Saturday, January 30, 2010

Gabriel Bien-Aimé . . .

Over two weeks now since the Earth quaked in Haiti, shaking the country to the core. Nightmarish news continues to trickle out, while the aid slowly trickles in. There was an interesting story on CNN yesterday about Haitian art, and the impact of the earthquake. Partway down the page the story is on there is an embedded video of a slide show of some examples of Haitian art. Shortly into the video there were a couple of images of cut iron sculptures which I believe were done by one of the finest Haitian sculptors producing that style of art; Gabriel Bien-Aimé. Which brought the memories flooding back of having visited his workshop and gallery in Croix des Bouquets, which is just on the outskirts of Port au Prince. A quick search on the internet turned up this article about him on the Indigo Arts website. And several pieces of his sculptures can also be seen on the site of the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.
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Haitians in general are extremely creative when it comes to recycling material of all descriptions to transform it into useful objects again. The realm of art is no exception. Many of Bien-Aimé's cut metal sculptures started their lives as 55 gallon oil drums, or as the sheet-metal on any sort of automobile, bus, or truck from which it could be salvaged after the original function had come to an end. Consequently, the sight of old cars with no sheet-metal on them around Haiti is not unusual; it has been torn off to live again elsewhere in some other role. Old wrecks of cars in Haiti, often left by the roadside where they died, are known as "voitures désolées". This is one good example . . .
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This next one was some sort of small truck or mini-bus, god only knows what happened to it, a mere ghost of its former self . . .
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Another voiture désolée was in the yard of Gabriel Bien-Aimé's workshop, no doubt having served as a source of raw material . . .
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These cinderblock walls were the outdoor gallery where Bien-Aimé displayed his work in February, 1997. Our daughter appearing here was about three and a half. The small rectangular piece just in front of her head of a heron standing on the back of a giraffe is one of a few of his pieces that came home with us. Treasures from an unforgettable trip.
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It seemed incongruous for such beautiful works of art to be displayed on those rough cinderblock walls . . . but that is Haiti . . .
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One of his daughters was as intrigued with a foreign photographer as I was with her . . .
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His truck was emblazoned with his nickname . . . l'Ange Gabriel . . .
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And finally, the artist himself, with one of his sculptures which could almost be a self-portrait. A small corner of his house is visible here. I hope to hell it didn't fall down on him when the earth shook. Our thoughts are with you, Angel Gabriel, aptly named Bien-Aimé... he who is loved well . . .
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27 comments:

French Fancy said...

It is one thing for someone like me watching the disaster unfold and feeling so terrible for the people; it is different when you know the country and have friends living there. I really hope Gabriel and his family are safe and well - I suppose there is no way of knowing, all connections must be out of action now.

TechnoBabe said...

If you receive news of people you are acquainted with who were in Haiti I hope you share the news in your blogg.
The photo of the artist's daughter checking you out is great and the one of your daughter meandering in front of the art work is a wonderful moment. Aren't you glad you have the photos of Haiti and the wonderful people who live there?

Owen said...

Hi FF, I'm really not sure how likely it will be to be able to get any information anytime soon concerning specific people, it must still be near total chaos. I can't even begin to imagine what many many people abroad with family members in Haiti must be going through right now if they haven't been able to get news yet.

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TechnoB, I hope I'll be able to find out one day what happened to some of the people we met there, if I can I'll be sure to write about it. All possible sources of information about people in Haiti today must just be totally inundated with requests for information. And may take a long, long time to sort out just who survived and who did not...

Nevine said...

I'm haunted by that whole mess that's going on in Haiti. And I hate to listen to the news because it always feels like they finally have some news item that they can talk about for hours and sound like they're all feeling genuinely sorry when every other word out of their mouths is "poverty-stricken". Your photos, Owen, show the true spirit of that nation, its true beauty. It is always in photos of the people of a land that we see the spirit of that land. Your photos are of happier times, and happier times will hopefully come for Haiti soon. Thank you for sharing these with us!

Nevine

Susan said...

You put a real face to Haiti for those of us who never got to go there - thanks. I love the art. Just out of curiosity, back in the day ... you could buy those pieces for ... ? what? was it anywhere close to "art" prices or was it just unbelievably inexpensive? Could an artist make a living in Haiti?

@eloh said...

Better information in this post on the real people of Haiti than the posts I've been following of the workers there now.

This post informs me that these people will indeed survive.

Deborah said...

It's good to make some kind of connection with Haiti, even if very tenuous. Through your photos and affectionate text, we can all do that. Thank you Owen, and I do hope that one day you are able to get news of your Angel Gabriel.

Alberto Oliver said...

Love the way art recognizes no frontiers, no cultural barriers, love how its seeds happend to find a fertile soul, no matter how or where on Earth, Lovely pictorial testimony Owen.

Jill said...

Dear Owen, I have just put up a post especially for you...so come over!

ALeks said...

Another wonderful post!
Thank you,
Aleksandra

louciao said...

Last night we watched the doc that Pierre had made in Haiti in 2001: I noted the scrap metal art, the sequined voodoo art pieces, the vibrant paintings; gorgeous beaches; engaging music, traditional and new; voodoo dances; joyous parades of dancing people and brass bands; overloaded buses careeening down the street; the warmth of the land, the warmth of the people. The Acadian singer who travelled to Haiti as part of the exchange commented that, yes, it was a country of poverty, but she was learning to rethink the western concept of poverty. The people were so generous and welcoming, the land so beautiful; there was a different sort of richness there that westerners often do not recognize.

I have a wonderful, thick book that Pierre brought back from Haiti for me, "Peintres Haïtiens" which is even more precious to me now, after reading about all the art lost or damaged there in the quake.

I read your narrative here and viewed your photographic souvenirs with great interest. Thanks for providing the links/background as well.

Stickup Artist said...

Metal sculpture from Mexico and South America is extremely popular here in western United States and these examples are fabulous. I'm sure people would love to acquire such artwork if they could. One because it's great and two to show support.

I know they have more important things to get to at the moment in Haiti. Unfortunately it takes a horrific event for the world to sit up and take notice.

Sounds like just the place for Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank to get involved.

I pray that this will be a turning point in that country's future.

These posts have been fascinating.

the watercats said...

Fantastic images and fantastic artwork. I love folk art and find it's intent a lot easier to understand than 'proper' art. It speaks directly about human nature, struggle, appreciating beauty in the mundane and dull.. sending good thoughts to haiti too, god knows they need it!

Art said...

Beautiful photos. I agree that they give a face to and understanding of Haiti that is hard to grasp in the magnitude of all the tragic news recently.

Today I read that Unesco is moving to ban the sale of Haitian art in an effort to prevent looting. How horrible to think of people trying to capitalize on a nation's suffering.

Owen said...

Dear Nevine, I guess the news outlets have to sell newspapers, and by now we all have a pretty good idea of what sells newspapers... I, on the other hand, have no such agenda, that is the wonderful thing about blogging I guess, one can speak simply, about simple pleasures, about good people, from the heart, with a sense of kindness, without editors who report to shareholders... and so I continue, this quiet path, far from the brouhaha and the madding crowds... and by the grace of the blog deities, a few kind and generous souls, like your good self, have stumbled in here over the past few months... with warm words... I thank you...

Owen said...

Hi Susan, These pieces were for sale in 1997 for the equivalent in haitian gourdes at that time of roughly 30 or 40 dollars each, the larger pieces were more of course, but as we couldn't bring any big pieces back on the plane, we didn't ask about them. That seemed incredibly inexpensive to us. I hope Gabriel Bien-Aimé was making a reasonable living. He now has pieces around the world. I stumbled on one in a restaurant in Belgium a while back... I hope he made it through, and will be able to continue working.

Fascinating piece you just did about the orbit of Venus in the Mayan codex documents...

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@eloh, I think Haiti breeds survivors...

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Deborah, am happy to help put a face on what is happening there, even if in a very small way here at this totally obscure blog...

The Sagittarian said...

I'm sure I left a comment here yesterday but it's not here so maybe I dreamed it?? Anyway, love the photos and the insight. Must indeed be heartbreaking to see and hear all this news from Haiti. My daughters were quite distraught when the news reported that all search and rescue has been called off, closely followed by another report of survivors being found under the rubble.

Peter said...

Once more amazed by your post ! Today, after the earthquake everybody talks about the Haitian culture, so rich. You found it before! Especially the French should always have paid more attention to this French talking society! At least the Alexandre Dumas (older and younger) are celebrated ... perhaps forgetting that they had a Haitian mother and grandmother respectively!

Owen said...

Alberto O., indeed, indeed, I guess one of the great redeeming qualities of human life on this planet is that the seeds of art were also sown far and wide as the seeds of humanity took root in various communities around the globe. In Paris there is an excellent museum of folk art or "primitive" art as some call it, though it is far from primitive, on the Quai Branly... don't miss it if you get to Paris.

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Hi Jill, a hundred thousand thank you's for your post, tickles me pink to be noticed somewhere else in the blogosphere...

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Aleks, you're very, very welcome...
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Owen said...

Hi Lynne, you're going to have to tell me more about this "doc" that Pierre produced in Haiti ?!?!?

I remember you said he had been there, but I'm not sure I had gathered that he had done a film ??? How can I see it ? Is it on the net somewhere ? Sounds fascinating if he worked all those subjects into it.

We looked at alot of art while we were there, the man we stayed with loved Haitian art, he had collected quite a bit while there over a few years, and had it all shipped back to NYC when he left in 1999 or thereabouts. A whole container full of cut iron and sculptures of all descriptions, including some sequined voodoo pieces, and paintings, carnaval masks, signs (many of them featuring chickens or roosters), all sorts of stuff ! I'd love to know what happened to it all when he passed away in 2006.

He was also a film maker, he produced a few films about Haiti, some of which were aired on PBS in the US I believe. If you can find them, they're worth seeing, "Haiti : Killing the Dream", "Haiti : Coup de Grace", "THE UNPEOPLE IN HAITI", and "Walt Disney Goes to Haiti, or The Science of Exploitation".

Your book about Haitian painting sounds good too. We visited one old gallery in Jacmel which had paintings piled up in it going back decades, gorgeous stuff... A vibrant country for artists, I hope they will be able to get back on their feet again after this latest round of being knocked down...

Owen said...

Hi StickUp, would love to take a trip through Mexico and the Caribbean to really look at what is going on art wise, there must be all sorts of good things happening. If one can stay out of the crossfires between drug traffickers... especially in Mexico... or is that just the press blowing things out of proportion again ? In any case, yes, I am hoping beyond hope that this will be a turning point for Haiti. That something better will be born, rising from the rubble.

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Hi Vicky, I think you also would love the "primitive" arts museum on the Quai Branly in Paris, I far prefer such folk art to anything abstract... And keep those good thoughts flowing, they will be needed for some time to come...

Owen said...

Hi Art, or Linnea, In such a situation of total chaos I guess inevitably there will be some theft of artwork. There was no doubt alot of damage or destruction of art as well, some will be irrecuperable. Good to see that someone is thinking ahead, trying to put in place some preventive medicine, as it were. Many thanks for sharing the piece about Unesco on your page, and the other one about "le Centre d'Art" also...

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Hey Sister Saj !

So your comments are disappearing now ? Are you sure it wasn't just in a dream ? No, probably not, I know I have had some comments I thought I left in various places just totally disappear, there must be a huge corner somewhere in the universe where lost comments, like lost socks, go to for the rest of eternity...

Not an easy situation for anyone, performing rescue work in those chaotic conditions, and at some point I guess they have to say "stop"... must be a terrible call to have to make.

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Peter,
I guess if the ancestors of today's Haitians had not fought the French out of Haiti, it would probably look like Guadeloupe, Martinique, or la Réunion do today. Far more structured, with working social institutions... but by choosing to declare independence, they apparently earned the right to be nearly totally neglected, and the aid that has happened since the end of the last dictatorships has been merely a bandaid (imho) compared to what was really needed. And thanks for remembering Dumas, yes, I recall reading a little about his family history in the Caribbean...

J said...

I had a peek of this at the weekend as respite from doing a rather dry linguistics paper and had to come back for a second look. Strangely, or perhaps not, I like the setting of the artwork against the roughly made wall. I guess that often art is so divided from 'ordinary life' it's nice to be reminded that it's part of it, not something only to be keep in air conditioned galleries.

Roxana said...

the most wonderful tribute, Owen, it brought tears to my eyes... and what brilliant shots, especially those with the little girl walking in front of the wall with the works of art...
i love how he looks at us, so proud, but it is not the stupid arrogant pride we can so often see here in our world, but wise and silent dignity and nobility.

(and i am thrilled with these words, "voitures désolées", it's an entire poem there!)

i can only imagine what it means for you to go back through these images these days...
a big and warm hug, dear Owen...

Anonymous said...

China and Russia put the blame on some screwed up experiments of US for the earthquake that happened in Haiti.
Chinese and Russian Military scientists, these reports say, are concurring with Canadian researcher, and former Asia-Pacific Bureau Chief of Forbes Magazine, Benjamin Fulford, who in a very disturbing video released from his Japanese offices to the American public, details how the United States attacked China by the firing of a 90 Million Volt Shockwave from the Americans High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facilities in Alaska
If we can recollect a previous news when US blamed Russia for the earthquake in Georgio. What do you guys think? Is it really possible to create an earthquake by humans?
I came across this [url=http://universalages.com/hot-news/what-happened-in-haiti-is-it-related-to-haarp/]article about Haiti Earthquake[/url] in some blog it seems very interesting, but conspiracy theories have always been there.

Lydia said...

Good god, Owen, I have learned so much about Haiti from your series of remembrances here. I already had a deep respect for the people and you are giving me glimpses into the soul of the country and are shining a light onto individuals for us to love, such as in this post. Of all the pieces on the wall I love best the one that now lives with your family. And to have these truly special shots of each daughter, and then of the artist, well.....I do so hope that word will come that he and his family survived.
And if ever a place was to be torn apart by nature, it seems these are the people who can re-create from the rubble better than any others on Earth. I'm just sorry their artistry and skill to do so has been put to such a monstrous task.

Wonderful post.

Kim said...

It is the connections we make in our travels that travel with us for the rest of our lives. The arts are some of the languages with which we speak to each other, soul to soul. I hope Bien-Aime and his family are feeling the sunshine on their faces, all together safe, receiving or giving needed assistance. I'm sure his pieces, in homes and galleries around the globe, weave a web of thoughts and good wishes for him and all the people of Haiti. Love seeing your photos,
-Kim