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Inventing Haitian Art: How Visitors Shaped Cultural Production From Occupation to Renaissance


For Western audiences the appeal of Haitian art often lies in how it represents exoticism, tropicality, and "primitivism." Both in Haiti and throughout the world, works of Haitian art are bought and sold as souvenirs, decorative art objects, and fine art. This thesis will demonstrate how writers, artists, art dealers, curators, and collectors have shaped and advanced narratives that define Haitian visual culture in terms of Haiti's otherness. It sheds light on the entangled relationships between those in the Haitian arts community and foreign travelers. Interactions between these two groups shaped dominant narratives concerning art and culture in Haiti. This thesis will examine two key periods: the U.S. Marine occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) and the "Haitian Renaissance" that began in the 1940s. I will frame Haiti in these periods as a "contact zone" in which cross-cultural negotiations and interactions occurred between Haitians and those visiting the country for myriad purposes.

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