haitian art masters
“Damwallah,” Jean Nasson in front of “N’ap naje ansamn, n’ap vole,” Didier William (photo credit: Figge Art Museum)

The Figge Museum in Davenport, Iowa, and two venues in Indianapolis, Indiana, are all offering exhibitions of Haitian art that address relevant narratives of today. 

Details about the Figge exhibition are online through its website and videos on the Indianapolis shows can be viewed through the Jacmel Arts Center’s Facebook page and Instagram account, Santadajakmel.

The Figge’s Haitian Masterworks, co-curated by Vanessa Sage and Joshua Johnson, offers selections from its historically significant collection, started in 1967 by Dr. Walter Neiswanger. The Jacmel Art Center, a central hub for Jacmel’s artistic community, prepared both the Indianapolis shows, which were curated by Director Lee Rainboth. The Garfield Park Arts Center is featuring Across the Bridge while Through the Gateway is showing at the District Theatre.

Sage said many people in the Des Moines area are already familiar with works in the Figge’s collection. Those who aren’t, “are drawn to them” because of their artistic strength.

The show includes rarely exhibited works by master Haitian artists Hector Hyppolite, Wilson Bigaud and Edouard Duval-Carrié. Issues that artists address in the exhibition include deforestation, cultural identity, immigration and the legacies of colonialism. 

In the Iowa show, “Damballah” a 14-foot-long white, mixed-media serpent created by Lionel St. Eloi, greets the viewer. Nearby, metalwork, originally flattened oil drums or car parts cut with mallet and chisel in intricate openwork designs, are on display. A third strong visual anchor for the exhibit is the life-sized piece also named “Damballah,” by the late Jean Nasson. It is constructed from a dugout canoe and is shown near “N’ap naje ansamn, n’ap vole ansamn,” a complex mixed-media composition that artist Didier William created for his one-man exhibition at the Figge earlier this year. 

The two Indianapolis exhibits are part of a larger selection of artwork that the Jacmel Art Center recently transported to the United States for exhibition and sale. 

According to Rainboth, three artists are included at both venues. Bruno Magic creates complex, detailed compositions that often comment on environmental and political issues. Vady Confident, one of the most respected artists in Jacmel, often works in a Haitian-cubist style depicting scenes of Haitian life from multiple perspectives. 

“And Danipy Georges creates surreal and mysterious paintings” said Rainboth, “that take inspiration from Vodou beliefs and the African roots of Haitian culture.” 

The Jacmel Art Center, started as an artist’s collective in 2003, and has been active during the last two years offering exchange programs in Gainesville, Florida, New Orleans, Louisiana, Brooklyn, New York, and Lincoln, Nebraska, among other U.S. cities. Most of the programs presented have included dance, music and children’s art components.

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J.O. Haselhoef is the author of “Give & Take: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti.” She co-founded "Yonn Ede Lot" (One Helping Another), a nonprofit that partnered with volunteer groups in La Montagne ("Lamontay"), Haiti from 2007-2013. She writes and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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