Alfred Métraux was part of a prolific moment in which French sociology and ethnology were enlarging their scientific scope and advancing toward new fields. Following the colonial expansion of France, Métraux participated in establishing ethnographic methods for codifying social life, material culture, and artistic forms. Through his own transatlantic voyages and personal exchanges, Métraux left personal documents in different parts of the world. Consequently, many are the archives that hold parts of his personal collections, letters, and published or unpublished materials. In addition, because of Métraux’s own cosmopolitanism, studies on the ethnologist’s life and works can be found in different languages. Métraux meticulously collected artifacts and documents from different cultures, and these items are now part of collections in museums in Argentina, France, and the United States. The multiplicity of themes Métraux dedicated himself to during his life reveal logics and developments of his work, as well as the importance of fieldwork to his making as an anthropologist, or a “man of the field,” as he used to describe himself. His intense and long-term relationship with Haitian Vodou was central in his career as it arose from his early interest in vanishing civilizations, religious systems, and material culture, and defined his personal agenda for future research.
Record-setting Dominican attendance at the championship game of the 1969 Amateur Baseball World Series attested to the local and international stakes in the competition between the United States and Cuba. Both teams reached the final game of the round-robin tournament, having defeated all nine of the opposing teams representing nations and government systems as varied as Nicaragua’s rightest dictatorship, the Dutch Antilles’ constitutional commonwealth, and Venezuela’s guerrilla-threatened democracy. Dominican sportswriters described the game as a competition between two opposing government systems and two conflicting sporting systems: the decentralized, largely privatized U.S. system that used amateur ball as a stepping stone to professionalism and the Cuban system that developed state amateurs who educated themselves, worked, and played ball in the service of the nation. The meeting between the U.S. and Cuban teams in the Dominican Republic suggested that the systems might coexist at a time when the Dominican government headed by President Joaquín Balaguer began to experiment with new models for political and economic development. Balaguer used the domestic openness and conciliatory attitude toward Cuba to legitimate controversial economic policies and submerge political discontent through national projects around international events like the Amateur World Series in 1969 and the XII Central American and Caribbean Games in 1974. With the international stage provided by the sporting events, Balaguer offered his Third Way as a model for Latin America. This local pluralism, though brief and perhaps disingenuous, allowed Balaguer to project himself and the Dominican Republic as leaders in a movement for Latin America solidarity built on pluralism and respect for sovereignty.
The Cuban film posters produced by the Institute of Cinematic Art and Industry from 1964 to 1974 were the synthesis of an exploratory process that defined new subject matter established by the Revolution. This process created a canon that achieved its own visual language and was supported by specialized critics, followed a formal style, and adopted a variety of composition structures. Elements of that canon can be traced back from contemporary Cuban posters.
The Midwestern United States is home to several major public museum collections of Haitian art. These collections were established within a short period between the late 1960s and early 1970s. Similarities between the contents of these collections and their formations point to particular dynamics of visual-art production in Haiti and cross-cultural interactions in which works of Haitian art were collected abroad. This examination of particular collection histories of two Midwestern U.S. museums, both in Iowa, demonstrates shifting cultural narratives that have contributed to generalized definitions of “Haitian Art.” Considering the dearth of Haitian-American communities in the state and its far-flung geography, the fact that so many works by Haitian artists reside in the Midwest may appear to be a curious occurrence. However, these collections arose from individual bequests from local collectors who began acquiring Haitian art during the second “Golden Age” of Haitian tourism in the 1960s and 1970s. North American travelers who visited Haiti at this time sustained a market for Haiti’s artists and helped maintain international interest in Haitian visual culture. The common characteristics of these two collections—in the cities of Davenport and Waterloo—and the history of their development speak volumes about cultural intersections between Haiti and the United States, especially in relation to the effects of tourism and international travel on the production, circulation, and reception of Haitian art. More broadly, these histories exemplify wide-ranging shifts in North–South relations in the late 20th century.
In the United States, Iowa is home to two of the largest public collections of Haitian art in the country, one in Davenport at the Figge Museum of Art and the other about 130 miles away in Waterloo at the Waterloo Center for the Arts. Considering both distance and regional context, the Midwest’s relationship to Haitian art may seem incongruous. Almost 2,000 miles separate Haiti from the region, and the largest enclaves of the Haitian diaspora reside in major urban centers like Miami, New York, Boston, Montreal, and Chicago. Additionally, stereotypes of the region as provincial and culturally unsophisticated accompany the Midwest’s reputation and add to the intrigue surrounding the seemingly uncharacteristic presence of Haitian art in regional museums. In order to better understand such seemingly random cultural linkages between Haiti and Iowa, we must examine the routes and circuits through which art objects in these collections have traveled, the individuals who facilitated such movements, and the distances, both physical and conceptual, between artists’ studios in Haiti and museum context in the American Midwest.
For audiences in the United States, the word “Haiti” often accompanies news headlines focusing on one of the country’s many crises: political instability, mass migration, natural disaster, poverty. The focus on Haiti’s many challenges of the past decades obscures the fact that in several key periods in the 20th century the country attracted a steady stream of “First World” visitors. With Haiti only a short plane ride away from the United States, travelers were drawn not only to Haiti’s tropical climate and the many upscale hotel accommodations of the time, but also to the country’s cultural offerings, which included a thriving environment of visual art production. A cottage industry producing paintings, sculptures, and handicrafts greeted tourists, journalists, academics, researchers, and other visitors. Some of these souvenir-ready items could be easily dismissed as cheap, mass-produced “tourist art,” but a great many of them reflected an originality and creative quality that emerged within the supportive context of the “Haitian Renaissance.” Haitian visual arts struck many of these art-buying travelers to such a degree that they would make many return visits to Haiti, amassing enough work that would eventually make up collections of art back in the United States. The cross-cultural interactions of these traveling collectors can be framed through a study of the art objects they collected and their interactions with Haitian artists and arts institutions. Focusing on individual case studies reveals broader trends in the international reception of Haitian art and how collections in Iowa and elsewhere were established.
Beginning in Davenport, whose Figge Museum of Art is the earliest established public and permanent collection of Haitian art in the United States, this examination of collection histories will shed light on how global, regional, and individual contexts and circumstances contributed to Haitian art’s presence in Iowa and its reception abroad. In addition, these collection histories highlight connections among collectors, artists, and other active participants in the circulation of Haitian in the period of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The second example considers the origins and development of the Waterloo Center for the Arts’ Haitian collection and demonstrates one institution’s efforts to connect Haitian art objects with local audiences. Both case studies also underscore histories of engagement between the United States and Haiti, as well as issues that museums have grappled with concerning their Haitian art collections and the shifting circumstances of art production in Haiti.