The first thing you’ll probably notice about the exhibit is the art of Haiti is full of color – on the canvas, in the bead-adorned flags, and covering the paper machete pieces. But when you begin to really study the art, you take away something different.
“When you look into it,” says Lorie Amick, “there’s an awful lot of really serious, heavy, sorrowful topics that are still depicted with these bright colors, which I find really fascinating.”
Amick oversaw the installation of the exhibit, which showcases about 80 pieces from the collection of the Waterloo Center for the Arts in Waterloo, Iowa.
“It makes me wonder – Are the artists trying to find a happy place in life? Are they trying to present it in a way that draws you in so that you look at it and go – Oh, wait a minute. There are a lot of questions that I have about what the artists trying to do by doing that.”
She says the works are grouped and presented according to themes – work-life, colonial era, contemporary art, and voodoo.
“Which I think is kind of interesting. You can look at a section and get an idea of what goes on in the cultural a little more, instead of one artist’s point of view, you can look at a couple of different artists’ points of view on a specific topic.”
For Amick, setting up the exhibit was an eye-opening experience. She says she learned new things from the artwork as she processed the style for the first time.
“I’ve never really studied this or learned about it. I’ve never been to Haiti. It’s been really exciting and I’ve had to have some concepts that I’m still playing with, because it’s a different way of thinking in a lot of ways, especially with the voodoo.”
Mona Berg is the guest curator of the exhibit. She says voodoo is a significant part of Haitian history and culture.
“When they were brought here as slaves to Haiti, they came from very different parts of the African continent. They were discouraged from keeping their own culture and religions, but all the people pooled their knowledge of their religions together to form what the Haitians now call voodoo.”
While art has long existed in Haiti, it wasn’t until the 1940s when the international arts community took notice. That’s when the Center for the Arts was founded in Port-au-Prince. Native artists gathered there to create a visual history of the country’s turbulent past.
Berg notes that this exhibition coincides with the anniversary of the January 12, 2010, earthquake that killed more than 300,000 Haitians and injured just as many.
“We felt this was a good time to show what the spirit of the people is like through their art. This is just one more of the tragedies they’ve had to face and they’re still doing their wonderful artwork and prevailing.”
The Art Museum is partnering with Purdue’s Black Cultural Center to display the Haitian artwork. Center Director Renee Thomas says the pieces will expose the Lafayette area to a different cultural background.
“Because of the religious symbols that are used in it. Both from a Christian perspective and voodoo perspective, it really challenges you to think in different ways as you look at the artwork as well, and don’t take it for first glance, but to really study it.”
She says the work of the artists is inspiring, and she hopes those who see it consider the bigger picture.
“The Haitian people are very resilient, people who are survivors. People who don’t just survive, but they thrive there on their island.”
The opening reception for the Celebration of Haitian Art exhibit is Friday, January 11, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette. The curator of the Waterloo Center for the Arts, which houses the pieces, will be speaking at 6:45 p.m. The works are on display through March 17th.