“Good art always sells – no matter where it’s from,” says art dealer and curator Myriam Nader-Salomon from her home in New York. A native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Nader-Salomon’s family has been involved with the Haitian art scene for generations, beginning with her father, Georges Nader Sr., who established a fine collection of Haitian art – from primitive to modernists and everything in between.
Through the end of the year, Nader-Salomon is curating a virtual exhibition of 88 paintings that represent nearly ever facet of Haitian art. A portion of the sales from the exhibit will benefit Haiti’s Centre d’Art, operational in Haiti since 1944 and integral in the refining of young, up-and-coming artists from all over the island.
“So many young artists in Haiti right now are so talented and deserving of a chance,” said Nader-Salomon. “I just spoke to the director of the Centre d’Art who was telling me a story about one of his students who commutes every day from Petit-Goave to Port-au-Prince.” The story isn’t just inspirational; it’s harrowing. The commute from Petit-Goave to the capital on public transportation takes hours and passes through the gang-controlled neighborhood of Martissant. It’s for this reason and many others that Salomon feels compelled to use Haitian art as an avenue to talk about her homeland.
“I do what I have to do… I feel it’s my duty,” she said. “My father taught me to ‘Help where you can.’”
The virtual exhibit isn’t just filled with Haitian masters like Bernard Séjourné, Célestin Faustin, Michèle Manuel and Luckner Lazard. Artists like Frantz Zephirin, who regularly pops up on the social scene in Port-au-Prince, whose complex vaudou-inspired creations are painted up and over the edge of the frame are among the hallowed curation. There has been a significant and unfortunate brain drain in Haiti in the artist’s community, said Nader-Salomon, referencing even today’s headlines about Haitian immigrants walking from South America to the Texas-Mexico border in search of a better life.
“One of the reasons for the Centre d’Art exhibition is to demonstrate to youth in Haiti that they have a chance, through the Centre d’Art, to pursue a career in their homeland,” she said. The Centre d’Art, for generations, has provided a space of respect and dignity for young, budding artists.
Not included in the virtual exhibit, but surely the most well-known of all Haitian painters, Jean-Michel Basquiat represents the significant talent of artists from the Haitian diaspora, that is to say, Haitians and people of Haitian descent living outside of Haiti with varying degrees of attachment and familiarity with the country. Basquiat’s genius and success in the 1980s art scene in and around New York set a precedent for supply and demand of Haitian art, which had been in decline.
“The diaspora community of artists is incredibly important to Haitian art, and it’s also unique, different,” said Nader-Salomon. “With every piece of art that sells in the diaspora, we know that culturally, the proceeds from that sale make its way back to Haiti, affecting the lives of family and extended family there.”
In 2010, the earthquake that made over 1 million people homeless in and around Port-au-Prince also destroyed an untold number of pieces of art. The Wall Street Journal reported that same year that the Nader family collection alone lost 10,000 pieces of Haitian art during the earthquake. Experts in restoration from UNESCO, Yale and Harvard rushed into Haiti, eager to save and restore what could be saved.
Today, emerging artists from all Haitian backgrounds continue to track down Salomon in New York. “(Young artists) find me,” she said. “And for me, it’s really the-more-the-merrier. There are 1.9 million active art buyers right now in the world. We’re marketing (Haitian art) directly to them to enlarge the market. We’re putting Haitian art back on the international map like it was in the 1950s. The art has not changed – and good art always sells.”