realism to create intuitive narrative visionary styles that are characteristically their own, won a distinctive place in 20th century Modernism.
In Haiti, lively communities of visual artists emerged rapidly, working in murals and easel paintings as well as in specialized decorative traditions associated with the ritual needs of Voudou. Relief sculptors working mainly in steel and iron developed a parallel production. Given its dynamism, Haitian art has expanded in new directions and spawned regional centers or schools. These centers merge local imaginative expression with influences from the Haitian Diaspora as well as other academic and international movements. Jacmel, a seaside village, is one of these centers distinguished for its many artists. This initiative focuses on their needs.
A consistent interest in Haitian art is the fascination with narration. Indeed, narration or story-telling is persistent in Haitian art irrespective of the style of the work. In this context, it is not surprising that the Great Earthquake of 2010 has become the subject of a new body of work offering a way of coming to grips with the emotional pain and trauma caused by the colossal event. Art contains and controls the memory of the earthquake. Simultaneously, art is a testament to the power of imagination and to the strength of hope. It depicts rebirth and rebuilding and the irrepressible will to live of the Haitian people despite whatever befalls them. Art confirms the vitality of the Haitian spirit when confronted by calamity. This ability to face tomorrow and to nurture hope is evident in the color and vibrancy of the art of Jacmel, for often these qualities are evident where you might have expected dusty grayness and dark bloodiness given the objective tragedy of the earthquake. While existential despair is not totally absent, it is not the predominant tenor of an art where a positive stoicism abides. The art affirms the will to move forward a day at a time rebuilding all the while. It ultimately reflects not resignation, but rather resolve. It documents the demolition of the city and countryside as a fact of history, but its engine is powered by a steadfast faith that a future can be made as long as one moves forward. The foundation of such belief is not a giddy optimism, but rather a historical experience that the Haitian people own and from which they draw the strength to still imagine a better tomorrow.
Edmund Barry Gaither Curator, Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists
The works are for sale with proceeds going to the artists of Jacmel;
For preview and sales, please visit: http://gbspa.homestead.com/JacmelArtProject.html