HISTORY OF FRIENDS' ART
Nearly 300,000 people live in the Artibonite Valley in Haiti, most of whom are farmers. The roads are mostly unpaved up into the mountains. Goats, chickens, and pigs weave through the crowds of people in the markets. Moto taxi’s carry 3-5 people to and fro. Street vendors sell lotto tickets on hand written paper, rice and beans, fried plantains and stewed goat out of tin huts brightly painted with playful letters advertising their various services and products. Mango, corossol, oranges, banana and breadfruit trees line the roads. Hands cut boards are stacked along roadsides for people to purchase for house and furniture construction. Tap Taps run from town to town overloaded with people heading to market, brimming with their sacks of rice, corn, chickens and goats. School children walk in crowds on dirt roads to their schools, each with perfectly pressed uniforms color-coded for each individual school.
The tropical colors are striking. The country living is humble. The food is delicious and fresh. The people are always friendly, happy to stop and talk over a cold prestige beer, or coke in a glass bottle.
In this region, artists create images depicting the every-day life of people in the valley. The Haiti Friends has amassed a vast collection of Haitian art mostly from the Artibonite Valley. The collection includes paintings, wooden sculptures, sequin flags, metal sculptures, and other traditional Haitian mediums. This collection serves the Friend’s mission to tell the story of this region to people in the United States and around the world.
The Haiti Friends brings people to Haiti by bringing Haiti to them. Since 1985 the Haiti Friends has been has been holding an annual art show and party called the H’Art and Soul of Haiti. Here people come by the thousands to see the sights, sounds, and flavors of Haiti. Since 2008 the Friends has made artwork available through its gallery on Reynolds
Street in Pittsburgh. Proceeds from the sale of the artwork go back to purchase more art supporting the local artisan economy, and support Friends projects with agroforestry and education and outreach. This collection has helped an economy of artists flourish and thrive in the Artibonite Valley.
Though Haiti is only a 1-hour plane ride from Miami in the United States, it feels light-years away culturally, linguistically, and historically. One of the striking cultural differences is the practice of a religion unique to Haiti. This polytheistic religion, is often misunderstood and often shrouded in negative stereotypes, which are most often misguided and inaccurate.
The religion itself was born out of adversity. People from the western coast of Africa, brought together by the French, forced into slavery, and shipped to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (Island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Here many people who spoke different languages, celebrated different religious and cultural practices were stuck together and joined by a common enemy, the French, who captured tortured, and enslaved them on a distant land.
Here a version of French called Creole became the common tongue. Bound together, commonalities arose, and through sharing their different cultures a new religion was formed. A religion, which pays homage to the gods and goddesses from many religions, still widely practiced along the west of Africa today. It is a polytheistic religion ruled by the spirit world, where magic forces guide our everyday life.
This common belief consoled people in the most inconsolable of situations, chained, beaten, and removed from everything and everyone near and dear to them. It also gave them hope and inspired a revolution in 1804 that not only freed them from tyranny through retribution, but also guided them to independence, and set the stage for the beginning of the end of slavery in the western world.
This beautiful religion unique to Haiti has inspired religious icons, and crafts that celebrate the spirits and show their love and sanctity. Artisans have been creating these beautiful religious imagery in various forms for generations. Many are dedicated to love, vitality, harmony, and in the breadbasket of the country, hope for a successful season of planting.
It is this rich history that we find told visually, laid out in the vivid colorful artwork of Haitian artists and craftsmen.
The art in the Friend’s collection shows the history, culture, and religion of a unique part of the world. With this art the friends has been able to illustrate both the creative energy and the needs of the people in Haiti. This beautiful artwork has been at the center of the work the Friends work since 1985.
Over thirty years the Friends has grown a large and one-of-a-kind collection that shows the growth and transformation of the Artibonite region over three decades with the primary goal of sharing with those who will love and appreciate it.