You Can't Keep Art Down

Haitian artists triumph over political chaos, environmental disaster, AIDS, and poverty

It's a shame such context isn't provided on even a photocopied handout, because people seeing Haitian art for the first time might not recognize that this show is just a tiny fragment of a much bigger picture.

After taking in "A New Era," I wandered over to a small display on the fringes of Gallery Six I had noticed out of the corner of my eye. It consists of a crowded row of unceremoniously presented pieces displayed on metal grid panels. Without realizing it, I started at the wrong end and mistakenly assumed that the art is by schoolchildren.

A mixed bag of urban scenes and colorful landscapes like Paysage by Elfriede Lesinasse
A mixed bag of urban scenes and colorful landscapes like Paysage by Elfriede Lesinasse


On display through December 31 (A New Era) and January 5 (Healing Thru Art) Call 954-357-7397.
Broward County Main Library, Gallery Six, Sixth Floor, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale

It was only when I reached the other end of the show that I saw its title: "Healing Thru Art: An Exhibition Featuring the Works of Female Prisoners in the Broward Women's Correctional Facility." A postcard handout ("A New Era" organizers, take note) explains that this art is a therapeutic tool for female inmates who were victims of physical or sexual abuse. "Alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, self-mutilations and misdirected anger are all symptomatic of abused persons with no creative outlet to express their pain. Prisoners who engage in arts and education programs show a 70 percent reduction in repeat offenses... Supporting the arts in prison not only helps these women to heal, but makes our community a safer place," it says.

Fair enough. Such a context explains the crude, childlike style of the pieces on display -- they were created by untrained amateurs coming to terms with traumatic events. Still, some of these women show promise, at least based on the single pieces displayed here. A desert Southwest landscape with modified geometric shapes is reminiscent of the work of Georgia O'Keeffe. Another hilly landscape is portrayed with the stark simplicity of classic Asian art. An appealing abstract features intersecting lines and a few geometric shapes.

Bottom line: If you're visiting "A New Era," take a few minutes to appreciate the unpolished work of these women.

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