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Maxine Schur
Caribbean Connection
Paradise on Earth
Haiti's Fantastic Visions of Eden

In Haiti, along mud-soaked streets and under rusted tin roofs, artists are creating visions of Paradise. The garden of Eden is a recurring theme in Haitian folklore, literature and painting. The combination of stories of Kiskeya, the defeated Arawaks' lost earthly paradise, of Lan Guinee, the magical land in their West African religion, and of Eden in their Catholic heritage, created for the Haitian an obsessive dream of a land of plenty. This dream was nurtured by the great promise of a utopian planned community made after the 1804 Declaration of Haitian Independence. The utopia never occurred but the dream is stronger than ever. The idea of returning to a lost Paradise continues to inspire a profusion of paintings depicting the most unusual utopias. Eve climbs a giraffe's neck to pluck an apple from the Tree of Life --sometimes it's a watermelon. A naked Eve confronts "the other woman" who is wearing a polka dot dress. Adam and Eve are bride and groom in a celestial church with an animal clergy. They are Florentine angels with great white wings. They are mermaids, monkeys, even fish underwater. These surprising portrayals of Adam and Eve are just a few of myriad enchanted images of Paradise not lost -- but retained in folklore. For decades the subject of Eden has been expressed in art with every possible variation of personal vision. As early as the 1950s, at the Centre d'Art in Port au Prince, several artists were influenced by the work of the great French naive painter, Henri Rousseau. The Haitian painters incorporated Rousseau's concept of the "poetic jungle", often adding surprising, surreal elements. Lesser artists still copy their works ad nauseam for tourists but the best Paradise paintings express an individual artist's unique fantasy. Andre Normil, (1934-) for example adds his own socio-political touches. Normil, in his 1990 oil painting, Paradise, created an interracial Adam and Eve to represent the dream of the dissolution of the Haitian racial hierarchy.

Many of the Paradise images are more than mere paintings, but serve as objects important to Haiti's pervasive religion vaudou (voodoo). The restoration of the dead to their remembered luxuriant world is a major concern to the Afro-Creole followers of vaudou. Several of the Paradise paintings, particularly those by the great artist Wilson Bigaud, function as both painting and prayer.

Today, the visitor to Haiti or even the visitor to one of the wonderful galleries selling Haitian art in the United States, can discover a garden of earthly delights on canvas. Decidedly Caribbean -- the paintings show an Eden that is tropical, colorful and infused with sunshine. These peaceable kingdoms reveal a lush, bountiful pre-Columbian Haiti. And while perhaps the subject of Paradise in Haiti seems poignantly ironic, close to the Haitian poet Jacques Roumain's "reflection of a dream at the bottom of a well," it possesses the imagination of the Haitian artist more than ever. A Persian word meaning "enclosure," paradise could easily be an abundant, enclosed island. Perhaps as a subject then, Paradise embodies for the Haitians, not only a yearning, but a hope.

Where you can find Haitian Paradise paintings:
Macondo Gallery, 406 South Craig Street Pittsburgh 15213, phone: 888-683-6486 or macondo@telerama.com

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Articles from the Caribbean
  Dionisio Blanco
  Candido Bido
  Sharon Wilson
  Dennis Valentine
  Don Dahlke
  Maria Henle
  Amos Ferguson
  Paradise on Earth
  Cristina Emmanuel
  Omeilia Marshall
  Giving the Devil His Due
  Euphoria in Eleuthera





Art: Adam and Eve by Jasmin Josephs,
Adam and Eve and the Other Woman by Gerard Fernne;
Paradise by Andre Normil;
Adam and Eve Underwater by Andre Blaise.



©Maxine Rose Schur 2001. Reproducing or copying photos and articles is strictly prohibited unless expressly granted by the owner. All photos are by the author unless specified.



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