Amongst the narrow back alleys, tin shacks and car repair yards at the back of Grand Rue, Port au Prince’s noisy and colourful main street, is an unexpected art display: André Eugène’s 40-foot figure of a man in a top hat constructed from car chassis, with a four-foot wooden penis attached to an industrial spring. Eugène’s nearby yard is crowded with sculptures, mostly figurative and many using human skulls for heads. His cluttered rooms lit by green fairy lights resemble a Santa’s grotto on the dark side, a Gibsonesque vision of a warped dystopian sci-fi Vodou domain. Further into the labyrinthine network of alleyways are the studios of Frantz Jacques Guyodo and Jean Hérard Celeur, the other two members of the artistic triumvirate that has dragged Haitian art kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
The work of these three artists is a varying hybrid of classic woodcarving, metal sculpture and assemblage. Their muscular sculptural collages of engine manifolds, computer entrails, TV sets, medical debris, skulls and discarded timber transform the detritus of a failing economy into deranged, post-apocalyptic totems.
Their use of recycled materials is only partially driven by economic necessity: it carries, for them, an inherent social commentary on Haiti’s position in the global economy. ‘The Americans send us their trash,’ says Eugène. ‘We use it and transform it, then sell it back to them to put in their living rooms.’
Talking about his use of old shoes in a massive tableau, Celeur explains that most shoes in Haiti come second-hand as charity from the United States and are often totally inappropriate for the tropics, and that his work is a surrealist cry for national shoe production – or any national production at all. There is also a playfulness to the three artists’ use of materials: mountain-bike tyres are wings, pistons are penises, industrial springs often ribs. A new Adam leaps from the post-industrial waste, raising spectres to haunt the dark landscape of globalisation. Most Haitian art refers to the past: to the country’s joint cultural, spiritual and revolutionary histories. The Grand Rue artists look both forward and back, referencing cultural heritage, the present social conditions and a stark vision of a future going to hell in a handcart.