New York, N.Y. Most Americans think they know Haiti, that squalid, refugee-camp-ridden place somewhere south of Florida. Some Americans think they know Haitian-Americans, too: the maid in Miami, the health attendant in Manhattan, the taxi driver in Brooklyn. What many miss are the approximately 3 million professionals of the Haitian diaspora in North America and Europe.
Dr. Danielle Duret with a student at the School of the Good Samaritan in Arcahaie, Haiti .
Photo courtesy of Danielle Duret.
Two days after the earthquake (Jan. 12, 2010) I talked my way onto a relief flight with bags and bags of medical equipment. I am an internist, and they wanted surgeons, but after the amputations, they need internists to monitor the patients, and not all patients needed surgery. So I went!
I arrived in my native land and saw it divested. A year and a half later I am still in shock at what I saw happen to my people. And yet their spirit, their belief system, their strength of character have carried them through. I need to continue to do what I can do from here to support them.
(photo courtesy of the Pomona Cultural Center)
(photo courtesy of the Pomona Cultural Center)
Art can be viewed as a human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature. The outcome is believed to be aesthetic and to have a meaning beyond simple pictorial descriptions.
My work is all about using imageries to suggest a more complex reality that is conditioned upon personal aesthetic perception. It is geared toward reaching the viewer through a constant multiform dialogue engaging him/her to connect to hidden clues and to uncover unspoken truths.
Artistry is reached when I retain in the process, the essential in term of aesthetic expression and the viewer can feel the vibes. In other words, artistic expression in my work lies in its ability to absorb the viewer and elicit a response… a dialogue of sorts.
Fred Thomas, another Haitian artist, was born in Fort-LibertÃ©, Haiti, and grew up in Cap-HaÃ¯tien. He started to draw at an early age, reproducing sketches created by his father. After moving to Port-au-Prince after high school, Fred took private lessons in drawing, painting, and ceramic at Le Centre d’Art (The Art Center) and Le Centre de CÃ©ramique (The Ceramic Center). Fred was mainly interested in papier-mÃ¢chÃ©, to make masks betraying an obvious African influence. He continued to pursue his strong interest in the visual arts when he moved abroad, first to Canada, then to the U.S., and later to Germany while serving in the American army.
In an interview with the Miami Herald decades ago, Fred admitted that he wanted his artwork to reflect not only his Haitian background but his experiences abroad. Subsequently, Fred’s subjects, style, and technique vary from abstraction, surrealism, and color field works where collage and heavy impasto-type texture has become his trademark. Living now in Miami, he states, “My art is about human experience on Earth, epitomized by our daily struggle to survive, to affirm our identity, and also about our existentialist anguish, estrangement, loneliness, despair, along with our hopes, dreams, and thirst for happiness.”
Dominik believes, as I do, that art, in spite of its ascribed sophistication, is before all a contemplative attitude toward nature and life in general. It allows humanity to contribute to the creation of the universe by appealing to our sense of aesthetic, harmony, proportion, symmetry, balance, peace, and justice — to the best in us.
I spoke with old friends about the importance of art there. Haitian-Canadian Katleen FÃ©lix, Haitian Diaspora Liaison for ZafÃ¨n, and Raynald Leconte of the Haitian Cultural Foundation (HCF) together know much about the Haitian Diaspora. Katleen told me:
Haitian Art is a “best kept secret” of our community, through the Diaspora and local Haitians will find outstanding artists that are often only known in their regions. We have hundreds of great artists with different styles; you will always find something that you like.
It is also an interesting way to fundraise for Haiti projects; you often find at Haitian Home Associations some pieces to sales or for silent auction. You can discover artists in Diaspora galleries, at events, craft fairs, or you can visits websites. Most of them don’t really advertise — you need to ask around.
ZafÃ¨n gives loans to entrepreneurs and social projects; organized artisans who create jobs in Haiti can benefit from our loans. ZafÃ¨n has partnered with Aid for Artisans and with other groups, such as Epple Seed Arts, that give business development support to artists or facilitate commercialization, which reduces their credit risk.
The beauty is that it is online; people from around the world makes loans to those entrepreneurs and sometime get in contact with them to buy their production. Our artists are getting known and supported at an international level with the help of the Diaspora, friends of Haiti, and the Internet.
Haiti has a long and rich tradition in the arts. Tapping into this deep pool of talent can help Haiti on the local level and create a virtuous feedback loop of good news on a global level. Haitian art has the ability to reshape the impressions of people in the international community through its diversity and beauty.
Although the movement was initially conceived as a reaction to the overcommercialization of Haitian art, the works by these artists soon were in high demand all over the world, without the artists being duly compensated. As a result, they dispersed to form a new group called Cinq Soleil, with Prospere Pierre-Louis (1947-1996), Denis Smith, Louisiane Saint-Fleurant (1924-2005), Dieuseul Paul (1953), and Levoy Exil (1944).
In spite of using the common Saint-Soleil idioms and subject matters, usually the spirit world of Vodou, Levoy’s paintings remain original in his idiosyncratic ways of handling colors and lines. His elongated creatures with stylized features, along with his full-moon-like faces, combined with biomorphic shapes, stand easily recognizable and well known throughout the world.
Good Samaritain School is located in Arcahaie Haiti and has 325 students from kindergarten to 12th grade. Beside our help, they do not have any sustainable resources at this time. I feel a need to do what I can to support them! This exhibition runs through Jan. 14, 2002. To support of the school, write me directly.
Pomona Cultural Center
584 Route 306 (just north of Pomona Road)
Pomona, New York 10970
Tel.: (845) 362-8062 | E-mail
Gallery hours: Friday through Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m.
Originally published in The Huffington Post, December 27, 2011.