January Artist of the Month – Obelto Desire

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“Art isn’t something that you just do for a day, it is a lifetime journey that you have to decide to follow if you don’t want to lose yourself.” This is how Obelto Desire allows his art to guide him and it has led him on a journey from the mountains of LaMontagne where he grew up in the countryside west of Jacmel. He was always interested in art but was never presented with the opportunity to pursue it until he moved to the city to live with relatives when he was in his early twenties. There was an artist who was friends with the family there and would paint at their house. Eventually he began to teach Obelto different techniques and became a mentor to him. Under this mentor, Obelto began to understand how to create paintings but everything that he was creating looked exactly like his teacher’s work. His friend Ambroise Anderson recognized that he had a lot of talent and suggested that he enroll in FOSAJ, which Obelto did in 2004. There at FOSAJ he began to understand the different movements of art and was able to explore his own style.

IMG_1360Now at age 43, Obelto has developed an intentionally naive style that reflects the countryside life that he was raised in but often with a slight twist of social commentary that one doesn’t notice at first glance. He is also inspired to portray the world of vodou in his work even though he is not a practitioner of vodou himself. To him it represents independence and an essential part of his country’s history, so even though he is not an initiate of the belief system, as a Haitian, it gives him pride to continue to tell the stories that have influenced his culture. He says that the original revolutionaries that led the fight for freedom were not physically stronger and certainly did not have more sophisticated weaponry or military experience than their oppressors, but it was the vodou of their culture that provided them the strength that they needed to overpower the colonists and succeed at the first slave revolution ever to create the first free black republic. No matter what one’s spiritual beliefs, that is a history and culture that one should celebrate.

Beyond his work as a painter, Obelto is also one of the more unique artists actively involved in sending colorful and provocative costumes and creations into the streets of Jacmel for every Kanaval. He is part of a Kanaval artists collective called “Bel Fatra” which translates as “Beautiful Garbage”. They use discarded plastic such as wrappers for chips and cookies and cheesy puffs to cover their papeir-mache sculptures and to even design clothing and masks out of. Obelto welcomes the chance to make a statement each year to the public with their offerings for Kanaval and hopes to spread awareness of the dangers that such plastics pose to their environment. He says that Kanaval is an especially effective time for them to present this message because through the Kanaval parades, there are thousands of people that see their art that would never walk into a gallery to see his other work.IMG_1760

Now that he has had such diverse experiences along the journey that his art has taken him on, Obelto hopes that he is able to create opportunities for other young people in the countryside who have a desire to pursue the arts but don’t have access to learning about them. He realizes how fortunate he has been to find people and spaces to train and encourage him as an artist, but many young people outside of the city never get that chance. He hopes that he can help bring that chance to them. He sees the Jacmel Arts Center as an essential hub in this region for facilitating such opportunities. He knows that if SAJ didn’t exist, he wouldn’t exist as an artist either because he would have never had the resources to search for training elsewhere. He says that SAJ is the only serious institution around offering such diverse and substantial training for artists. “Without SAJ,” he says, “Jacmel wouldn’t have any flavor. You can cook a meal but if you don’t put any seasonings in the food, it won’t have any flavor. SAJ is the seasoning to this city and the city would be nothing without it.”

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