Artful Photos Debut! – Haitian Art

Artful Photos is a new feature that I am starting in 2018. I am going to publish a photo (or more than one) of artwork from museums that I have visited. I go to a lot of art museums when I travel, plus I am a member of the Art Institute of Chicago (which means I get in free, so I try to get to as many of the special exhibits as possible). Most art museums (though not all) do allow you to take pictures of the artwork as long as you don’t use the flash. I take photos of everything from classic European art to modern art, sculpture to artistic everyday objects, and artwork from around the world.  I have posted a few of these previously on my blog.

I will publish Artful Photos every weekend. If you would like to participate by adding a link to your own photos of artwork, that would be awesome! Then we would all get to enjoy many kinds of art each week!

I am going to start with a series of Haitian paintings and metal sculptures that I photographed at the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) when I was visiting last November. The Haitian art is part of the museum’s permanent collection and has been there since 1991, when a Milwaukee businessman and his wife donated the Haitian art  they had collected since 1973, to the museum.

It is well worth a visit if you happen to be in Milwaukee.  Plus, the building itself is a wonder of modern architecture,



MAM is on the right – the boat-like structure. 

designed by Salvatore Calatrava. (He also designed the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro; I posted several pictures from that museum, including the architecture, last year.)




Laurent Casimir (1928-1990), “Crowded Market (Ampil Moun Nan Mach),” 1972; oil on masonite


Haitian art has a complex tradition. It combines characteristics from native populations that occupied the island of Hispaniola prior to European colonization with African and European elements. It is usually very colorful and detailed, depicting scenes of Haitian life or religious figures from the vodoun (vodun, formerly known as voodoo) tradition native to Haiti.



Rigaud Benoit (1911-1986), “Flower Carnaval (Flè Kanaval),” 1973; oil on masonite

This religious tradition has its origins in West Africa, from where slaves were brought to  the island nation. With the introduction of Christianity, a blending of elements from both African and European religions, called syncretism, became the expression of religious practice in Haiti.  Haitians are mostly practicing Catholics, but their symbols and rituals combine both African and Catholic traditions. For example, the Catholic saints each have also a vodun name and are said to be influential for certain purposes, usually similar ones in both religious traditions.




Serge Jolimeau (b. 1952), “Demon,” 1977; cut and forged metal

Three “schools” of Haitian art are presented here. The Southern school, based in Port-au-Prince, is represented by Hector Hyppolite, who mostly deals with the subject matter of Vodun. The Northern school is typically more secular and historical, such as the work of Philomé Obin, in the northern city of Cap-Haitien. The production of steel drum sculptures is located in the northeastern suburb of the capital, Croix-des-Bouquets.



Rigaud Benoit, “Recall of the Dead (Rele Mò),” 1973; oil on masonite

The art of Haitian steel sculpture comes from the town of Croix-des-Bouquets, an eastern suburb of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince. The sculptures are made from 55-gallon oil drums that companies used to dump in this impoverished town, along with industrial waste. In the 1940s, a local blacksmith combined the metal from these drums with iron bars to make elaborate metal crosses for the cemetery. Thus he turned waste into something useful and a new tradition was born. Once small and forgotten, Croix-des-Bouquets now bustles with artisan activity. The sounds of hammers and other tools emanate from almost every home.



Serge Jolimeau, “Sagittarius (Sagitè),” date unknown; cut and forged metal



Haitian Vodun banner (Danbala) (Drapo Vodoun), 20th century; sequins and beads on cloth

The language of Haiti is French Creole, which has influences from several languages, especially French. A small minority of educated members of the upper class in the capital also speak standard French, but the vast majority of Haitians speak only Creole.




Philomé Obin (1891-1986), “Outdoor Dance (Dans Nan Deyò),” 1958; oil on Masonite



Serge Jolimeau, “Peristil (Peristil),” ca. 1977; cut and forged metal

Haitian art came to international attention in 1944, when American artist DeWitt Peters opened the art school Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince. The art school allowed artists from all over Haiti, both trained and untrained, to come together to make art and share their ideas.



Gerard Valcin (1927-1988), “Ceremony in Vodun Temple (Seremoni Nan Tanp Vodoun),” 1963: oil on masonite



Hector Hyppolite (1894-1948), “Black Magic (Magi Nwa),” ca. 1946; oil on board



Gerard Valcin, “Communal Fieldworkers [Konbit] (Konbit Travayè [Konbit]},” 1971; oil on masonite















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