When newly appointed Haitian Ambassador to the U.S. Hervé Denis quietly took office in early March, he had a grand plan to exhibit the works of Haitian artists living outside of the island in what is known as the “diaspora,” most living here in the United States.
“Diaspora Expressions Expo,” a post-modern Haitian art exposition co-curated by artist and American University adjunct professor Charles Jean-Pierre, is intended to unveil the hidden talents of artists in the diaspora community through the works of 32 carefully selected artists.
“The diaspora is one of Haiti’s greatest resources and incredibly talented,” Denis said. “The admiration for their heritage is evident through the number of organizations, associations and social media initiatives created to share Haiti’s beauty and historical significance. In essence, they are seeking to reconnect with their roots and contribute to the Haiti conversation. This initiative offers them a platform to do just that.”
The evening began with a private viewing of the collection and a guided tour conducted by Denis and the participating artists. Some of the special guests included ambassadors and alternates from the embassies of Cameroon, Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Togo, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Barbados and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, among others.
A plethora of high-profiles guests attended the Friday evening soiree, including the former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, William Jones, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kenneth Merten from the Department of State and Alfred Metellus, counselor for the Office of Argentina and Haiti from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Commander Michael Bennett.
Later, the embassy welcomed members of the Haitian diaspora and the general public to launch the initiative. Guests included longtime supporters of the embassy, art collectors, educators and university students, millennials, press, and members from the private and nonprofit sector and NGOs.
The Diaspora Expressions Expo is a new initiative which seeks to offer a variety of exhibitors while aiming to attract a new generation of cultural promoters and art collectors by introducing work that can be purchased on a modest budget.
Much of the Haitian art currently on the market by well-known artists such as Fritzner Alphonse, H.R. Bresil and other masters of Haitian art, are priced well beyond the means of the average person as the knowledge and popularity of Haitian art have increased on the art market.
The initiative places a strong emphasis on providing stimulating conversations about art acquisition, educational opportunities for both novice and experienced collectors, and personal talks with artists and other members of the community.
The walls of the elegant building on Embassy Row served as the galleries for the art works, which snaked up the staircase and liberally filled the foyer and public rooms. An invited audience of more than 400 people filled each level of the building, taking in the colorful works ranging from realistic portraiture to abstract.
Noshing on cheese, dried fruits and wine, along with Haitian delicacies such as griot (or grilled pork) and sweet potato pudding, patrons took the opportunity to speak with the artists present, including co-curator Jean-Pierre, who also had a piece of art in the expansive exhibit.
One such diaspora artist is Michael Brudent of Spring Valley, Long Island. Born in Port-au-Prince on July 18, 1947, he embarked at a very young age on his calling into decorative art and attended L’Ecole des Beaux Arts. In 1968, Brudent was “discovered” by renowned Haitian painter Roland Dorcely who taught the younger artist the basis of design and acrylics.
The youthful Brudent’s artistic curiosity led him into the halls of the Rex Theatre, a well-known institution in Haiti, where playwrights and technical staff hired him as a stage decorator. At the same time, he was requested to illustrate educational manuals for primary and secondary schools.
His work was among the more abstract paintings, but reflects a Haitian aesthetic in form and color combinations.
“On the walls of the embassy are more than images, what you are witnessing tonight is Haiti through the eyes of the diaspora,” Denis said. “On these walls are their understanding and perception of their homeland. It is their imagination on a canvas. It is, in essence, their way of reintroducing all of us to the Haiti they know. The diaspora has always held a special place in my heart and in my work. I believe they are one of Haiti’s greatest resources and assets.
“Their understanding of both republics and the global community positions them to make an impact in our homeland and outside its borders,” he added. “What I find most fascinating about them is their passion and drive to contribute and give back. I created this initiative to offer a platform through which they can channel that desire and passion, and turn it into action.”
Denis closed his remarks by acknowledging each of the participating artists, both present and absent, and invited those in the room to join him on stage.
The exhibit will be open to the public from Aug. 5 to Dec. 30. To schedule a tour or view the list of participating artists, go to www.haiti.org.