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 Consequently, many are the archives that hold parts of his personal collections, letters, and published or unpublished materials.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.
The Atis Rezistans (Resistance Artists) are a collective of sculptors based in downtown Port-au-Prince who have founded their own museum. The artists are best known for using found objects and wood to make politically charged works that draw on the imagery of Vodou. Since launching this artistic movement over a decade ago, co-founder André Eugène has referred to his home and atelier as Le Musée d’Art E Pluribus Unum. While art collectives are common in Haitian art, by designating themselves a “museum” the Atis Rezistans have incorporated aspects of conceptual art and installation art into their art movement. They describe the founding of this museum as a strategic appropriation of an institution that has historically belonged to the bourgeoisie. Conversations with Eugène, and other artists in the collective, reveal that they have carefully considered the power of museums: museums imbue certain objects with cultural capital and monetary value; present certain world views through the display of objects; and may offer visitors encounters with human remains. Becoming a museum has allowed Eugène and the other artists to access networks of art world mobility in ways that their artworks alone would not have. This essay offers context for understanding the Atis Rezistans as part of a tradition of art making among Haiti’s majority. It argues that due to their location, their class, and their overt use of Vodou imagery, scholars have overlooked conceptual elements of their movement, specifically how they play with the idea of the museum.