Art Basel welcomes Haiti

I guess it really started months ago when it was hot and we had just taken our dog for a mid lunch walk. Haiti friends had a gallery in the point breeze section of Pittsburgh and it was a beautiful day when we got the email.

You have been accepted into the Aqua Art Miami fair during Art Basel week, the note read. It was a glorious moment - it meant that Haiti Friends could represent its many artists and varied collection on the global stage for the first time. As we looked further into it, it turns out that Haitian artwork is highly under represented during the fair and we were thrilled that its nearly one hundred thousand visitors would have the opportunity to engage with the artwork that we love so much.

So by the time I was on the plane traveling with photographer Karen Meyers whose pictures from a July 2015 trip to Haiti brought new life to our vision in terms of seeing people in their homes and environment with their families, we were half a year later and fully paid up to present at this very prestigious and funky fair.

Arriving at my Airbnb just a couple of blocks from Aqua Art Miami - a satellite show that took over a boutique hotel on Collins at 15th Street - I could see how South Florida would be a space of inspiration and negotiation as throngs of people arrived over the next couple of days to engage in art, which is a beautiful thing. When people put aside time and money for creative practice, the world and its people are better. From music to paintings to sculpture to installation to performance, this week would serve as a space to dedicate ourselves to color and line and energy - it's important - art is critical as a movement.

Haiti friends and Galerie Monnin took over room number 205 - its numbers adding up to lucky number seven - lucky that we could be there and thrilled to show our duo collection. On the right wall 12 square Frantz Zephirin 16 x 16 pieces hung in all of their glory - details such as slaves footsteps embracing the background. The Emilicar Simil pieces showcased his traditional silhouettes, reminded viewers of the queens its women portray, while Karen's photos in black-and-white and those in color stunned audiences who have never visited Haiti but who now had a better idea. The Joseph Valcin pieces showed community, life and birds,  and the Prefet Duffaut pieces allowed the cityscape of Jacmel to come to life.

On my own, I walked by the Collins Park outdoor sculpture garden featuring abstract pieces and large scale realism sculpture like a brown deer the size of a small house. With the Haiti Friends team I waltzed through the VIP Art Miami tent - snapping photos of Basquiat's scrawlings and a Banksy with a neon pink background. I had the pleasure of hanging around the city with my nephew who flew in from Pittsburgh to help out, and who hadn't experienced the mass art portal of Basel yet in his young life. We visited Pulse, and the Wynwood galleries and graffiti walls; we drove by the Design Miami tent's pink foam entrance and ate good food with a Southern flair.

And what I really liked was coming back to Aqua because its rooms created an insular feeling where you were encapsulated by the theme of the room or gallery, and of course you'd have to make eye contact with the attendant. And something about that in between moment of being awkward and having an opinion about what you're engaging in, comes thoughtful criticism. It's no wonder that Aqua brings in emerging galleries onto the Basel week scene as this was the golden opportunity to feel like you're floating while still being able to maintain your mission and direction.

The numbers are in and we believe that about 11,000 people walked through Aqua and a good number of those walked through our gallery. We met Pittsburgh famous folks who were in town for the magic; we met musicians, curators, and archivists. We met people who are new or seasoned art collectors. We met people who just want to party, and others who got a free ticket but ended up having a life-changing moment. By the close of the event we were able to talk about the contemporary artists we were representing as not only Haitian artists but as pop artists or figurative, illustrative - genres that are a part of the artistic conversation but not often enough when referring to Haitian art. The art was created in Haiti but it goes far beyond a stereotypical craft - it is outrageously interesting and deep art that makes an impact and has a story.

by Bee Schindler, Deputy Director - Haiti Friends