TYPES OF HAITIAN ART
Haitian paintings are generally divided into two categories: naives and moderns. This division has been widely accepted in Haitian arts. The naive painters are known as primitives, and it’s been said that their style lacks artistic education and discipline. The modern painters have come to view the term “naif” as a negative connotation on the evolution of Haitian paintings. However, the term naive has more to do with independence from academic tradition, and it is a style that suggested artistic innocence. When in 1978 more than one-hundred works of Haitian art were put on exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum and collectors were quick to note the exhibition had focused too much on untrained artists and “their traditional depictions of simple village and market scenes, rendered in vivid colors. They argued that by omitting more experimental pieces, the show fostered a stereotype of Haitian art as primitive and naive”. This division has not subsided, despite some changes, such as moving beyond the traditional colors and themes.
The art of Haiti is known worldwide and one of the most unique forms of art is the Haitian steel drum art. Metal drums, once used for transporting oil or other products are purchased near the port in the capitol city of Port au Prince. They are brought to the neighboring town of Croix-des-Bouquets by hand cart or on top of a taxi to the metal artists’ workshop. Croix-des-Bouquets is the center of the Haitian metalwork movement. When driving through the primitive streets, one hears the sounds coming from the homes of various artists as they pound on the drums, expressing their art. As in any art form, some metal work is far superior to others. We have committed ourselves to seeking out the very best metal artists.
Doubtless the most spectacular Haitian art form is the sequin-covered banners derive directly from a syncretism of traditional African religions brought to Haiti by slaves, with the Catholicism of their former masters. The banners are traditionally the work of practicing priests and their followers. They are displayed in sanctuaries and are carried at the commencement of a ceremony. Each flag depicts the symbol or image of the spirit to which it is devoted. The flags are made of shiny silk fabrics to which have been sewn a brilliant mosaic of sequins and beads. A full-size banner typically contains 18,000 to 20,000 sequins and may take ten days to complete. While these flags are religious icons they are also beautiful collectables.
Wood is a precious commodity in Haiti. Lumber is costly because of a low supply and high demand situation. The most common way for Haitian’s to cook food is using charcoal made from small tree bits roasted underground. It is a high valued commodity and as such it is well respected. Artists have been creating wonderful sculptures out of this precious commodity for decades.
Haitians have been making crafts for years. Some religious icons and prayer vessels made with bottles and sequins. Small sculptures and boxes. Ornate wooden furniture, hand carved and painted are popular crafts. Leather sculptures and jewelry are popular choices for tourists. In the winter, children create hand made paper houses that are decorated with candles. Hand sewn clothing and jackets are made by seamstresses across the country. One of the most unifying elements in all Haitian art is the bright color and playful imagery.
THE FRIENDS' INVENTORY
The Friends holds approximately 3,000 original works of art in its art gallery and storage space. A portion of them are listed as collection, meaning, they are not for sale, and appreciate year to year in value. The Friends has two ways of collecting artwork. Pieces are purchased directly, using the Friends funds from the sale of art, or works are donated by collectors to the Friends. Art that is donated is an asset to the Friends, and as the collection grows in size and history, the value continues to increase. Profit from works that are sold are used to purchase more work and to support Friends’ programs.
The Friends has a gallery on Reynolds Street in the Point Breeze section of Pittsburgh, a small retail nook anchored by two highly visited restaurants. The street-level location has increased art sales and new visitors by double - compared to being in space that was upstairs, far from street traffic. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 p.m. The Friends staff welcomes visitors, provides information and insight on the art, the Haiti Friends, finalizes sales, and holds special public events to educate and advocate for the arts in Haiti. The gallery interacts with patrons through its interactive website, social media, and e-blasts.
The Friends storage space is a temperature controlled, secured storage space. Its two rooms separate artwork for sale and artwork in the permanent collection. In addition to artwork, the Friends book and card collection is housed in storage. The inventory is rotated to replace sold items in gallery and to showcase a variety of works and styles throughout the year.
The Friends also has paintings housed in temporary locations, such as a restaurant across the street from the gallery, which hosts the Friends artwork as their sole decorative element on a rotating basis.
Artwork is purchased directly from the artists providing them with an imediate income, supporting Artibonite region artists though direct consultation. The Friends actively supports more than a dozen artists from the Artibonite, making up aproximately 65 percent of the art collection.
The Friends has a range of artists in its repertoire, including paintings by Emilcar Simil, who has been compared to famous artists like Matisse for his high value art and eye - painting black women silhouettes adorned in gold bangles and patterned silks. Simil’s art nouveau pieces are highlighted by his distinct use of polish - a sheen that highlights his appreciation of women and their goddess-like aura. His works are highly collectable, starting around $5,000 to upwards of $100,000.
Prefete Duffaut, a master painter who died in 2012, is highly collectable and in both the for-sale and permanent collection of the Friends. His fantastical depiction of cityscapes, inspired often by his hometown of Jacmel, have brought the masses to buy his pieces. His murals in the Cathedral of Saint Trinity were largely destroyed following the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince.
The Friends permanent and sellable collection has been growing for more than 29 years. Almost all of the pieces have been well documented and there is a strong potential for an art book(s), with proper resources. Many of the world renewed Haitian artists represented in the collection have also never been formally documented in a book, further illustrates the need for such a project.
This collection, which is in many ways unique, given so much comes from the rural region of the Artibonite Valley. The images tell the story of the valley and how it has changed over nearly three decades. So much of the collection captures the traditional farming lifestyle, which has thrived over the years in the rural towns of the Artibonite.