For only five days, the Wilmer Jennings Gallery in the East Village exhibited an extraordinary representation of contemporary Haitian art. Collectors and Haitian artists donated all 88 paintings –70 from Haiti–for the “Save The Museum” show, the monies from the sale going to restore Haiti’s only art museum.
Along with the thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged during the 2010 earthquake, The Musée d’Art du College St. Pierre, located across from Champs Mars, Haiti’s “Central Park”, was structurally damaged but not destroyed.
Closed since the earthquake, the museum hosts a collection of close to 1000 seminal Haitian works. Among the museum’s prominent Haitian artists are Hector Hyppolite, Philome and Seneque Obin, Prefete Duffaut, Diedonne Cedor, Raphael Denis, TIGA, and the Saint Soleil artists, to name a few.
This museum, which owns the most important collection of Haitian art from the 19th and 20th century, was built in 1972 and designed by Haitian architect Albert Mangones, who is particularly known as the sculptor for the statue Neg Mawon (also in Champs Mars), a shackled black man blowing a conch shell for revolt.
Soon after the earthquake, a special storage room was built at the museum to hold its collection until the museum is restored. However, in these three years since the quake, there has been no effort in repairing the museum.
“We love Haitian art,” says Haitian-born Brooklyn resident Paul Corbanese, president of the Toussaint Louverture Foundation, founded last year to raise money to restore the museum. “We want to preserve the heritage. We want our young people to have some place where they can get educated about our art heritage.“
Corbanese explained that the Foundation was started by New York area Haitians when it became obvious that neither the Haitian nor any foreign government were going to do anything.
“We don’t want to wait for foreigners. We want Haitians (Diaspora and those in Haiti) to do our part in the repair of the museum.”
“There have been broken promises. The Brazilian government sent experts to determine what needed to be done, there was an assessment, they signed an agreement with the museum, and then nothing. Nothing materialized.” He assured that the professionals are in place for the work. It’s the money–$220,000–that is needed to cover the restoration.
Last year, the newly formed Foundation held its first fundraiser at the Queens Museum selling the book “Hector Hyppolite” (Haiti’s foremost painter) published by the Louvre Museum for sales’ proceeds to go toward the museum restoration.
“So much money went to survival immediately after the earthquake, which was necessary,” says committee member Claudine Corbanese. “Three years later, we want to support something also critical that makes a difference. Haitian art is so central to the culture and it’s known worldwide.”
“Is there money for culture?” one might ask. Claudine responds, “They had money for Carnival (held in Cape Haitien this year) and Carnival des Fleurs!”
Jacqueline Pompilus, executive Secretary of The Musée d’Art (The Haiti Museum of Art), with three others from the sister committee in Haiti tended the New York exhibition.
“The New York committee’s work is exceptional,” she said, recognizing the work involved with producing a show of this size. The logistics were daunting as the paintings from Paris, Canada, and Haiti–over 60– were all carried by hand on airplanes. “They stretched and framed most the paintings, here.” she added.
Pompilus emphasized how the effort was an on-going joint project between both committees. On Nov. 14, at the upscale Oasis Hotel in Petionville, a similar (and smaller) fundraiser will be held, organized by the sister committee in Haiti.
By the show’s end, 36 of the 88 paintings were sold. In the future, the remaining paintings will be available from the website: www.ToussaintLouvertureFoundation.org and a similar exhibition will be held on Long Island. The sale of all 88 pieces will cover half of the $220,000 price tag for the Museum’s repairs.
A catalogue was printed for the “Save the Museum” exhibition. (Social media fundraising paid for its printing.) Both it and the Louvre- published (in French) Hyppolite book can be purchased on-line.
Corinne Jennings and her husband, Joe Overstreet, a painter, own the bright and roomy Wilmer Jennings Gallery at Kenkeleba where the exhibition was held. The two are an institution in the East Village, living there for decades and committed to giving artists of color exposure through exhibitions. Their gallery, Kenkeleba House, is one of the first galleries in New York regularly showing artists of color. When asked, they did not hesitate to donate their gallery space to hold the “Save a Museum” show.