Haitian Visions: A Diverse Cultural Legacy
the relief efforts continue in Haiti following the devastation of
the earthquake that struck on January 12th, we are haunted by the
many compelling stories of these resilient people. Hardship has
long been a way of life for the Haitian people, but the challenges
they now face in rebuilding their country are greater than ever
The country of Haiti occupies the western half of the island of
Hispaniola (Dominican Republic is to the east) in the Caribbean
Sea. The name, “Haiti,” means “mountainous land,”
in the native language of the Taino people, who were the original
inhabitants of the island. The name is an apt description of the
island’s rugged topography.
As a result of European influences, French is the country’s
official language, and the official religion is Catholicism. However,
most Haitians speak Creole, which is a blend of languages, and practice
Vodun, which is based on African tribal religions with an overlay
of Catholic ritual and imagery.
Although Haiti is economically poor, it has a rich tradition of
artistic creativity. As with their language and religion, Haitian
art is an expression of the people and represents a blend of Indian,
Spanish, French, African and North American influences. For years,
artists in Haiti created primarily for their own enjoyment, incorporating
images from family life and island festivities, which they used
to decorate their houses and temples.
This began to change in 1944, when the American artist, DeWitt Peters
came to Haiti. He founded an art center that provided art lessons,
exhibition space, and income through the sale of art. This was the
beginning of a flourishing art scene that still exists in Haiti.
Over the years, Haitian art has grown in significance and importance,
as it has been increasingly recognized by the international art
Seemingly ordinary materials are frequently used in the production
of artworks. Traditional art forms include festival masks and ritual
banners, but perhaps the best known works are metal sculptures,
which are cut from old oil drums. A popular medium for Haitian artists,
metal also connects the people to their African roots as metal is
a sacred material in Africa, believed to possess special powers.
To produce a metal sculpture, oil drums are cut and flattened, then
cut again into the desired shapes. Some Haitian artists cut into
the metal directly, without benefit of preliminary sketches, but
others carefully plan their designs on paper before transferring
them to the metal for cutting. Although some sculptures are left
unpainted, more commonly, they are painted in bright, shiny colors.
Popular themes include traditional history or religion. Everyday
life also provides sources of inspiration, such as the colorful
tap-taps, recycled jeeps that are brightly painted and used as forms
of public transportation in the cities.
Haitian art is an example of the vital and unwavering creative spirit
that has helped these people triumph over the most adverse conditions
of human life and will undoubtedly assist them in persevering through
the current tragedy.
Adapted from the poster series titled questionArte
by Marilyn Stewart PhD, published by CRIZMAC (Item # 1000 $62.00)
In what ways does the artwork tell us about the time and
place in which it was made?
• Does the subject matter of the work suggest something about
• Do the materials or techniques suggest something about the
place in which the artwork was made?
• Is the artwork similar to artworks made by others who lived
in this place?
From the Teacher’s Guide of questionArte
“Talking about particular works of art, as well as about art
in general, can be the most satisfying activity associated with
learning about art and art-makers. Students gain new insights as
they examine and investigate works of art and offer possible interpretations
about meaning. Students learn from each other in the process of
discussing important questions about art. They learn about their
own art-making as they consider what they have accomplished through