Haiti and art: curating the nation for international exhibitions

Asquith, Wendy ORCID: 0000-0001-7900-0772
Haiti and art: curating the nation for international exhibitions. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

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This dissertation presents a fresh approach to the study of Haitian art through research conducted in the emerging interdisciplinary field of exhibition history. In a deliberate attempt to move away from existing notions of Haitian art as a formal or aesthetic style of art practice associated with primitivism – based on mid-twentieth-century art historical narratives – I have opted to explore the display of works by Haitian artists outside of conventional museum and gallery settings. Taking a broader cultural studies approach centred on three case studies, I examine the exhibition of artworks within the transitory sites of national cultural display at two world’s fairs and an art biennial: the Haitian pavilion at the World’s Columbian Fair of 1893; Haiti’s “Little World’s Fair” officially titled Exposition Internationale du Bicentenaire de Port-au-Prince of 1949-50; and the Haitian pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2011. These exhibitions overlap in the sense that they all claimed to present an official representation of the Haitian nation-state and therefore an authoritative vision of Haitian culture. However, when we peer behind this veneer of official national rhetoric it becomes clear that at each of these sites there were numerous images of Haitian nationhood, as well as notions of a national cultural essence referred to throughout as Haitian-ness, being produced by various agents. Across the course of this study these include: Haitian and foreign state representatives, curators, artists, academics and cultural professionals drawn from Haiti, Haiti’s diasporas and elsewhere, as well as NGOs and other international collaborators. In each case those curating Haiti’s national displays at these events balanced assertions of national sovereignty against international marketability: delicate negotiations that, I argue, can be discerned through analysis of the forms, aesthetics, subjects and contextualisation of the artworks displayed. Across the course of this dissertation therefore I chart a shift in the substance of these Haitian cultural displays, and the artworks presented within them, from a fin de siècle expression of Francophile neoclassicism, through an uneasy post-war coupling of folkloric exoticism and western modernity, to a fragmented picture of contemporary Haitian-ness articulated with reference to poverty and cultural otherness as well as cosmopolitanism. Through an examination of these case studies I have sought to explore how the visual arts intersected with expressions of Haiti’s postcolonial nationhood at exhibitions staged within events scattered across the Atlantic World. Further, by charting shifts in the production and projection of Haitian nationhood and art across these three sites I have attempted to grasp a fuller picture of how entangled ideas of nation and culture have had a bearing on exhibition histories, international institutional engagement with and the marketing and perception of the work of Haitian artists through the long twentieth century.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: Date: 2015-01 (completed)
Subjects: ?? E11 ??
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Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 21 Jan 2016 09:51
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2022 01:17
DOI: 10.17638/02027099
URI: https://livrepository.liverpool.ac.uk/id/eprint/2027099