“No Word for ‘Art’ in Kreyòl”: Haitian Contemporary Art in Transit

The dissertation that follows is an inter-disciplinary study of the ways in which a range of individuals with varying stakes and motivations have constructed a category called “Haitian Art” during a period beginning prior to World War II and extending to the present day. Haitian Art, like any cultural product ascribed to a group of people, is a taxonomic construction that subsumes a diverse and complex set of artistic and cultural practices under a limited and often questionable rubric. Over decades, international connections between Haiti and the US have consistently influenced and directed visual arts production in Haiti. Historically, tourism has played an outsized role in facilitating these cross-cultural contacts and exchanges between Haitian artists and expatriate visitors to Haiti. More recently, “traditional” forms of tourism have given way to visitors who travel to Haiti, not for purposes of leisure, but in response to the myriad crises that have afflicted the country. For this thesis, I argue that movements of people, ideas, and art objects have contributed to narratives of “Haiti” that have circulated throughout the United States vis-à-vis the production, acquisition, and exhibition of works made by Haitian artists. While the geographic focus of this dissertation is primarily on Haiti and the United States, I argue that entangled international networks of circulation and exchange rooted in deeper historical models reveal broad, globalized iniquities and imbalances in which individuals with varying degrees of agency and input interact cross-culturally within the realm of visual arts.

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