When I travel to a country for the first time I usually try to do some homework in preparation for my visit. I love the way that travel brings history, geography, and humanity to life, and provides a deeper understanding of the world. Still, sometimes I visit a place like Haiti, that is so enigmatic and full of surprises, that I realize no amount of advance preparation could have fully primed my understanding of the place. I loved the way Haitian Fashion Designer of Rapadou, Marie Therese Hilaire who goes by “Tetes”, expressed it:
“We have a country that has a feeling, se la pu la, You have to be there to understand it“.
It took less than two hours to fly there from Miami, but could not have felt more worlds away.
The art of any country always provides insightful cultural cues. In a country like Haiti, which is deeply infused with a visual arts culture, it can be a primer into the ethos of the population. As a first time visitor to Haiti it was thrilling to meet a varied cross section of artists and artisans who make their living through their craft. The “studios” of the Artisan Business Network artists we visited ranged from outdoors spaces on the ground in remote villages to high-end designer studios in the capitol. I was impressed that despite these variances the finished pieces of art produced in each setting were beautiful and polished works. I also noted that even the most high end designer we visited used some repurposed materials with which to create. I marveled that the rubber from old tires, empty discarded cement bags or metal barrels could be transformed into such amazing objects. Many of the artisans we met create products for the Heart of Haiti line of goods sold on-line and in Macy’s stores in America. Having bought pieces in the past from Heart of Haiti that decorate our home made it all the more powerful to meet the artisans actually creating these pieces by hand. Heart of Haiti began it’s partnership with the Artisan Business Network after the 2010 earthquake in an effort to provide sustainable jobs for as many Haitian artisans as possible to aid in economic recovery. Everywhere you look in Haiti you find art, from colorful TapTap buses to the murals on the cement walls around the city, color and creation seemed to saturate Haitian life.
The same artists in the below video about Heart of Haiti that was made a couple of years ago are the ones that we visited during our October trip this year. They are still working today and able to support their families, and send their kids to school because the pieces they create are in demand in the Macy’s stores.
Each region we visited seemed to have a creative specialty, we were often given demonstrations and able to observe the artists process of creation. This was amazing. We visited paper mache artists in Jacmel, stone carvers in Leogane, and metal workers in Croix des Bouquets. We watched the exquisite beadwork of Jean-Baptiste in Croix des Bouquets and the soap making process at a women’s collective in Mirebalaise. Even the embroiderers in Camp Perrin, recently hit hard by Hurricane Matthew, were busy rebuilding, creating, and getting back to work.
“Haiti’s visual arts are unmatched in the caribbean. Much of this can be put down to the influence of Vodou, with its rich visual language of veve symbols and painted temples” –Paul Clammer
I love the widespread use of veve, or religious symbols representing Vodou spirits, in every type of art that we saw. I felt like the pieces decorated with Vodou symbology were imbued with a mythical presence, making it more than just a beautiful object, but one with deeper meaning and symbolism. Of course, each piece that is produced for the Artisan Business Network and Heart of Haiti is more than just a beautiful object, to the artisan it is their life blood, their independence, and pride. Each piece represents the opportunity to earn a good wage, in a country that faces many obstacles at the moment to doing so, it is also a chance for Haiti to maintain its rich and unique arts culture that is a gift to the world. Spoiler alert for friends and family…..I returned home with a huge duffle bag packed with gorgeous gifts for this holiday season, along with some more amazing pieces for our own home! If you are interested in purchasing gifts that give hope from Haiti this season you can find all sorts of wonderful creations, home goods, jewelry, and tastes of Haiti at Macy’s . Items can also be found for purchase, or to order to carry in your own shop on the Artisan Business Network site. Over the next few weeks I can’t wait to share stories about some of the artisans that we met and the gorgeous items that they make!
I received a scholarship from Everywhere to help cover some of my trip expenses to Haiti to visit Artisan Business Network artists who create products for the Macy’s Heart of Haiti line. It was an incredible experience and as always on this blog, all thoughts and opinions are my own.