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Art of Haiti at show in Nottingham, England
Submitted by CHAN on October 23, 2012 - 16:07
Car parts and human skulls – art of Haiti on show
Haiti is often known for poverty, oppression and natural disasters, but the largest exhibition of its art ever staged in n the UK aims to balance out perceptions of the country.
By Mark Brown, Arts Correspondent, The Guardian (UK), Oct 22, 2012
“When you walk in here, hopefully it is visually eye-popping, astonishing,” said the director of Nottingham Contemporary, Alex Farquharson. “These images speak to a very rich culture. There is a lot of joy.”
Farquharson was speaking before the opening of a show of Haitian art inspired by Vodou, the religion which has been a central part of people’s lives since Haiti became the world’s first black republic in 1804. The Nottingham show is ambitious. It brings together 200 works by 40 artists, from the 1940s to the present day. The beauty and inventiveness of the artists, mostly from impoverished backgrounds with minimal contact with any established art worlds, is striking.
Farquharson said Haitian art is often shown in a folk art context, which is unfair. “If I didn’t feel that this work stood up to a lot of work that I think is most interesting in contemporary art, then I really wouldn’t be showing it here,” he said.
He hopes it will not come across as a kind of ethnographic exhibition, or as outsider art. “It is not that on a visual level, on a formal level or on an aesthetic level. The works are full of invention and you can differentiate the artists. We are being as exclusive as we would be in selecting contemporary artists for a show.”
The works and the stories they tell will be new to most visitors, with many having little more than the Bond film Live and Let Die as their Vodou reference point.
Co-curator Leah Gordon said Baron Samedi, the spirit of death in his top hat and tails, had become “the poster boy for Vodou” since he was memorably played by Geoffrey Holder in the film. Samedi does indeed pop up quite a lot in the works, as do the Gede, the spiritual intermediaries between life and death.
Gordon, who curates the Ghetto Biennale in Port-au-Prince, said she hoped visitors would see how humorously and irreverently death is often treated by Haitian artists.
The show takes visitors on a journey beginning with the centre d’art movement founded in 1944 and including work by Haiti’s most celebrated artist, Hector Hyppolite. Another room shows work from the 1970s and 80s, when Haiti suffered under the dictatorship of “Baby Doc” Duvalier. A final room shows the most recent work, including art from the Atis Rezistans group, who make supernatural sculptures from materials including car parts and human bones.
The exhibition is being staged by one of Britain’s youngest public contemporary art galleries and one that proves the worth of capital spending on the arts. Since it opened in 2009, Nottingham Contemporary has had nearly 700,000 visitors, 50% more than expected. Estimates suggest it will have added £23m to the local economy in its first three years.
With all the works being loaned from private collections, Farquharson said the show had been a challenge as relationships had to be built from scratch. “That world is different from the ones we tend to move in – we weren’t recognisable in it, although we are now, having made enough of a nuisance of ourselves.”
He hopes the show will be an eyeopener. “It is outside the art world as most of us know it, but this work does speak to a lot of what the most interesting contemporary artists are involved in and thinking about right now.” Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou is at Nottingham Contemporary until 6 January 2013.
See eight images from the show here.
More on Haiti art show, from the Corbett mail list, Oct 26, 2012:
The exhibition is indeed a major event for Haitian art in the UK. There have been earlier, smaller shows, such as the event in Liverpool commemorating the anniversary of the Abolition of the British slave trade featuring work by the Atis Resistannz, but this show is larger and more comprehensive than anything that has appeared before --ever.
Numerous collectors have contributed pieces that are seldom seen in public, and a wide range of art critics and scholars have contributed essays for the catalogue. Perhaps some on this list will be able to see the show. It is a fairly short train ride from London and the gallery is a few steps away from the station. You may even get a glimpse of Robin Hood, who can perhaps be thought of as a kindred spirit. For those who cannot see the show, the catalogue will soon be available.