Experiencing the work of Haiti's master sculptors, one can almost hear the rhythm of the resurrection drums, a link with the ancestral spirits and divinities alive in these artists' fingertips. During the past half-century, from the forged-iron graveyard crosses of Georges Liautaud to the found-object fabrications of Pierrot Barra to Giullardo's monumental figure of a female, fashioned from an automobile husk, mufflers, oil filters, and hubcaps, Haitian sculpture has defied easy description.
"Lespri Endepandan: Discovering Haitian Sculpture," an exhibition honoring Haiti's sculptural tradition, opens Friday, September 10, at FIU's Frost Art Museum, providing a rare opportunity to survey a body of work scholars attribute to "the Haitian Renaissance" and the overarching influence of vodou on the national aesthetic. Curated by Elizabeth Cerejido, the 50 pieces gathered for the show are loosely structured in three categories based on the evolution of Haitian sculpture during the past five decades. Iron Traditions showcases the work of the Iron Masters who paved the road for a distinct cultural canon. Ritual Objects focuses on three-dimensional characteristics. Contemporary Interpretations highlights cutting-edge work from Haiti's younger generation of sculptors.
"One of the most exciting things about this show is that it reflects a bold and innovative use of the unlikeliest materials in a majority of the work assembled and at times the playful and over-the-top sensibilities of the younger artists in the exhibit" Cerejido affirms. Arguably, the spirit of Gede, the he-man god of sexuality and trickster figure, seems manifest in a piece by Jean Herard Celeur, replete with a monstrous phallus and huge skull reproductions, exuding a sense of eroticism associated with the awareness of death. Patrick Narbal Boucard's, Coloured, one of the show's more unusual confections, depicts a life-size rag doll formally dressed in black tie and tails and sporting what appear to be a pair of scuffed white Nike sneakers. This lurid figure is encased in a glass coffin set on hobby-horse-like rockers and topped off by a medieval-looking chain-mail helmet on a lance jutting from the doll's head. This piece makes a fine allegorical yardstick for measuring the syncretic influences of old-world Catholicism and vodou's animism.
The doll, known as a "Gollywog" in England, was a popular Sambo figure during British colonialism and in the artist's hands becomes a powerful statement against racism.
Long considered a dumping ground for the prefab products of the industrial world, Haiti may be seeing its sculptors drum up a resurgence with an approving nod from the gods. A testament to their singular imagination and extraordinary creativity, these artists make a dramatic statement here: They have ingeniously given the West a unique visual language from the waves of oil barrels, plastic dolls, bicycles, and endless tangle of flotsam washed up on their island's shores.