The power of the image! You know, the whole world is not verbal; we Haitians are a very visual group....These people are projecting into these works what they think life is all about — their concept of morality, their concept of equality, their concept of everything!
Edouard Duval-Carrié on Haitian art, 1995
Haitian Masterworks celebrates the dynamic vision of Haitian artists while exploring the cultural and societal contexts that connect their work. Curated from the museum’s collection, the exhibition is organized thematically into sections on history, everyday life, spirituality, and the natural world. Ranging in medium, style and date (1945-2019), the works in the exhibition offer a stunning look at Haitian art and its evolution over the past 70 years.
Haiti’s turbulent and remarkable past features prominently in the nation’s artwork. Revolutionary figures who fought to establish an independent Haiti are portrayed as heroes, while other artists highlight the continuing struggle for self-determination amid oppressive social conditions. Images of everyday life, including market scenes and family gatherings are also popular subjects amongst Haitian artists and communicate universal themes of community and family. Many of the other artworks in the exhibition explore the complex spirituality of the Haitian people through the rich symbolism and fascinating mythology of Vodou and Roman Catholicism. This mythology is also present in the many Edenic scenes of animals and nature which are prevalent among Haitian painters, in spite of the widespread environmental issues that plague Haiti. While the artwork in the exhibition shares common themes, each artist brings an individual point of view to the subject matter.
The origins of many U.S. collections of Haitian art can be traced back to 1944, when the Centre d’Art opened in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Founded by American artist DeWitt Peters and a group of Haitian intellectuals, the center encouraged artistic production while also generating interest in Haitian artwork on the international market. The Figge has one of the first and most significant collections of Haitian art in the United States thanks in large part to Walter E. Neiswanger, a dedicated supporter of the museum. Dr. Neiswanger established the collection through a generous gift of Haitian paintings and sculptures in 1967. Since then, the collection has grown through strategic purchases and gifts to include hundreds of artworks, reflecting the continuing evolution of Haitian art and artists working within the Haitian diaspora.