Western media often focuses on Haiti’s tragic history of poverty and natural disasters, but there is another side to Haiti that we don’t see on TV
Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti early last month leaving hundreds dead, and was said to be the ‘most powerful Caribbean storm in a decade‘. In the wake of the disaster French entrepreneur, Alex Latour, launched an art exhibition at Gabriel Fine Arts Gallery to display the beauty and creativity that comes out of Haiti despite its history of poverty and devastation. All the paintings on display were by Haitian artists and a percentage of all proceeds went towards relief aid following the hurricane.
The exhibition titled ‘The DNA of Art‘ was attended by the ambassador for Haiti in the UK who, during his speech, urged attendees to ‘always remember Haiti is not the Haiti you see on TV, it is part of it, but we do have another side and sometimes they don’t want to show you’. The exhibition, was one of many held throughout the year as part of the smARTest Project, which according to project Director, Alex Latour, reveals the secret world of outsider art (e.g., Haitian art) that Western media hides from the public eye.
In your opinion, how does Haitian art differ from what we tend to see in the mainstream?
Alex: Haitian art is mostly conceptual and spiritual and it picks people’s brain; at the moment in the mainstream, whatever you see is really something I believe is flat, nothing that pushes people to think. Haitian art is something where people need to step into the paintings and say: where am I? What do I feel? What is it? It gives you a lot of questions and that’s what we need. All the subjects of Haitian art are about peace, love and unity; but what we see in the mainstream is always the same. People are being told how to like art and it’s not about feeling. Through Haitian art we try to give feelings, art is about feelings.
‘Art is just purely something that comes to you, whatever origin or background you have, it is a gift’
So, you don’t feel we see any of that in the mainstream, or not enough?
Alex: Barely, it’s really hard because Haitian art is of the outsider art world. The mainstream says anything that is not like us is ‘outside’. Outsider art means you don’t need to study art to be an artist. You don’t need to come from the Western world to be an artist. You don’t need to have networks to be an artist. You don’t need a name to be an artist. Art is just purely something that comes to you, whatever origin or background you have, it is a gift.
‘Free up your mind’
What can art buyers do to break down the elitist sphere of mainstream art? The public, art collectors etc., what can we do?
Alex: Free up your mind. Most people don’t free up their mind because we live in a society which is really conservative, you need to follow a line. People need to understand that we can go around and around and around and cross the line many times; it’s good for our health, it’s good for people. Art is the same, so much of the new art that exists in the world (not necessarily London) is still elitist. It brings the same people, the same sponsors. People need to see outside, outside is where they can find what they don’t have inside. Because everything inside is fake. Outside is where the truth of love, peace and unity is — true art.
‘Through art you can educate people’
Do you think increased exposure could help change negative stereotypes about Haiti?
Alex: Yes, because through art you can educate people, you can give them messages and teach them the real truth and not what’s in the media. So that’s what we will do, step by step we will create more exhibitions, where we can give messages to people and say ‘hey guys’ this is the reality of the world. This is a really strong means to change people’s mindset and to change the system where we live, through art we can do it.
‘Haiti is not just about disaster’
How do you think hurricane Matthew will affect the Haitian art trade if at all?
Alex: I think that it is a springboard. I think it’s really an opportunity for us with this project in London, and obviously, we will connect with the US where Haitian art is more popular; in France as well in the future. It’s a really strong opportunity to say ‘hey’ Haiti is not just about disaster, it’s not all about poverty it’s not all about voodoo, bad voodoo, whatever! I mean people have really strong, bad prejudices about Haiti and thanks to that we can use this opportunity to show another side of Haiti. Haiti is beautiful, people are really nice, it’s a beautiful country, it’s a really creative country. It’s the first black colony to take their independence from the white people. People really need to know that. History books have always, in these Western countries, hidden that because of the shame for them to say this country was the first with African slaves to gain independence.
‘Focus on the artists and help them to promote their work on the international platform’
What is the smARTest Project and what are your aims?
- The main goal is helping Haitian artists to access the market to have a decent income so they can live as an artist, so they don’t need to do something else. The life in Haiti is so hard that they can’t live off their art and need to have another job. These are real artists and they should have the same opportunities that artists who live in this country have.
- Secondly, I want to promote the Haitian country and share it in London, in the UK. Britain doesn’t know about the Haitian country and they need to know because it’s something new and something positive. The niche is there and the door is open.
- The other thing is to help these artists reach a level where they can connect with other artists in other countries. In the future we will link to other countries as well, where these people who don’t have access to the international market can link altogether to share, to learn and to do new things as well. That’s the idea of the project really, to focus on the artists and help them to promote their work on an international platform; and in the future build the capacity to manage their own career.
‘Art gives light to everyone who is ready to see it’
Could you explain the smARTest Project logo?
Alex: The logo represents bringing everyone together. So it’s like a ball and its fire, its light. Art gives light to everyone who is ready to see it and fire is something that you never have in your hands, it moves around and it’s the mixing of elements together that gives a fire, something that’s powerful. I was going to change it, some people think it looks like a basketball but it’s not, it’s like a shooting star, something never in your hands. The idea for the logo comes from Makenol Profil, he suggested it be something that gives light to people.
‘Everything needs to be free for artists’
What is next for the project?
Alex: Scaling up, being more visible, having more exposure, bringing art to different places. Like here at Gabriel Fine Arts, I’m working with these guys and they believe in what I’m doing and I believe in what they’re doing. We don’t want to break the rules, we use the rules to show something different. We want to build an economic platform. We need to have income to make sure this project is sustainable and brings in more artists. We need buyers, art collectors, investors; we need sponsors as well. This is not only stuck in one space, it’s going to be mobile and outside on the ground. We will have products people can buy. If people can’t afford an original painting, we will have art for them as well, like a t-shirt or something.
It doesn’t stop at Haiti, we’re going to expand to other artists who also don’t have access to the market; African or Caribbean, Asian, Oceania. We want to get them together to meet and share their art and create art fairs with free access to international art. Everything needs to be free for artists. Everything! That’s why we need sponsors. That’s the long-term vision.
‘If you have your project and you feel you have a connection with what we do, let’s do it together’
In your opinion, what can the industry do to be more inclusive of outsider artists, like Makenol Profil?
Alex: We need new people. There’s a kind of class of people that are leading the market, that will never change unfortunately. I don’t mean a radical change I mean a mix; these guys need to open their minds and open their door to new ways of creativity. But sometimes they don’t, so what do we do? If there is this wall, what do we do? We just go around, and find new ways to bring something new to the market, something new to the people. That’s why we’ve started to create performances and art and different activities with art, the new art, not the fake art that we are used to seeing in the mainstream.
It’s going to be a very long process, there are going to be obstacles. Some people will say, no you can’t do that, this is my field. But this is everyone’s field, so the door is open. There are thousands and thousands of people that have the same vision, we just need to bring everyone together and we will be much more powerful. That is the smARTest Project; the vision to create a collaborative platform where everyone can come. If you have your project and you feel you have a connection with what we do, let’s do it together.