“My intention is to help,” states Edouard Duval Carrié. “I was taught to be socially responsible; I want to figure out ‘what can I do?’” Through art and his activism, Duval Carrié reaches well beyond his Miami home and his Haitian birthplace. Using his art to create a sense of history and community, not just for himself, or even just for the Haitian Diaspora, Duval Carrié plays a part in a global, contemporary art network that stretches from Cologne to Benin.
Born in Port-au-Prince in 1954 and educated in Paris, Duval Carrié creates his art in a fascinating studio in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami. It was not until he was in his 30’s, during a return to Paris, that Duval Carrié “discovered” Africa. “I discovered the continent that had fed Haiti and I finally understood its attachment to Africa – so full of differences and surprises.” As an artist/cultural historian, Duval Carrié wants to create respect for the traditional religious practices (vodou) that allowed Haitians to maintain their identity and dignity, and to survive.
But even as he seeks to dispel misperceptions about vodou, he simultaneously highlights beliefs and events that Haitians would prefer to forget. Duval Carrié insists that because of disavowal and denial, Haitians continue “to make the same mistakes and rehash the same things over and over again, playing out the same roles.”
In this sense, Duval Carrié is more than a cultural historian; he is a cultural rebel. The artist wants to present the whole truth, not just accepted views of vodou. His provocative and subversive work is a critique of mainstream culture, of the absurdities of Haitian history and life—the Hollywood stereotype of vodou, for example. But many nonetheless see a negative portrayal of voudou in his work. In a museum show a few years back about the sacred arts of Haiti, there were even misgivings about including Duval Carrié’s work.
He admits that his work is a vehicle to clarify his own problems with vodou, but remains intent on pushing the envelope with new associations. Certainly, Duval Carrié takes artistic license, appropriating and integrating a wide array of sacred and profane symbols. He borrows from both Greek mythology and Buddhist iconography, and it is evident, as art historian Donald Cosentino states, that Duval Carrié is seeking “to redeem (vodou) from its detractors through comparative analyses with other world religions.” However, despite its clearly Haitian “face,” the artist’s work is broad in its message and must be viewed within a larger, global framework. “The problems confronting Haiti are the same ones we are facing in the world today,” states Duval Carrié, “and by touching on the specific, I am reaching the universal.”
Although Duval Carrié works in his own tradition for his own purposes, his progressive embrace of new materials and his highly complex juxtapositions of old and new suggest an artist involved in twenty-first century art discourse. Working in sculpture, painting and multi-media installation, Duval Carrié’s productions touch multiple audiences at various levels. The first level of perception is the sensory one, as his exquisite works employ glorious color, glitter, compound textures and unusual materials, often presented in lush tropical landscapes.
But just like the religious practices that his oeuvre parallels, the work is imbued with extensive and condensed meaning, depicting intricate relationships often difficult for even the well-informed viewer to decode. The work is seductive with its adornment and prettiness, but a closer reading delivers a punch. Depictions of the horrors of oppression, fear and violence, alongside political satire, humor, and sensuality, urge the viewer to shift back and forth from the obvious to the almost hidden, and to integrate the two.
Nevertheless, the work is so satisfying at the sensory level, so beautiful, that the complex pursuit of meaning is not tiring. Some of the works are humorous and others depict hopes and aspirations for the Haitian people. In the end, the work is about magic and perhaps, as such, the work is life-affirming. Duval-Carrié states, “I am trying to insert Haiti into modernity … to continue creating the vision of the country; it is not a naïve vision – but complex and sophisticated. Haiti is a country in evolution.” This artist is not just historian, or priest, but creator of the future.
Yolanda Sánchez, Ph.D., MFA, is a working artist and Director of Fine Arts & Cultural Affairs at Miami International Airport, Miami, Florida. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist currently serving as clinical director of the Miami Chapter of A Home Within, a national organization whose mission is to provide pro bono psychotherapy for foster youth. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.