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Friday, November 11, 2011

Reactions to the Haitian Collection

People say that every time you watch the same movie over again it gets better because you notice things you didn’t each time before.  I feel as if the same idea can be applied to art. Thursday was my third time going to the Waterloo Arts Center to view the Haitian art collection and each time not only did I notice things I hadn’t the time before, but I had a totally different view on what I was seeing.
This first time I went to view this collection was before I was even taking Arts of Africa. My ignorance is very evident to me now that I have learned so much about the context of the pieces. I will admit that I was the close-minded person looking at the art as coming from an entire country rather than the cultures that make up that country.  Being as oblivious as I was to the world outside of the U.S., I honestly probably even went as far as grouping it with all African art in general.  I remember being intrigued by all the detail in the Drapos, but I had no idea what they were or what their purpose was. I left feeling more confused than anything else.
The second time I saw the collection I knew a great deal more about the history and context of Haitian art. I was able to pick out certain characteristics seen not only in the Haitian art we had been studying, but other cultures as well. One of these characteristics was the almond shaped eyes that seem to be prominent in the majority of artwork we see involving figures. They stood out to me in the Madonne Enfant II piece by Saincilus E. Ismael depicting Madonna with a female baby. Another characteristic I noticed in some of the pieces was the use of the Vévé that we discussed in class. These were symbols drawn on the ground to evoke the Lwa. One piece I found particularly interesting was Untitled by Stivenson Magloire because I felt as if I could recognize and understand some of the symbolism used. It looks like the man lying down is deceased, so the Vévé could be a representation of the crossroads and the intersection between the worlds of the living and the dead. A symbol on the drums looks as if it could be a symbol for the crossroads as well. The rooster was another part that caught my attention, as they were often used as for sacrificial purposes. However, it was more the aesthetics that I focused on when I saw everything for the second time.

This last time I went to the Waterloo Arts Center I had the articles we read last week still in my mind about authenticity, expectations, and other issues surrounding artists creating in a environment where they're the minority. Even being aware of the issues many artists have with expectations based on their backgrounds and seeing similar images in class, I’m still thrown off by the varying depictions of the Virgin and Child. The Madonne Enfant II piece by Saincilus E. Ismael is an example of how a certain thing is expected and when a person sees something that they're not used to it automatically raises questions. The piece was enough to remind me of The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili. It blows my mind how unsettling it can be to see such an iconic figured changed, even if it is as simple as just changing the skin color. That shows how being subjected to these figures in a certain way can form such strong views on the ‘right’ way they should be portrayed. Another example of this is how Renee Cox depicts The Last Supper in her piece, Yo Mama’s Last Supper. A person might have to be more than simply aware of the differences in cultures to overcome how institutionalized people we’ve become.


  1. I'm glad you mentioned that a movie gets better every time you watch it because you notice things that you didn't before and that it's the same with art viewing it in a whole new way I totally agree with that statment. I've only been to the WCA once but I can't wait to go again and discover new things that I missed the first time.

  2. I really love your blog because I had similar feelings and I can relate to your experience well. I went to the WCA over the summer and happened to see the Haitian Art collection. I was excited to be seeing works from a country that I hadn't before, but I quickly felt confused just as you had. After taking this class I feel that I had ignorant viewpoint. How on earth could I have looked at artwork from another culture and expect to know what it was about. I feel so ridiculous and I can't wait to go back and see it with a more knowledgeable and conscious view.

  3. I appreciate your reflection and the photo detail you included. How do you think the display affects/reinforces viewers assumptions?