The Surreal World: Haiti

Adoration a la Sainte Vierge-Hector Hyppolite-Collection of Andre Breton
Adoration a la Sainte Vierge-Hector Hyppolite-Collection of Andre Breton

Although the presidency of Donald Trump is in a certain sense a bizarrely surreal spectacle, the political aims of the actual Surrealists and the nascent nationalist movement that Trump embodies are polar extremes. Nothing highlights this better than Trump’s insulting and ignorant comments concerning ‘shithole countries’ of which he deems the much maligned island nation of Haiti to be a prime example.

Haiti, however, was a source of enduring fascination and inspiration for the Surrealists. As strident anti-colonialists (for Surrealism there never was or could ever be a case for colonialism, it was always an unalloyed evil that debases the colonised and corrupts the coloniser), Surrealists celebrated the Haitian revolution that resulted in the only successful slave revolt in history and the first black republic in the world. This momentous event and the subsequent defeat of invading French, British and Spanish forces by the Haitians expanded the central concept of the French Revolution of ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ to include all men, regardless of colour. Unfortunately Haiti has never been forgiven for this piece of temerity.

Of course bound up with the perception of Haiti is Vodou, the syncretic religion that combines elements of West African spirit worship, Roman Catholicism and possibly traces of native Meso-American religion, and the Surrealists were certainly not immune to its spell. Although not technically a Surrealist, the American Lost Generation writer and occultist W.B Seabrook travelled in the same Parisian avant-garde circles (for the curious Man Ray’s series of photographs entitled The Fantasies of Mr Seabrook are still risque) and his sensational, though mainly sympathetic travelogue The Magic Island from 1929, the book that introduced the word zombie to the English language, was positively reviewed in Georges Bataille Documents magazine by the ethnographer Michel Leiris. Bataille himself would write about Vodou in L’Érotisme (Eroticisms) and Les Larmes d’Éros (The Tears ofEros),  as he saw Vodou as the prime modern example of a Dionysian religion.

In 1944 the Martinican poet Aime Cesaire (see Serpent Sun), who credited Surrealism with emancipating his consciousness, spent seven months in Haiti, which at the time was still the only black republic in the Caribbean. This period would inedibly mark Cesaire’s artistic and political thought.

In 1945 Andre Breton and Wilfredo Lam (see Welcome To The Jungle), as  guests of fellow Surrealist Pierre Mabille, the French cultural attache, attended a vodou ceremony where they saw the works of Hector Hyppolite (see Desire in a Different Climate), a third generation Vodou houngan. Breton also gave a series of three lectures that linked the Haitian revolution with Surrealism and that galvanised opposition to the current US backed dictator in power, who promptly fled the country when the insurgency gathered force.

One of the first works of magic realism is Alejo Carpentier’s El reino de este mundo (The Kingdom of This World) published in 1949 that details the events of the Haitian revolution and its immediate aftermath.

Finally a brief word on the avant-garde film-maker Maya Deren marvellous study of Vodou, Divine Horseman: The Living Gods of Haiti, which is available as a  book (excellently written) and a documentary film. Most of the classic studies are written in French and Deren’s 1953 book remains the gold standard in English.

Below are some of Hector Hyppolite’s paintings as well as two other Haiti artists that show Surrealist as well as traditional influences, Rignaud Benoit and Gabriel Alix.

Hector-Hyppolite-Birds-and-Flowers[1]
Hector Hyppolite-Bird and Flowers
Hector Hyppolite-Femme nue avec oiseaux
Hector Hyppolite-Erzulie
Hector Hyppolite-Erzulie
Rignaud Benoit-Wedding Procession
Rignaud Benoit-Wedding Procession
Rignaud Benoit-Ceremony
Rignaud Benoit-Ceremony
Gabriel Alix-The Black Madonna
Gabriel Alix-The Black Madonna
Gabriel Alix-Ceremony Baron Samedi
Gabriel Alix-Ceremony Baron Samedi

43 thoughts on “The Surreal World: Haiti

    1. The Haitian revolution never got the coverage that either the American or French Revolutions did, even though it was just a natural extension of the principles outlined in the previous revolutions. Glad you liked the artwork.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haiti was the world’s richest colony at the time of the revolution, the loss of income and the cost of the failed invasion was one of the main reasons that Napoleon agreed to the Louisiana Purchase. The violence of the revolution led, in a large part, to British abolition of slavery, which increased the pressure from within the US on Dixie country, leading to the Civil War. So the revolution definitely had an economic impact (as well as a social one), but as I said Haiti has never been forgiven. Obviously I am not downplaying the role that the various dictators and strongman of local province have played in Haiti’s misfortunes, because they certainly have hindered the country, but whenever anyone half way enlightened comes to power they get removed and another US backed tyrant rises to the top.
        Oui et je suis fatigué du monde, et le monde est las de moi.

        Like

  1. The really absurd thing is that Trumpet has very strong the last August U.S. solar eclipse degree!
    As we feel their impact quite some time before their arrival, I should have realised he actually would ride this 1 and win the election!
    I wonder if someone is laughing at a sick cosmic joke and we are hearing the Trumpet’s call, not the clarion?
    February solar eclipse is right back atcha dude!
    But thank-you for the magnificent earthy art especially Nature’s tropical fecundities , the birds and the beautiful black Madonna and child!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a good sense of humour (I think anyway) but Mr Trump is beginning to wear a little. Here is hoping for that solar eclipse. Hopefully it will do me some favours as I am an Aquarius. Glad you enjoyed, I always aim to please. I do cast a wide net in the hope of catching some pearls.

      Like

      1. I meant to say that he has strong connections to that eclipse.
        If you are connected around 27* Aquarius, the eclipse will definitely raise your profile.
        They fascinate me and there is no escaping them as many years of historical study will testify.
        This planet has gained so much through the zany quirkiness and humour of Aquarians, they are wonderful!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. We’ve just had an uber Capricorn new moon, fabulous for long term building, manifestation projects to be launched with all planets moving forward removal of any blockages and the eclipse in your sign putting you in the spotlight already being felt.
        So the universe will assist you Mr Cake.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a fair and good way to redeem certain countries from Trump ´s bigotry. although not only countries, women, disabled people and political opponents have fallen into their pseudo-semantic networks. There is something about this post that definitely makes me think of Magical realism (García Márquez and Isabel Allende).
    Interestingly, it was Alejo Carpentier who gave the term “Realismo Mágico” its current definition,
    “The marvelous begins to be unmistakably marvelous when it arises from an unexpected alteration of reality (the miracle), from a privileged revelation of reality, an unaccustomed insight that is singularly favored by the unexpected richness of reality or an amplification of the scale and categories or reality, perceived with particular intensity by virtue of an exaltation of the spirit that leads it to a kind of extreme state [estado límite].” Prolog to his book “El Reino de Este Mundo” .-
    Sending love & best wishes; Mr Cake 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Aquileana, Carpentier was a Surrealist, though he broke with Breton and joined with Bataille’s renegades Surrealists who wrote for Documents magazine. I think El Reino de Este Munro was the first magical realist novel. I do try to be fair and even handed. Thank you as always my friend.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much…quite correct as well Surrealism is more than an art movement, it is a way of seeing and living. I am so glad you liked this post, I am quite proud of my little Surreal World Series. Do check out the other posts when you have time. It is wonderful to have you back!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s