Haitian Artwork from Filmmaker’s Collection on Display

Photo by Nicole Williams

The Kresge Gallery is hosting an exhibit through Nov. 21 titled “A Sense of Place.” Oscar winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme, best known for directing “The Silence of the Lambs,” offers a look into his collection of 60 works. Demme is one of the world’s leading collectors of Haitian art and has partnered with Ramapo due to the fact that the College has the largest collection of artwork from Haiti of any academic institution in the United States with over 500 pieces.

“Many of the rare works on view have never been presented in a public venue…the wonderful pieces donated by Jonathan Demme balance collection gaps and strengthen our ability to serve the public” said Sydney Jenkins, Ramapo’s director of art galleries.

The works are known as Cap-Haitien, named for the city in northern Haiti where the style was procured. The subject matter of Cap-Haitien art differs from other regional work because it often depicts scenes of everyday life, civic events and military scenes as opposed to the stereotypical Vodou.

Demme is donating 20 works from his personal collection for Ramapo’s permanent use in light of the noticeable lacking of Cap-Haitien work in an otherwise comprehensive assemblage.

This type of artwork began gaining popularity as early as the 1940s when Philome Obin, the legendary Haitian painter, helped in directing an artistic revolution in the North. Decades later, the work seen at Ramapo is directly influenced by Obin, whose followers tapped into their talent and began to sell their work.

A walk through the gallery garners a better understanding of life in Haiti, a place often associated with poverty and despair. Colorful renderings from authentic Haitian artists offer insight into a rich culture bursting with tradition, cheerfulness and rural simplicity.

The paintings are all of the oil variety and while each individual piece would not stand out on its own, the collective power of the works paints a vast image of what life in Haiti is like from the perspective of those inhabiting the small Caribbean nation.

The major thematic elements of the paintings included recreation, agriculture, celebrations, military history and government. The intention of the gallery is largely to immerse Ramapo students and the surrounding public in a disenfranchised third world culture through the use of paintings with a distinct folksy flavor and charm.  

Kresge will continue to display these works nearly every weekday until the end of the month, giving students and faculty plenty of time to enjoy a colorful stroll through Haiti.