Sunday, January 31, 2010

From Cuba to Haiti

My search for Cuban art around the city of New Orleans brought me to the Contemporary Art Center.

Instead, I found art from Haiti on display. It was also for sale.

New Orleans and Haiti have close ties historically. No surprise, the support for the small island following the earthquake is overwhelming here. New Orleanians remember the flood brought by hurricane Katrina and have, at some level, shared experiences with the people of Haiti.

The art was mainly Folk Art with beaded flags, portraits of Saints for Voodoo celebrations, items like dolls, decorated bottles from different artists, among them Yves Telemac. These were filling a whole room at the CAC.

The works from Gabriel Bien-Aime were lining the wall at the entrance, under a Haitian flag. "Fer du coupe" is a well known technique in Haiti, a form of spontaneous art born from the recycling of steel oil-drums.

Photographs from the photojournalist Daniel Morel were on display. Related to celebrations in Haiti like Mardi Gras or Rara festivals they are moving. It was another time. The website of the photographer is suddenly filled with views of the disaster and horrific scenes.
One way of supporting the people of Haiti is to show their art.
In the case of Haitian art, it is a direct reflexion of the population, it is unique, lively, colorful. It tells everyday stories and gives us a glimpse into the mysterious activities related to Voodoo. Our own Catholic Saints take another dimension, like they had a hidden life!

A few years ago, by curiosity, I walked in a gallery in Paris, specialized in naive art and enquired about Haitian artists. The gallerist shook his head and stated that it was impossible to have a stable market with Haiti, too much upheaval. He could not trust the artists or the provenance of the art.

What about the present and future of Haitian art? I just cherish every piece, regardless of the artist, valuable or not, because of the story it tells about Haiti.

photographs by the author

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cuba Uptown

After my third attempt, I managed to find the Newcomb Gallery on the uptown Tulane campus. The access is somewhat difficult, hampered by extensive road repairs.

Fifty four artworks by twenty seven artists living in Cuba are presented under the combined project with NOMA, "Polaridad Complementaria: Recent Works from Cuba". They can be viewed till March the 14th.

It is impossible to describe every work, but the visit of the first room is the highlight with two installations. One from Duvier del Dago made of cotton, resin, wood, metal: a black screen on which a succession of public health data gathered in Cuba( mortality, cases of infectious diseases...) scroll in white prints. The first plan is a white barbed wire and white strings creating depth, and visual effects.

Fernando Rodriguez presents computerized images of industrial sites. The background noises belong to a science-fiction movie. The subject is related to the relation of the individual and the machine. The message is old.

The work from Sandra Ramos (2009) "Parallel Roads" is two screens rotating at the same pace and putting in parallel views of Cuba and the United States... a gimmick.

Rene Franscisco Rodriguez goes to the poorest neighborhoods and records everyday life of the inhabitants in " The House of Rosa". These lengthy videos bring up the subject of social problems caused by poverty and make me feel like watching a documentary on television.

The photographs from Lidzie Alvisa are interesting with their message of lost communication: ears, eyes covered with nails held by magnets.

Overall, the presentation is interesting, but I still wonder who made this masterpiece hanging from the ceiling: several luggages, with a giant knife pierced through them.

Like any group exhibition, it becomes a succession of artists with different messages, next to each other... a lot of Cuban artists.

Photographs were not allowed.

Monday, January 18, 2010


The painters from Haiti are well known for their naive art.

A few years ago, I bought these paintings in Port-au-Prince for a few dollars, they were lying in a dusty street.

I found the smaller painting in Deschapelles.

During a short stay in Port-au-Prince and its suburbs, I was able to make photographs of these murals in a slum.

Most likely , they are destroyed.

The rebuilding of Haiti will need to include preservation of the culture.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cuba and the art galleries

Works from Angel Delgado are displayed at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery in the Art District on Julia Street in New Orleans.

The artist brings us in the world of prisons and makes us feel close to its inhabitants. Used handkerchiefs or bedsheets become the canvas on which he prints digital photographs. On this background, the artist draws a silhouette in pencil wax and adds another dimension to the piece. These digital prints of chains, locks, watchtowers are all related to the prisoners universe.
As we look closer, each photograph tells a heartwrenching story.
The items used for the canvas, with very personal stains make me think of the Saints relics in churches, whiffs of smells reach me.
Is the silhouette the lonely prisoner? Is it the viewer?...Hard to know.

Delgado spent six months in jail after defecating on a copy of Granma, the communist paper. This is where he started using these very personal items. He also sculpted bar soaps. Whatever material he is using, the message stays focused on the prisons.

The experience of the artist, who is close to the subject, helps the viewer become a participant. It is hard not to get touched. The artist gives us a glimpse of the carceral universe, but the stains are not blood, they are nicotine , lipstick, and the photographs are colored, bright background for the silhouette.
photograph from the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery's website

Saturday, January 16, 2010

New Orleans, Cuba

" Si Cuba" is a succession of coordinated events taking place in New Orleans from January till March.

From art exhibits at the New OrleansMuseum of Art or local galleries, book discussions at local coffee shops, poetry readings, Cuban culture is present everywhere in New Orleans... or Cubans are speaking about the culture, the country they miss.

Today the New Orleans Museum of Art was hosting a special event to introduce ten new works from Luis Cruz Azaceta in its white marbled Great Hall.

On the second floor of the Museum, five artists living in Cuba were presented under the hospice of " Polaridad Complementaria: Recent Works From Cuba" with a painting from Douglas Perez Castro, a lace of highways over the shadow of a metropolis, was the cover of the invitation. Abel Barosso had one of his pieces, seen above and three photographers were also included. It was a very low key affair, and the visitor had to find his/her way through several rooms hosting permanent collections before discovering this special exhibit.

The main artist, Luis Cruz Azaceta migrated to the United States in 1960 at the age of 18, and for the past 17 years has been living in New Orleans. He is well known locally and his works have been displayed at several galleries in the Art District.

I find his technique and his message crude and cannot feel any emotion when looking at the aggressive colors combined with harsh lines. The paintings are flat panels with simple messages, clear, but at one level. The little personage trying to find his way out of the maze is the painter and stays the painter who cannot bring us beyond his personal history.

Upon leaving the Museum, I took a look back: thirty visitors all wearing black standing in the majestic white marble Great Hall. Lining the walls, out of place, were Azaceta's paintings. It struck me: like murals, they would bring color to some poor neighborhood in Cuba...but no hope.

bottom photograph from the Arthur Roger Gallery's website

top photograph is a reproduction from the catalog

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Degas in the news

Degas is in the news

Degas has deep roots in New Orleans. His mother was from a rich Creole family and his two brothers raised in France, migrated to New Orleans to seek fortune in the family business.

He spent five months in New Orleans, from October 1872 till March the following year. He was the first and only French Impressionist painter to visit the New World. His family portraits have been the main legacy of this trip. He visited his two brothers and his extended Creole family, whose wealth and subsequent losses was made in cotton trading. One of the painting : "A Cotton Office in New Orleans" is well known and was bought by the Museum of the City of Pau in Southwest of France. Another painting represents his sister-in-law "Portrait of Estelle Musson" and can be viewed at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

This trip was a turning point in his career. It convinced Degas, then thirty-eight years old, that one can only paint what one knows well. Upon his return, he concentrated on the subjects which made him famous later.

He considered New Orleans an exotic place but did not appear to have taken advantage of this in his works. One speculation is that he was unable to enjoy the outdoors due to his eye ailment. He could not tolerate the brightness of the sky.

The book "Degas in New Orleans: a French impressionist in America" gives an extensive review of his trip and discusses the aftermath.

It includes interesting essays relating to Degas and his family, the cotton market, New Orleans society.

The paintings are inspiring contemporary artists, and I found a video on You Tube from songwriter Ronny Elliot, which is worth watching.