Tag Archives: Haiti

The Responsibility of the Artist

We left Haiti Monday morning after a short press conference with Haitian news outlets about our trip. The conference focused on the students responses, but at one point, they wanted everyone, including me, to share what stood out the most to us.

What stood out to me was the responsibility of the artist, modeled especially by Philippe Dodard, who took time out of his busy schedule to share the art and culture of his country. He introduced us and made it possible for us to meet all kinds of different Haitian artists, from the street artists, to the artists of the Grand Rue, Saint-Soleil Movement and Croix-de-Bouquets. Within every single one of these groups, there is a commitment to passing on the practice to young people.

Grand Rue creation outside of Andre Eugene's studio

Grand Rue creation outside of Andre Eugene’s studio

Andre Eugene, one of the Grand Rue artists, is an internationally known artist who represented Haiti at the 2011 Venice Biennale and whose work has been compared to Damien Hirst of the diamond skull fame (both who stretch, on opposite ends, what no-budget art-making means). Eugene works with found skulls, as well as other materials that are on the streets. Yes, found skulls. Human skulls, that he finds on the street. He uses these and other materials that he finds to create his sculptures.  This is the epitome of no-budget art making. But more important is the work that he lauds when you visit his studio, the work made by the children of the Grand Rue. He regularly works with them to teach them to find their way into that place of creativity, using similar techniques that he does, more because that is what they can afford–whatever they find on the street.

One of the kids making art at the Grand Rue. Photo thanks to Haiti: The Bradt Travel Guide

One of the kids making art at the Grand Rue. Photo thanks to
Haiti: The Bradt Travel Guide



What I take away from this trip as an artist and a teacher, is my responsibility to continue to share what I do, and to inspire creative expression, through my teaching.

I was reminded of an experience as a Jesuit Volunteer that continues to formulate many of  my life choices, the hunger banquet. Some of you readers may have participated in one of these at some point in your life. You draw a number at random, a one, two or three. I drew a one. Your number got you a ticket into the first, second or third world. The first world sat down to a ridiculously elegant meal, with meat and all the trimmings. The second world got bowls of rice and beans. The third world got a big pot, no bowls, plates or serving utensils. I remember not wanting to accept my lot in life, being very frustrated, wanting to somehow do something to help the others, change the system, something. On many levels, I felt very powerless–in spite of the fact that I supposedly have so many opportunities at my fingertips. This thought still comes in and out of my mind.

As I thought about that in Haiti, a conversation that comes up between me and Doug surfaced: how do we end up in our families, in our countries? Am I really lucky to have been born to middle-class parents in America? What is it that I am supposed to learn in this family/path of mine? What is my responsibility as a citizen of the Earth?

How does this relate to art? When I studied religion and art at Yale, I read Paul Tillich, and embraced his argument that art is an expression of an ultimate concern. (Read a great essay about it by him here.) The above plus all of his arguments are beginning to come together to help me define the next direction that I want/need to take as an artist, mainly asking how do I address the political in my art. And not political in the sense of work that offends or shocks, but work created with purpose. Work designed to ignite conversation and engage the viewer to action, whether that is action in their hearts, mind or in the world. So this is where I am, how do I take what I do already and engage my world in a different way. I don’t know. But I will explore this through 2013. Stay tuned.

Bon Soleil! Happy New Year! Enjoy the pics below my favorite images from Haiti.


A Bon Soleil to you!!

We spend our days in Haiti being shuttled from one location to another by our amazing driver Joel. Jess Jean-Charles, one of the students on our trip is Haitian American, fluent in Creole and French, so she acts as our translator, she tells him where we need to go, and he gets us there. We are being very safe, doing our best to follow the State Department guidelines. (Minus staying out of the red and yellow zones, don’t tell!)

  1. Stay with your group.
  2. Do not leave your hotel on foot, always go with your driver and your group.
  3. Do not wear flashy jewelry when going certain places, keep smart phones/cameras hidden.
  4. When getting in and out of the van, be quick. Locate where you are entering your destination first, get ready and then go. Apparently this is one of the more dangerous situations—where people get attacked the most. We still struggle with an efficient way of getting 10 people in and out of a mini-bus quickly.
  5. Be street smart. Never let your guard down.

Each place we’ve visited, we’ve been with Haitian superstars. I do not say that lightly. As a result, we’ve been able to visit and meet people that had we done this on our own, its doubtful we would have EVER found them. It has made for a very special trip. Thursday and Friday artist and director of the L’Ecole National D’Arts, Philippe Dodard, guided us, Saturday, the musician BelO was with us.

The view from Soisson-La-Montagne

The view from Soisson-La-Montagne

Friday, we went to Soisson-La-Montagne, an area in Peitionville high in the hills. The Saint Soleil, or Saint Sun school of art was founded here and second and third generation artists still create here. Saint Soleil celebrated its 40th anniversary December 2012, which allowed us to see a spectacular exhibition of all the great Saint Soleil painters at MUPANUH on our first day. Prospere PIERRE-LOUIS might be one of my new favorite artists. Although Leroy Exil, the only first generation Saint Soleil artist still alive is a close second.

Leroy Exil painting that I purchased.

Leroy Exil painting that I purchased.

Prospero Pierre-Louis, not my favorite, but all I can find online. I wasn't able to photograph his work in the museum.

Prospero Pierre-Louis, not my favorite, but all I can find online. I wasn’t able to photograph his work in the museum.


We visited the studios of a half-dozen second and third generation Saint Soleil painters. Saint Soleil means Saint Sun. The style sort of mixes elements of Paul Klee, Australian Aboriginals and the graphic arts. Little dots are featured in some way in every single work. These little dots represent words, almost like little prayers to the vodou gods. In some paintings, the vodou pantheon becomes the conceptual center point, in others it is purely the sun and pattern.

At the first studio we visited, I was so overwhelmed and in love with one particular painting that I failed to take any pictures. BUT, because of Philippe Dodard, I was able to get in touch with the artist and he just delivered the painting to me!!! I am thrilled beyond belief.

Michel Maxene with the painting that I obsessed about for two days, and finally was able to get.

Michel Maxene with the painting that I obsessed about for two days, and finally was able to get.

Love, love, love this collage.

Love, love, love this collage.



















Thankfully I was able to recover by the third or fourth studio, and actually took some pics of my favorite pieces. This artist, Onel, my friend Karen Arp-Sandel would l.o.v.e. His studio consists of a pile of scraps of fabric that he cuts carefully and collages on to nearly anything he can find creating high end canvases as well as more commercial pieces that are extremely affordable. I refuse to keep my obsession with dots and circles quiet any longer. They emerge in my work from time to time, but now, I will let them come in more and more and more.

Philippe at the Saint Soleil Cemetery--see bit of mural in background

Philippe at the Saint Soleil Cemetery–see bit of mural in background

About half-way through our visit, we stopped at the cemetery where all the Saint Soleil painters will be/are buried. Some of the walls are covered in murals by my friend Leroy. While in the center point, a monument still in progress, Philippe told us a bit more about the Saint Soleil school and the importance of wishing anyone we meet in the school a Bon Soleil while looking meaningfully into their eyes. This simple wish embodies love, safety, goodness, health and happiness. And not only did we wish it to everyone we met, it was wished to us as well.

I am inspired—maybe this will cure my restlessness. I already was late to a group meeting because I got lost in my painting/making. I can only wish for more of this.

Bon Soleil!


I am in Haiti.

I am in Haiti.

My anxiety level rose a few notches in anticipation of this trip, especially when the State Department upped their warnings for Americans traveling to Haiti on December 28, 2012, five days before our departure. I was grateful for the Bradt posting of how one of those warnings might be written for Haitians traveling to America. That helped, sort of.

This pic from the plane, and the collage inspired by it, also helped.

View from the plane--oh how I love the blue.

View from the plane–oh how I love the blue.



Sea collage, looking down on the Caribbean

Sea collage, looking down on the Caribbean

So did freshly picked mangos and guava jam. But perhaps the best fix came from meeting with Regine, the Haitian Cultural Attache for the State Department. Our trip is not a State Department sponsored trip, so we don’t have to adhere to the yellow and red zone guidelines, but the State Department has helped make this trip possible. Her briefing on our first full day in Haiti completely eased my mind, as did meeting Phillippe Dodard, who has guided us through the museum and gallery world as well as the Grand Rue, a noted State Department red zone, but home to some of Haitians most well-known contemporary artists.

So why am I in Haiti?

I am accompanying eight MCLA students along with my incredible colleague Jonathan Secor, Director of Special Programs at MCLA, on an arts and culture immersion trip. We are exploring historical and contemporary visual and performing arts in Haiti. Each student researched a different aspect of history, contemporary society or art prior to the trip, and now we are spending our days meeting artists, visiting studios, galleries, and museums. We each have a sketchbook, with the assignment to document, draw and write, as well as the goal to help our fellow artists in Haiti by purchasing art. Tomorrow or later today, I will write about our focused looked at the Saint Soleil artists.

Here are some of the highlights so far.

Our fearless students at the Mupanah Museum du Pantheon National d"Haiti

Our fearless students at the Mupanah Museum du Pantheon National d”Haiti

My new role model at Hotel Oloffson

My new role model at Hotel Oloffson

Gyode studio, Grand Rue, this sculpture is now in my collection.

Gyode studio, Grand Rue, this sculpture is now in my collection.

Philippe Dodard and me at Gyode's studio.

Philippe Dodard and me at Gyode’s studio.

Grand Rue

Grand Rue

All of us at Eugene Andre's studio in the Grand Rue.

All of us at Andre Eugene’s studio in the Grand Rue.

New Year's Inspiration, Grand Rue

New Year’s Inspiration, Grand Rue