Life and Spirituality in Haitian Art: The Centre d’ Arte

Le Centre d’Arte

Le Centre d’Arte in Port-au-Prince has played a fundamental role in developing Haitian painting. Founded in 1944 under the leadership of American watercolorist DeWitt Peters, with the support of several Haitian artists and intellectuals, Le Centre provided educational and working spaces, supplies, and support when there were no commercial galleries or public art schools on the island. Many of the artists were self-taught and did not follow Western stylistic conventions. Once under-appreciated, at Le Centre, they became recognized for their authentic expressions of Haitian identity. The first generation of mid-twentieth century intuitive artists, once labeled “naïve” or “primitive,” played a primordial role in developing an internationally acclaimed art movement. They began to develop their artistic skills by decorating temples and ritual objects inspired by Vodou and popular art and were soon producing paintings and sculptures that appealed to an international clientele.

Among the visitors to Le Centre, André Breton, the founder of French Surrealism, immediately established parallels between Haitian art’s spirituality and Surrealism’s dream-like qualities. Upon returning to Paris, Breton included some of the paintings he had acquired, including Hector Hyppolite’s, in Surrealist exhibitions. By doing so, he contributed to the promotion and legitimacy of Haitian art.

Since the mid-1940s, Le Centre d’Arte has served as an educational center, gallery, and reference institution. The building collapsed during the 2010 earthquake, and the site remained closed for four years. In November 2014, it reopened its doors and celebrated its 70th anniversary. Today, it supports Haitian artists, displays their work, and documents Haiti’s significant visual arts heritage.