The paintings in the book "Masterpieces of Haitian Art" are filled with vibrant color and the tropical exoticism of a country whose people, says author Candice Russell, display a "vibe of resourcefulness and excellence" much of the world has yet to discover.
"These artworks are epic," says the Plantation resident, who isn't Haitian but has collected Haitian art for nearly three decades. "It's a springboard for the history of Haiti. It spans all media, from sacred textiles to metal sculptures from recycled items. No other island culture can compare with the output and excellence of art that Haiti has produced, and yet not enough attention is paid to this country."
Russell, who will discuss her book Nov. 24 at Miami Book Fair International and Dec. 14 at Books and Books in Coral Gables, says her 25-years-in-the-making overview of Haitian art contains hundreds of paintings and Vodou flags, or religious beaded cloths used in drumming and dance ceremonies.
Russell bought her first Haitian painting, La Fortune Felix's "Ceremony," in 1985 from an art dealer in Coconut Grove, and was struck by the work's rich color, heavy symbolism and its central figure, a nude man on a pedestal holding a sacrificial knife.
"It's very uncommon and bizarre to see a nude man at the center of a painting like that," she says. "But I love the mystery and the theatricality and the vessel with the blood dripping down, and the color palette reminds me of Paul Gauguin."
Russell helped co-curate her first Haitian art show, "Where Art is Joy," at the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale in 1988, and has visited Haiti "dozens of times" since the 1980s — building friendships with private collectors, artists such as Edouard Duval-Carrie and authors such as Edwidge Danticat, who contributed the foreword to Russell's book.
In the book, artists are alphabetized and divided into several categories, among them fantasy landscapes, jungle animals and the Haitian religion of Vodou, Russell says.
In Luc Cedor's flag, "Marassa Dossou Dossa," the sequined and beaded work depicts a Vodou spirit as three circles representing love, truth and justice. Andre Normil's painting, "Carnival," shows the festival-like milieu of a street parade in Port-au-Prince with revelers, beauty queens throwing kisses and roadside vendors.
"There were other categories I could have included such as modernist abstract Haitian art, but I don't find that very exciting," Russell says. "This is not an encyclopedia. It's a subjective assessment of what art I find excellent. There is no question that these are masterpieces."
Candice Russell appearances
When: 10:30 a.m. Nov. 24
Where: Miami Dade College, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami
Contact: 305-237-3258, MiamiBookFair.com
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 14
Where: Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables
Contact: 305-442-4408, BooksandBooks.com