Socialist Worker

Haiti's art is a collective history

Leah Gordon is joint curator of a major exhibition of Haitian art at the Nottingham Contemporary gallery. She spoke to Socialist Worker

Issue No. 2327

Frantz Zéphirin: Guede Wedding (2007)

Frantz Zéphirin: Guede Wedding (2007)

Haitian art is often wrongly labelled “primitive art”. This exhibition forces people to value it—even though it doesn’t fit into Western parameters for understanding art.

The Surrealists drew from Haitian Vodou art. But rather than exploring an individual’s unconscious thoughts, Voudou was about exploring collective consciousness.

It wasn’t just escapism. It was a set of rituals that became the sole way African slave tribes could communicate and organise. And it could be extremely powerful.

Vodou reflects the Caribbean’s bloody history of colonialism. This history threw together European, Asian, Native American, and African cultures into a real melting pot.

The Caribbean plantations were used as a machine where the poor produced the capital that paved the way for the industrial revolution.

Haiti was isolated by world powers after the 1791-1804 revolution overthrew the plantation owners. It was able to develop its own culture.

Almost all the exhibition’s artists are from the lowest class. This art is people’s placards, their slogans. Haiti has one of the world’s highest illiteracy rates, but it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t know their history in the most intimate detail. They really own their own history.

Kafou: Haiti, Art and Vodou is at the Nottingham Contempory until 6 January. Go to

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Tue 30 Oct 2012, 18:12 GMT
Issue No. 2327
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