Art of Haiti

Description

Though the country may be small, Haiti boasts a wide variety of artistic styles and artists themselves. Despite these differences, Haitian art remains united in its appreciation for the aesthetic: bright colors, intricate design, and the attention to the everyday. In some cases, this everyday is a presidential portrait such as Hector Hyppolite’s President Florville Hyppolite, or the appeal to a certain lwa (spritits of Vodou) through ceremonial draping. These similarities within Haitian art reflect what the article Haitian Vodou argued was the universal goal of returning close to roots while somehow finding a paradise free from suffering.1 This urge to find a utopia is a result of Haiti’s tortured past: though they triumphantly expelled the French Colonials and gained their independence, their joy quickly decayed as the rest of the world turned its back and sabotaged any means of Haiti pulling itself up. American intervention, including a 19 yearlong occupation and the support of despotic leadership, only exacerbated the issue and forced Haiti’s economy even further into a state of decline. Due to the struggle to survive, most recognized Haitian art is from the early 1900s and persists into the present day. However, Haiti’s entire past, such as the persisting economic decline, continue to inspire the cheery subject matter, as well as influenced the materials used. Haitian artists had to use whatever material they could find, something Selden Rodman romanticizes in his book The Miracle of Haitian Art by describing “a vaguely ambitious cobbler” that “sketch[ed] chickens and palm trees on discarded Esso calendars” in addition to many other Haitians that proved resourceful in their mediums.2

This resourcefulness and resilience has been a trait of Haiti and its inhabitants since the Spanish settled on the island. Originally apart of Hispaniola, Spanish for “Little Spain”, Haiti shares one half of the island with the Dominican Republic and is located between the other islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica.3 Even though the Spanish originally settled in La Navidad on the Northern Coastline, the French founded colonies themselves and exploited the labor of imported slaves for their sugar plantations. Terrible plantation conditions meant slaves had to be imported on a regular basis – one of the reasons Haitians remained so close with their African roots. This influence from Africa contributed to the development of Vodou, a syncretic religion combining elements of African religions with Catholicism, which as Laurent Dubois describes “is the part of history through which objectified slaves of St. Domingue became citizens of Haiti”.4

In total, 774,000 Slaves were brought to Haiti, and in 1791 it was a slave rebellion that spurred the fight for their independence. Despite winning that battle, Haitians continued to face hardships at the hands of the United States and nature itself. United States Marines occupied Haiti from 1915-1934 and continued to interfere even after their departure, supporting leaders such as “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, who drained the country’s resources for their own benefit.5 Even today, Haiti suffers due to its difficult past, and struggles to pick up the pieces in the wake of natural disasters. Even so, the Haitian people express a resilience like the palm tree found on the island in their flag: as many times as they may be blown over and whipped around, they’ll spring back to life.

Endnotes
1. Marc A. Christophe, “Rainbow over Water: Haitian Art, Vodou Aestheticism, and Philosophy,” in Haitian Vodou: Spirit Myth and Reality, ed. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith and Claudine Michel, 84-102. (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006).
2. Selden Rodman, The Miracle of Haitian Art, (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1974) 16.
3. “Breaking the Silence”, Anti-Slavery, Anti-Slavery International, old.antislavery.org.
4. Laurent Dubois, “Vodou and History”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 43, No. 1 (2001): 95.
5. Dubois, “Vodou and History”, Society for Comparative Studies in Society and History (2001): 92.

Work Cited

“Breaking the Silence”. Anti-Slavery. Anti-Slavery International. old.antislavery.org.

Christophe, Marc A. “Rainbow over Water: Haitian Art, Vodou Aestheticism, and
Philosophy”. In Haitian Vodou: Spirit, Myth, and Reality, edited by Patrick Bellegarde-Smith and Claudine Michel, 84-102. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2006.

Dubois, Laurent. “Vodou and History.” Comparative Studies in Society and History,
Vol. 43, No. 1 (2001): 92-100.

Rodman, Selden. The Miracle of Haitian Art. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc.,
1974.

Danbala Wedo
Georgia Gump
Art 265
Professor Ellen Hoobler
3-April-2016

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