From its beginning in the mid-forties
with the discovery of Hector Hyppolite and Philome Obin, to its
fourth flowering in 1987 with the painters of Saint-Soleil becoming
dominant, Haitian art has been consistently surprising :
a wonder of the world.
In no other country has a school
of self-taught painters and sculptors reigned supreme, renewing
itself year after year. Not even in Africa have black artists
created so many unforgettable images to haunt and revivify the
tired iconography of the West. How to explain the paradox that
an art of joy originated and sustains itself in the poorest nation
of the Western Hemisphere ? A blend of African and French
cultures, inspired by both the Vodou and Christian religions,
Haitian life has a unique quality, timeless yet electric. Close
to nature, close to his family, close to his gods, the Haitian
farmer still leads a life little influenced by the fashions and
the inventions of the twentieth century.
Some of Haiti's greatest artists,
Hector Hyppolite, Andre Pierre, and Lafortune Felix were first
houngans (vodou priests). All of the Saint-Soleil artists, first
hailed by André Malraux in 1977, say they are in constant
contact with the loas (African Spirits), as was their progenitor,
Robert St. Brice. The dark side of the religion, so well captured
by the macabre images of Enguerrand Gourgue and Edgar Jean-Baptiste,
is a force every Haitian must reckon with.
The simplicity of everyday life,
transformed into poetry by Philome Obin and the Cap-Haitian school,
gives to each Haitian a sense of place in this world just as
the Vodou religion assures him a place in the cosmos. Ongoing
life that neglects neither the body nor the spirit … that
is the joy of Haitian art.