Galerie Monnin and Vassar Haiti Project Celebrate Haitian Art (Washington DC)

  • Posted on: 5 February 2016
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Vassar Haiti Project (VHP): The VHP has a 15-year history of engaging people in support of Haitian artists, and applying the proceeds from art sales toward the sustainable development of Chermaitre.  VHP co-founder Andrew Meade explains, "We have provided a way for the artists to help the people of a village; it is Haitians helping Haitians. We are the middle people--facilitators of this grand dance." VHP's sustainable development work is expressed through various initiatives. Recent accomplishments include: the creation of a scholarship program that allows students to continue their education beyond 6th grade; a medical center that provides the residents of 30 villages regular access to health care; the planting of 11,000 fruit and lumber trees; and the formation of a women's cooperative, which is helping women learn and develop marketable skills.
Jackie Eiting, Vassar Haiti Project Board member and longtime Capitol Hill resident before her move to Baltimore, said "VHP is the best of organizations to contribute to - the development work we do in Haiti is amazing, but the fact that college students do that work and learn what it is to be a truly global citizen is the cherry on the cake.  Come, learn, and enjoy the art and the energy that is the Vassar Haiti Project!"  Students and alumnae/i of Vassar College have teamed with local volunteers to raise funds to rebuild through the sale of genuine Haitian paintings and handcraft. "Having visited Chermaitre twice, as well as organized a dozen Haitian art and handcraft sales in my time as a student volunteer, I have seen how sale proceeds go directly toward funding our education, water, reforestation, healthcare, and women's initiatives," said former women's initiative director Robyn Yzelman (a Vassar class of 2015 alumna). "Community support here in the U.S. makes all of VHP's work possible.  I am also honored to be able to share Haitian stories not commonly found in the mass media, but rather are shown here in masterful brushstrokes, steady beats of kompa music, or exquisite handcrafts." VHP co-founder Lila Meade sums up what the events have in store for visitors: "The art will be spectacular and the atmosphere electric." The Vassar Haiti Project is a registered 501c3 non-profit organization, based at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY.   Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861. For more information, please call 845.797.2123.
Galerie Monin:  In 1947, Mr. and Mrs Roger Monnin both from Jura, Switzerland settle down in Haiti. The country is at a socio-cultural boiling point.  President Dumarsais Estime is fervently preparing the “Exposition Universelle du Bicentenaire de la Fondation de la ville de Port-au-Prince” (Universal Exhibit of the Bicentennial of Port-au-Prince). Dewit Peters who is the Cultural Attache at the American Embassy creates the Centre d’Art.   Thanks to Peters unique skills of assembling many different artists under one roof the naïve Haitian painting style reveals itself to the world in 1944. The Monnins who were actively involved in art promotion in Switzerland  spontaneously jump into all the fast growing artistic events in Port-au-Prince that have never  before seem such effervescence.  Freda Monnin takes drawing and painting lessons from Max Pinchinat and Roger Monnin becomes an actor of the “Societe Nationale d’Art Dramatique”  playing in several theater pieces at the Rex Theater. Both of them develop a friendship with Peters and buy paintings from artists who become the great masters of the naïve Haitian painting style:  Hector Hyppolite, Castere Bazile, Rigaud Benoit, Préfète Duffaut and many others.  It is from this melting-pot that the first painters,  Calixte Henri, Roland Blain and Yves Lafontant  are selected for the dedication of the Galerie Monnin in 1956 at 382 Boulevard Jean Jacques Dessalines in Port-au-Prince.
1968 marks the first turning point in the Galerie Monnins’ history when Michel and Lena, the second generation of Monnins join their parents.   Michel feels that the sacred or vodou art of the 40’s, 50’s, and  60’s are running short of breath ant that the young artists seeking to branch out are looking for an orchestra leader.   Among them:  Fritzner Lamour and Murat St-Vil who are students of Préfète Duffaut; Serge Moléon Blaise and his brothers St-Louis, Fabolon and Ti-André who are breaking away from the Cap-Haitien School of Philimé Obin; Eric Jean-Louis, Fritz St-Jean, Roosevelt Sanon … and later, Yves Michaud, a great friend and admirer of Carlo Jean-Jacques, who together with Calixte Henri and Decollines  Manès  animate the gallery’s workshop.  It is in this studio that Camy Rocher, Nicolas Dreux, Cameau Rameau, and many others take their first steps. These artists are the ones who become the painters of the Galerie Monnin School. The Modern-Primitives who Jean-Marie Drot, a friend of the family and an art critic, presents abroad through several renown exhibitions under the heading “The painters of Haitian  Space”.  In the paintings of these artists the spontaneous naïve style takes a back seat to more sophisticated techniques where the esthetic research, the careful concern for detail and color coordination give an unprecedented quality to their work which in some ways can be related to those of the Flemish and Italian primitives of the Renaissance.
Later, some of the artists guided by Michel Monnin flirt with fantastic and oneiric art: the birds become landscapes, the stars are in free orbit, the cows are red, the pigs fly, and the cats are dogs and don’t know it. The sweetest dreams, the craziest ones are captured on the canvases of Fritz St-Jean, Jean Louis Senatus, Roland Blain, Roosevelt Sanon and St-Louis Blaise.  One is also happily plunged into the aquatic world of Maurice Vital and Andre Blaise. The second turning point of the gallery, around 1987, takes place a couple of years after the construction and opening of the Galerie Monnin at 19 Rue Lamarre in Pétionville.  Frantz  Zephirin, a diabolic and bulimic seraphim, becomes Michel  Monnin’s friend.  Both of them enjoy esoteric  activities and they tell each other stories where reason becomes shaded to the benefit of the imagination.  Zephyrinus, the nickname that he gives to himself is a workaholic. He paints night and day huge quantities of canvases signed with cabalistic numbers while his partner writes accompanying texts for exhibitions which have not yet occurred. The devil as well as the angels have wings and Zephirin flies often to France, Germany, Holland, Denmark, theUSA, Panama… 
A few years earlier, Toni Mosesman, a Texan beauty, had thrown her lasso around  the director of the gallery which was at its highest apogee in a glorious Haiti, the pearl of the Antilles. This unequal and always smiling saleswoman happily assists Roger Monnin whom she replaces in 1994 at the time of his death.   Pascale Monnin, the “prodigal child”, comes back to her country the same year and right away forges a place among the contemporary artist.  This is largly due to the originality of her work.  With her skills, high spirit, and big heart, she makes friends with the artists Mario Benjamin, Ronald Mevs, Dodard, Pasko, Djinn and Désarmes who dream of a new style of Haitian painting more in sync with current international spheres of influence. Her sister Gaël, a communication, public relations and computer science specialist carries on with determination the heavy load of responsibilities that her grand-father and father have legated to her.  Both women, Pascale and Gaël Monnin, “soeurs marassa” twins of the third generation realize that a face lift to rejuvenate the gallery is necessary to assure the gallery’s continuation in the difficult context of an Haïti fighting its eternal devils. The gallery for more than 50 years has continued to strive to be the avant garde of the artistic and cultural development of Haiti;  and this despite all the socio-political  turmoil, the misadventures and the ups and downs of this singular little country of fiercely individual creators. Galerie Monnin’s history is especially the story of a family deeply anchored to the realistic and the imaginary Haïti.  

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