Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Haiti's Haven of Art and Hope

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Haiti's Haven of Art and Hope

Article excerpt

In early March, a few days after armed rebels forced Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office, vandals ransacked a Port au-Prince art museum and burned dozens of paintings--along with eighty-six rare Vodou dolls that were part of an exhibition marking Haiti's two hundredth anniversary of independence.

"It was such a shame," says prominent Haitian artist Patrick NarBal Boucard. "A lot of important works were destroyed."

Yet in the picturesque coastal town of Jacmel, art is being created, not plundered.

In February, just two weeks before Aristide's fall front grace, Boucard inaugurated a contemporary, two thousand-square-foot gallery at his evolving Centre d'Art de Jacmel (known in Creole as Fondation Sant d'A Jakmel). The gallery is part of a much bigger fundraising project aimed at keeping Haiti's rich artistic heritage alive in the face of continuing political and economic chaos.

"We've had no problem here Dr the simple reason that Jacmel is not as divided, and there's not as much hate here as in the rest of the country," says Boucard. "We have very good relations with the community, and we don't even need security, because people protect our space."

The center is located in a renovated brick warehouse that was used to sort and stock coffee back in the nineteenth century, when Jacmel was a booming port city and its famous gingerbread houses were built.

The back of the two-story Centre d'Art faces the beach, with views of Jacmel's fishing wharf and the Caribbean Sea. Inside, space has been arranged to accommodate ten studios for art students, and as many for visiting artists.

Boucard, a forty-seven-year-old Jacmel native, grew up in Haiti and Mexico, studied art in England, and served for a time in the U.S. Navy. He says his goal is to upgrade the quality of art here in his homeland.

"Haitian art is losing its credibility around the world, for a few-reasons," he says. "Because of market forces and economic difficulties, artists here tend to paint what sells. They're selling mostly stereo-typed Haitian art--mass-produced market scenes, Vodou scenes, and landscapes. It's diluting creativity," says the artist, who speaks English and Spanish in addition to his native French and Creole.

In his cluttered Jacmel studio, as he smokes Marlboros and sips Barbancourt run, which aside front art is Haiti's most famous export, Boucard's words were nearly drowned out by an electric fan blowing in the tropical heat, and by roosters crowing loudly in the courtyard below. …

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