Croix des Bouquets-des-Croix

Karl Johnson's picture
Posted by Karl Johnson on
Sat, 11/09/2013

All around this part of Croix-des-Bouquets you hear the tinking and panging of metal workers. Legend has it this artist alcove grew from one man's ingenuity with unused metal barrels some decades ago – which could explain some recurring shapes of the art, though it quickly becomes clear how other artists in the area have branched out from that initial medium, if not the ingenious spirit behind this Haitian art form.

After an arduous drive along Port-au-Prince thoroughfares yet to see the attentions of reconstruction crews, our modest rented Hyundai pulled into the first metal gallery and only parking lot in the artist colony. Stacey, Di and I are all expecting to find a few gorgeous tokens to bring back to our homes; Stacey on a particular mission to find the "dots place," somewhere down the road. 

Metal shops and spread all along this neighborhood. Stacey warns that there will be much more art than this first shop we pulled into. The day is hot and calm, and art is literally covering gallery walls; sensory overload lies in wait around every corner. Slowly, our little troupe navigates several shops, each with its own style, and we discover creativity both breathtaking and beguiling. This is a story in pictures.

The first shop actually has two galleries: the first is for novice work; the seasoned pieces are shown in a furnished house next door.

The novice room, a simple shack, naturally lit, and overflowing with lacquered metal pieces: from mermaids to mirrors, birds on the wing to bicyclists. Little pieces go for 400 goudres, or $10 US. 

The artists work simply out in the open, in the shade, straddling drum-sized work stands. Some listen to ear buds, and others are open to conversation while they work.

Most pieces are coated with a protective lacquer and set out in the sun to dry.

The house next door exhibits seasoned works in a more domestic setting. 

We approach the third shop (the second will be subject of its own blog), a trio of men chatting on the porch walk us through the pieces and answer some questions. Of course they'd like our business, but aren't pushy about it. The attitude felt more like vendor and buyer are looking for a good match. Maybe no one wants for business here.

Shop 2 left out their stencils, and you can start to graps how these intricate things are laid out. 

Lots of crosses. "On peut faire un bouquet des croix," I remark. Di laughs. It feels good to make her laugh.

The fourth shop was a bit more peculiar. Again, everything lives in a modest, two room house. The interior is charged with energy. Someone unseen is hammering out a new work. A vendor talks with Stacey about some pieces, and negotiating a good price. Stacey, it occurs to me, is a shrewd negotiator, talking like a Haitian.

The art at Shop 4 reminded me of what Tele Ghetto showed Students Rebuild back in the day. 

Bits of trash are so much more. These artists have imbued a new spirit into commonplace discards. Many of these characters are variants on angels - it's hard to say if that's where the materials lend their most charming attributes, or if angels are particularly good for sales. (My guess it it's a bit of both - #moregoodpairings)

We almost passed the fifth shop - when Di pointed out it wasn't simply a old ti kay house. Right behind it lied a little trove of art - the sought-after Dot Place. Stacey is stoked; she'd been wanting to come back here for a long time, and we almost never found it!

These riders guard the door to the gallery.

Within: angels, lizards and masks of all shapes and sizes, and this rather elaborate dancing figure. Mirrors grace the walls, expanding the feel of the space, and coins were scattered across the carpeted floor. They were all Haitian 50 cent pieces - or half a gourde - or about 1.5 US cents. 

Stacey haggles expertly for the purchase of three works. Once the deal is made, the merchant calls over some help to get them wrapped in butcher paper, and surrounded with a liberal amount packing tape. All set to go, Stacey asks if she could take a few coins back for her kids. An additional term of the negotiation which, once translated by Diandine, made more sense to the merchant. 

It's funny how money can be a decorative element, and valued less than the déchets from which many artists here have found so much inspiration.