Throughout the twentieth century, artists of African-American descent put in an effort to produce art depicting Haiti and their support for the country, regardless of whether they had visited the country or not. Haiti is the first black nation to receive independence. It was a result of a revolt against their colonial masters which led to a war that bought them freedom.
Haiti became the first Caribbean country to gain independence in 1804 after the rebellion which spanned 13 years, from 1791 – 1804. This rebellion saw the French army defeated by an army of 500,000 slaves. This was the first black nation off the shores of Africa and it is recognized as a symbol of Africans in the diaspora.
Between 1915 and 1934, US Marines had a station in Haiti to foster the thriving of local elites as well as secure foreign investors. The first half of the twentieth century saw artists of American origin create art based on knowledge of Haiti, either acquired or experienced. It was labeled by Krista A. Thompson, the art historian, as the “dreams of the diaspora.” Some of the artists actually visited Haiti and worked there while others presented their artwork from dreams or ideas gotten about the country.
The period was labeled as the “Harlem Renaissance” and the most prominent artist of this period was Jacob Lawrence. He got his idea about Haiti through books and his work, Toussaint L’Ouverture Series, between 1937 – 1938 is a narration of the Haitian revolution. The works were named after one of the front liners in the revolution and they were majorly idealistic with vivid colors. According to Thompson, Lawrence’s work was so expressive that they had the power to unite Black Americans with Haitians. Their potency was far more than the work of artists who resided and worked from Haiti.
Another artist of note, William E. Scott, who produced about 144 works using pencil, oil, and watercolor, needed to make a journey to the island for his artwork. He needed this to allow for meditation and to understand the relationship between Black Americans and Haitians. Though his work, which focused largely on peasants and a lack of recognition of Haiti’s revolutionary past, attracted much criticism from the Haitian elite. Local artists, however, saw his work as revolutionary and a pacesetter for a new art movement.
Just like Scott, Aaron Porter and James Douglass, both African-American artists, focused on Haiti as a tourist destination rather than a leader of the slave revolution. It is evident that the works of these artists and many others not mentioned have been instrumental in influencing the way the rest of the world views Haiti.