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October Artist of the Month -Danipy Georges

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“If art is what’s in your heart, then be an artist.” That is the mantra that our October Artist of the Month, Danipy Georges, lives by. That attitude has influenced him ever since he was a child. He grew up in the arts district of Jacmel, in the Rue Sainte Anne area, so he was always surrounded by an environment of art and creativity. He can remember as young as four-years-old, seeing other artists around the neighborhood working on paintings, and extravagant papier mache creations and he would start drawing pictures himself. As he grew, he knew that he was meant to be an artist and started to pursue opportunities to be trained and develop his skills. Although his parents may have encouraged him to explore more financially stable career paths, he looked around at what was happening in his country and decided that the best way to become a role model in society was through the arts.

IMG_3911He began his formal training in 2010 by enrolling in classes at the Alliance Francaise and then also at FOSAJ. Through his experience he began to learn more about contemporary Haitian artists and even got chances to work with and exhibit with such modern masters as Ronald Mevs and Killy. This influenced his own art in tremendous ways. He began to integrate these influences into his own unique style. It is a style that he know applies to working in multiple different mediums including painting, sculpture, and recycled assemblage. Every piece that he creates is inspired by the spiritual voice of Haiti and the culture of the African diaspora. He doesn’t always plan out an image before he approaches his canvas or surface but rather relies on revelations of a cosmic nature to guide the imagery as it emerges organically from within him. Much of his work utilizes recycled materials because he sees it as an artist’s responsibility to take trash that others have discarded as disposable and give it a new life and reinterpret its value. “Once someone throws something away that can’t be degraded, that pollution becomes part of our environment. It’s our job as artists to transform into something beautiful again.”

IMG_3923Danipy believes that artists exist to help orient others to the mysteries of life that are otherwise hard to understand. Art can provide others with clarity and open their eyes to perspectives that provide balance to life. His hope is that the rest of his country would start to understand the value of artists in this sense so that Haiti may one day reclaim it’s global reputation as a country of incomparable painters. He also hopes that they can develop more museums in the country, throughout all of the departments so that artists in every corner of the country can experience art of the highest quality and learn more about the legacy that they are part of as Haitian artists. At the Jacmel Arts Center, specifically, he hopes that it can continue on it’s trajectory of encouraging local artists and raising up the future generations. “I hope that some day I see my nieces and nephews come up through the education programs at SAJ and discover their own artistic voice.” He may be encouraging to his younger family members, but when asked what his parents think about his decision to be a professional artist these days he says that his mother still tells him to get a haircut, but she’s accepted that he’s doing what he was meant to be and even though life might not always be easy as an artist, he’s doing what he loves. We’re thrilled that he decided to stay right here with us in the same neighborhood he grew up in and proud to provide him a space to keep doing what he loves.

 

Shelter from the Storm

Last week the region of Jacmel was spared the brunt of Hurricane Irma’s destruction as it passed through the Caribbean leaving devastation behind it in many other areas and moved towards the United States. For those who were forced to evacuate their homes and continue to deal with the floods and damage to houses and public buildings, we here at the Jacmel Arts Center send out our thoughts, prayers, and creative energies for a speedy recovery. We understand the overwhelming task of trying to piece things back together after such a disaster because we have weathered many of our own storms through the years. Even the most common of rain showers reminds us of the damage that we’ve sustained in the past and the ongoing effects of that damage on our building and the activities that happen here. Every time that it rains, our artisan boutique floods with water pouring in down the walls from the top. This affects the art below and there’s a whole side of the room that is essentially unusable to us because the leaking and flooding gets so bad. In the main gallery our west wall gets less and less stable with the water damage that weakens it’s integrity each time we get rain. In our artist’s studio space and art school classroom space on the upstairs levels there are entire portions of walls that were collapsed in the earthquake of 2010 and have never been rebuilt. Any strong wind shakes these walls, gusting through the large cracks and puts the artists and students that work there in danger.

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Although we do not have the resources to carry out a major reconstruction effort to the building, there are smaller simple steps that we can take to improve the safety and stability of our space so that artists and students can continue to use it and visitors can continue to have such a destination to experience the diverse art of Jacmel. On the second floor we hope to build an awning over the west side and improve the framework of the roof. This will help keep the walls dry when it rains and provide some necessary stability in the winds. After that we would like to repair the damaged cement work on the walls of the boutique to improve the condition of the space and expand what we are able to display there. It will allow us to offer more opportunities to local artisans and exhibit a larger variety of products. Finally we would like to install a gutter along the east side of our building in between us and the neighboring hotel to prevent the water from building up in the gallery walls and causing more internal damage. This will also help us keep the valuable paintings within the gallery safe.

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To accomplish all of this work, we simply need to raise $2500 total. We know that with all of the needs in the world right now, there are a lot of places that people can choose to donate their money. And we encourage our friends and supporters to seek out other local organizations that are working on the ground in the zones affected by Hurricane Irma if they would like to support immediate disaster relief and recovery efforts. But at the same time we would like to ask you to consider making a donation to help the long term goals of our center as well, so that little by little we can restore it to be a building that can continue to serve as a refuge for artists and creative thought in our region long into the future no matter what the weather may bring.

If you would like to make a donation to help us address these needs, please go to our Get Involved page today and give any amount that you are able. Thank you!

September Artist of the Month – Bruno Rene

IMG_3035Bruno Rene says that he’s been an artist ever since he was in his mama’s belly. He has early childhood memories of creating art out of whatever he could find. One day when he was 8 years old, he went down to the river with his mother and while she was doing laundry, he sculpted a little duck out of mud on the bank of the river. Another woman who was passing by stopped to talk to his mother and saw the duck and exclaimed, “Wow! Is your boy an artist?” His mother responded that no he wasn’t, but he loved to draw and was always making things. “Well then, he’s an artist!” the woman said. She then told his mother about an organization she knew of that helped teach children like him the arts and offered to register him in their programs. That organization was Arts Creation Foundation for Children, ACFFC, and that moment was the beginning of Bruno’s journey to becoming a professional artist. He started classes at ACFFC in 2004 and soon after began learning how to create paintings on canvas. He was also taught papier mache and other artisan techniques like how to create art out of recycled materials. He also found a love early on for mosaics, which is what ACFFC is really known for. Jacmel has become famous for it’s vibrant mosaics in public spaces all around the city and many of those Bruno was involved in sketching the designs for. Through the mosaic work, Bruno even got the chance to travel to Miami with ACFFC to create some mosaic murals at Toussaint Louverture school there.

20369684_1399271650169562_7305315340838102553_oOnce he began developing his own unique style of painting, he also joined FOSAJ to exhibit his works and expand his artistic skills. At the age of 24, Bruno is one of our youngest active artists at the Jacmel Arts Center but he has also quickly become one of our most notable, appreciated for his unique style and the intricate details of his paintings. Bruno says that he never wants to create art that can be described as “simple”. He prides himself on the complexity of his compositions and loves to fill each piece with nuanced symbolism. He likes to make viewers of his art spend time looking intently at his works to discover all of the hidden elements that he integrates into the painting. One of those elements that he references over and over in his work is the sea, which he says has always represented his biggest enemy. It can be an overwhelming and destructive force, capable of swallowing us up whole, and he likes to recreate that feeling of immense power that dwells in something so aesthetically beautiful in his work. It’s also why his favorite color to work with is blue. Sometimes he’ll even sign his works with the name “Magic Blue”. He likes to create images that are full of fantasy and a sense of wonder. Bruno also believes in using art as a way to face his demons and conquer his fears. Many times his subject matter will also recreate a more idyllic time in Haitian history before the pollution and environmental destruction that the population has brought upon their own country. In almost every pieces he makes there is some sort of struggle between mankind and nature.

IMG_3031Even when Bruno is selling paintings, he says that he never makes art because of the money but because of the life that it gives his spirit and the opportunity to develop his skills. “If I’m making money, then I’m making art too,” he says, “but if I’m completely broke, then I’m making even more and working even harder.”

These days Bruno has become a teacher himself at ACFFC and loves encouraging the children to discover the art that is already within their souls. He tells them not to let anyone else try to tell them that they are not artists. He knows from his own experience that if you have it in your heart, then the art will manifest itself in your life no matter what anyone else says. He hopes that one day these kids will be able to grow up and be artists in a society that will truly understand the value of art and respect the people who create it. In the same way he hopes that institutions like the Jacmel Arts Center can become highly regarded so that the artists who are active there may be seen as the leaders and change makers that their communities need them to be. All of us at SAJ are hopeful for that same future and are confident that with talent and enthusiasm from the young artists like Bruno, we’ll be able to realize that dream together.

 

June Artist of the Month – Manasse Belizaire

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Photo by Anna Maria Lopez

As a teenager, Manasse Belizaire always enjoyed playing music with his local rara band in Jacmel where they would use horns and drums made from bamboo, tin funnels, and metal barrels. He loved the way the the rhythms made him feel alive and the way that the music was able to bring the whole community together in a celebration of their collective culture. It was in the rara that his passion for percussion was sparked. He decided to search out an opportunity to study percussion formally and registered as a student at the Dessaix Baptiste music school in Jacmel in 2015. After that he spent some time in Port-au-Prince learning the art of folk drumming from Haitian drumming master, Eddy Jean. During his apprenticeship with Jean he really fell in love with the folk style of drumming because of all of the history and symbolism that flowed through it.

IMG_1708He returned to Jacmel a talented and experienced folk drummer and embarked on his professional drumming career by joining a number of Jacmel musical groups including the popular dance troupe, Explosion. He has since become a much sought after teacher and performer around the city having worked with Gran Soley, Haiti Dance Co, and more. He says that drumming has already opened doors for him that he never expected and recalls one of his proudest moments as a drummer was getting to perform with the famed Martha Graham Dance Company from New York earlier this year. We are thrilled to have him be a part of our work at the Jacmel Arts Center as well where he accompanies some of our performance troupes here including Jacomelo and Racine Zantray. This month he is also starting a drumming class at the Arts Center to teach others the techniques to true Haitian drumming. He is looking forward to passing along his knowledge and experience because he understands the value that drums have in preserving the culture of Haiti and he hopes that more people can embrace the power that drummer provides.

You can listen to examples of Manasse’s drumming on the Jacmel Arts Center’s new Sound Cloud page. Each rhythm that you hear has it’s own story, symbolism, and special time and place to be performed. Some represent independence and freedom, others serve as gateways and prayers to the spiritual world.

He says that he is committed to helping share that part of his culture until the day that his hands fall off. At 26-years-old, he has many years of drumming ahead of him and he looks forwards to the new paths that it will chart for him. He is hoping that in the future he is able to use his cultural talents to impact the lives of children and youth in his community in a much bigger way. He sees it as a way to provide purpose and direction to younger Haitians who might feel lost in their lives. He also hopes that drumming and music provide an outlet for the Jacmel Arts Center to grow and expand it’s influence in the community as well.

If you would like to support our drumming program at the Jacmel Arts Center, please consider making a donation today to help us purchase drums for the students to practice on. Thank you!

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May Artist of the Month – Jean Paul Sylvaince

18379202_10154563089672844_526355878_oIn the mid 90’s, Jean Paul Sylvaince had been looking for work in Port-au-Prince trying to find a way to make a living but having no luck. Then one night while he was sleeping he had a dream where a woman came to him holding out a large cardboard box behind a long wooden table. The woman said to Jean Paul, “Why are you killing yourself looking for work like this when you know exactly what you should be doing?” Jean Paul took the box from the woman and opened it up to find it full of paints and brushes. Soon after that dream, Jean Paul started apprenticing under the Haitian impressionist painter, Ernst Louis Zor who mentored him for several years. He took a few other classes from professional artists in Port-au-Prince before moving to Jacmel in 2002 where he became friends with Didier Civil who taught him how to utilize color to express his ideas. He started developing his own colorful impressionist style with the influences of these artists and perfected the use of painting with a knife. This is now the style that Jean Paul has become known for as an independent painter.

IMG_1493The stories that he tells through his paintings share the religious and spiritual realities of Haitian culture as well as the country’s painful history. The use of the knife itself lends a sense of violence and intensity to the images with thick layers of oil paints applied to the canvas like hardened scars from the past. Many of his images come out of voudun traditions depicting the spirits and powers that influence life here. Other images are allegorical or sometimes more traditional interpretations of everyday Haitian life. He uses paintings as a way to deal with his own pain and problems in life and hopes that viewers of his work can feel the deep emotion tied to each piece.

Jean Paul is 46 years old, married, and has 3 kids. Even though he doesn’t sell a painting every day, or even every month, he is happy that he listened to the woman in his dream and pursued a life as an artist. Even though that life isn’t always easy, he is thankful for the income that he has made from his craft that has been able to help him care for his family. IMG_0993In fact, one of his sons celebrated his First Communion at their church this weekend and it was because of Jean Paul’s art and his involvement at the Jacmel Arts Center that he was able to hold a reception for the occasion. He continues to hope, however, that the local government and international tourism industry will continue to work together to provide a better support system for the artists of this country so that things will become less difficult. That way, no matter way his life leads him in the future, even if he is never able to travel, he knows that his paintings are traveling and with each one a little piece of him goes with it. Even if his feet never land on a different country’s ground, his name and his creative voice can travel the whole world.

April Artist of the Month – Jean Pierre Jacques Phillippe

17758963_10154468756562844_1831199927_oFor an artist that has one of the most diverse range of painting skills of any artist in the region, Jean Pierre Jacques Phillippe was never formally taught painting and says that his real painting teacher was the One and Only Great Architect. When he was young he was always interested in painting because of the art that he would see in local galleries in Jacmel before the city ever became known as the arts and culture destination that it is today. He would actually make friends with the artists at those galleries and ask them for their leftover tubes of paint or even the remnants of paint from their palettes so that he could begin experimenting with his own creative ideas. And although none of the artists ever taught him directly they would always encourage him. He would take his amateur paintings to show them to get their feedback. There were artists like Yves Basille and Met Giva that were always honest in their opinions and would give him constructive advice on how to improve his technique even when everyone else was saying his work was great. It was their critiques that helped him start to form his own path as an artist.

IMG_1511Now he’s been working as an artist for twenty-seven years and at age 44, he now has younger artists following in his footsteps and looking to him for guidance. This is one of the reasons that Jean Pierre enjoys being involved with the Jacmel Arts Center because of our commitment to raising up the next generation of great Haitian artists. As we make plans to open our art school here once again this month, Jean Pierre has some advice for those young students just starting out on their career as artists. “Be patient,” he says, “because it takes time to perfect your craft and become successful as a professional artist.” He knows from his own personal experience that it takes time to refine your own artistic identity and start to create a body of work that you are proud of and others are actually interested in buying. And that’s okay because you have to start somewhere. But he hopes that the art students don’t take for granted the amount of work that becoming a true artist demands of someone. You have to learn to respect and honor your own work before anyone else will find value in it.

His own journey as an artist has resulted in him focusing on two very different, very distinct styles, landscapes and abstracts. He says that although he enjoys both styles, he prefers to work in landscapes because he has always loved nature and considers his landscapes as reminders of the environmental beauty that their country once had, but has largely lost. He hopes that his paintings can help the viewer rediscover the trees, the hillsides, and the fresh air, and awaken them to their responsibility to protect and preserve nature. One element that any viewer might notice when they see one of Jean Pierre’s landscapes is that they almost always include a river. The reason for that, the artist says, is because, “Painting brings me joy. No matter what I’m going through in my life, whether I’m angry or discouraged or stressed, I know that when I start painting, my art washes all of that away. It makes those feelings pass by just like the water of a river.”

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He is proud to be an artist of Jacmel because he knows how unique each artist here is and finds inspiration from the others in the community that are each so different from each other. He looks forward to seeing the future artists of this area each trace their own path and share their own narrative. Being a part of a community that like is a rare gift to someone like Jean Pierre because it keeps him energized and hopeful.

It is the presence of artists like Jean Pierre that keep us all energized and hopeful here at the Jacmel Arts Center. Stop by the gallery anytime to see some of his beautiful work, or at one of our soon-to-open satellite galleries in the community. He’s always bringing in fresh paintings so there’s always something new to see!

Women Bring Color to the World and to Jacmel!

March is International Women’s Month and we at the Jacmel Arts Center and doing our part to celebrate the role that women play in society, and specifically in the arts. This month we have a special exhibition on display at the center which features 11 of the city’s most talented women artists each expressing their individual voice through unique styles and perspectives. Many of the pieces of art in the show are centered on concepts of women’s rights and empowerment.

In Haiti women are too often underestimated in their contributions to the culture’s artistic dialog. The arts are not seen as a viable career path for women and are often seen to run contrary to the woman’s assumed responsibility of taking care of the household and family. But the women in our exhibition are proving those stereotypes wrong and making their voices heard. Those voices add color and vibrancy to life in Haiti and they push the boundaries of what Haitian art can be. One of the participating artists, Charlotte Charles, said that she felt an exhibition like this was essential because it would show that the colors of their womanhood were stronger than the colors of their skin! We couldn’t agree more and are proud to provide a platform to put those colors on display.

On Saturday, March 11th, we will be holding an opening reception which will include a craft expo with a diverse representation of women artisans that will have their wares on display and for sale. There will also be refreshments and live Haitian music by women musicians. So we hope that everyone in the are will be able to come out and join us for this special event to encourage and support our creative women of Jacmel! The main exhibition will be on display through April 16th.

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March Artist of the Month – Joanne Celestin

img_0056-001Even though Joanne Celestin had always enjoyed drawing, she never believed that she could become an artist herself. She had grown up around family that were talented artists, but as a woman in Haiti, art was never encouraged as a viable path for her so she never dreamed that her interest in drawing would ever turn into anything more than a hobby. Later in life when she married an artist, Frantz Augustave who was a member of FOSAJ, she continued to be surrounded by art and became friends with many other professional artists in the city. But for years she still never saw herself as one of them. One day Frantz was working on a painting at home and Joanne was watching him when she made a suggestion to him of what she thought would look good in the painting. At that moment Frantz recognized the creative vision that Joanne had herself, and handed her his brushes telling her that she clearly had art within her and only she could be the one to bring it out onto the canvas. So that’s what Joanne did. Soon she started painting alongside Frantz more often and registered as a student in the FOSAJ art school in 2010. Since receiving her training from some of the city’s masters, she now has developed her own unique style with bright colors and bold, intricate designs.

img_1407At the age of 32, Joanne has three children of her own and she says that it’s now thanks to painting that she has been able to put all three through school. So in a very practical sense, she says that she’s very thankful for the life that art gives her. But in a spiritual sense too, Joanne says that she finds life in the work that she does. She makes art because she believes in the healing and light that art can provide to the world and she hopes that her work can be a beacon for those who view it to find energy and joy within. Even in tough times, she turns to art for hope herself. Recently, when Frantz was hospitalized for a couple days, it was her art and her Jacmel Arts Center family that supported them both and helped them get through some difficult days.

She hopes that through the work of the Arts Center, more women in her community can find the power and life through art that she has found. She plays an important role in making that happen as the gallery director for the Arts Center. One by one she is seeing women in her culture proving the stereotypes wrong and demonstrating the vital role that they play in society. She’s always sought out opportunities to break down gender barriers, having also been trained in carpentry and ceramic flooring. She knows that the more women that actively seek to make their talents known and share them with the world, the better their entire country will be for it.

img_0057You can see Joanne’s work on display this month at the Jacmel Arts Center (Sant d’A Jakmel) along with other women artists in our exhibition highlighting the artistic talents of female artists from our region. The exhibit will be on display from March 5th through April 16th and we will be having a special reception on Saturday, March 11th, which will also feature a craft fair including a number of women artisans from the area showcasing their products for the public. So stop by this month to see all of the work and bring a little light and healing into your life through Joanne’s paintings.

Kanaval Maskarad at the Jacmel Arts Center!

It’s Kanaval time here in Jacmel and we at the Jacmel Arts Center are preparing to take part in a big way! We want everyone to come join us on February 17th and 18th as we celebrate this exciting time of year with a masquerade ball! We will have a number of talented performers sharing dance, music, and theater with us throughout the night along with two international deejays as special guests to provide music all through the night. Everyone is invited for an entry fee of just 100 gourdes. Come early and check out all of the new art that we have on display in our galleries and talk with our staff about the new plans for the arts center including upcoming classes and the establishment of artist studio spaces. There will be drinks and food available for purchase through the night and plenty of Kanaval excitement! So come on out and bring your friends to enjoy a night with the Jacmel Arts Center. All proceeds from the night will be going to support our ongoing arts programming and also some necessary building repairs to improve our space. Hope to see you there!

If you cannot make it to the event you can still participate by helping sponsor the event! For a donation of just $50 or $100 or any amount that you are able to give, you can play a vital role in making the event happen. If you are able to sponsor we will send you a personal video from the event so you can get a taste of the festivities unique from everyone else. Just go to our Get Involved page to make a donation today! Thank you!

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February Artist of the Month, Pe Meger

img_1664Whenever you show up at the Jacmel Arts Center, the first face you’ll see is that of Pe Meger, who has assumed his post at the front door every day for years to welcome guests warmly and keep an eye on all that goes on in and around the building. His real name is Samedi Meger, but he has always been known as “Pe” because he acts as a wise and encouraging father figure for all who are involved in the arts center as well as for many in the community. When FOSAJ was founded in the Boucard & Co building in 2003, Pe Meger was there right alongside the Boucard family that was responsible for establishing the space as a center for the city’s artists. Early on he assumed responsibilities within the space managing the facilities, opening and closing the doors each day, and assisting with the administration however they needed. But he was never an artist himself. He simply served the arts community there how he could due to his relationship to the founders.

He remained in that supportive role for years, until the earthquake of 2010. The earthquake on January 12th of that year was devastating to the artists in a number of ways. The building was severely damaged (and is yet to be repaired to this day), and their then director, Flo, was also one of the some 300,000 that lost their lives in the quake that day in a collapsed building. After the earthquake, Pe Meger saw all of the other artists start to channel their trauma through their art and he began to be inspired himself. One day, one of the artists who was active there, Jean Paul, took some rubble left from the quake and went up to Pe Meger and said, “Let’s paint something on this.” It was the first time that Pe Meger had ever painted anything himself. He had been spending all of his time around these artists for years but had never created anything himself. Now, with Jean Paul mentoring him as they painted on the rubble, he started to find his voice.

img_1541With the flood of foreigners coming into the country after the quake, all who passed through FOSAJ quickly began showing interest in Pe Meger’s work, impressed with his unique style. One day a foreigner loved his work so much that he brought a large box by the space and told Pe Meger to fill it up with his rubble paintings. Pe Meger recalls that first big sale with astonishment. He never thought he’d be able to sell his artwork. After that, another artist there, Vady, began to teach Pe Meger the basics of art and how to create works of his own. The first painting that Pe Meger ever painted that wasn’t on rubble was on two scrap pieces of wood that he nailed together. As he continued to work on whatever surfaces he could find, eventually moving on to canvas, he saw that his work was always viewed with enthusiasm and everything that he was making was selling quickly.

In fact, his work was so widely appreciated that he began winning prizes in contests all over the country, including one at the Alliance Francaise. People loved his work because it stood out as so unique from all of the other artists that exhibited in the space. He started to become recognized for the way that he expressed himself through colors and shapes. Some international art supporters took notice and he was invited to exhibit in Sante Fe in 2013. Since then he has traveled and shown his work across the southern US including Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Now at 72-years -old, he credits his art for being able to provide for all eight of his children to be educated and get married.

img_1267When asked what inspires him to make his work, he says, “There are little genies in my head and they just tell me what to put on the canvas.” He hopes that people can see the value in simplicity when they look at his paintings. Though the genies may tell him to express ideas that are quite complex, he hopes that his style translates a purity and economy that everyone can relate to.

Pe Meger encourages everyone to come visit us at the Jacmel Arts Center because in his words, “The arts center is changing and so is the country of Haiti. Now is the time to come!” We couldn’t agree more. When you do come, you can count on Pe Meger waiting for you by the door with his smile and his hat on. Nowadays, though, he might also have an easel and a canvas in front of him and a paint brush in his hand.