PORT-AU-PRINCE — The Village of Noailles in Haïti’s Croix-des-Bouquets is considered the largest grouping of artists and sculptors in the entire Caribbean, with its 800 artists and 80 workshops, according to the Periferia organization. Yet, for at least one year, ongoing gang violence in the area have caused artisans to scatter all over the capital, taking on other work to survive.
“As artisans, it’s when we’re at home [in Village Noailles] that we’re most comfortable,” says craftsman Jean-Mary Soulouque, who complained of gangs confiscating people’s properties. “We’re not really living, we’re not happy. There’s no life for us artists and there’s no life in the village.”
But from April 14 to 19, about 20 artisans from the village arrived at the El Rancho Hotel in Pétion-Ville to showcase their works in the ‘Solidarité Noailles’ fair, buoying their spirits and potential sales.
“It’s a great presentation to help us artists make a living,” craftsman Jacques Jean Robert said, on opening day of the fair. “This event helps us because we were stuck in the Village of Noailles, paralyzed by violence.”
The week-long art and crafts — organized by UNESCO in partnership with several embassies and the Village Artistique de Noailles — brought together the ironworks artists with arts and crafts lovers, who gushed over an assortment of unique hand-crafted arts. The second edition of the solidarity fair brought much relief to the artists, who deserted Village Artistique de Noailles after armed bandits suspected of being with the 400 Mawozo gang attacked in October 2022. The street gang has maintained control of it since.
“Participating in this fair and buying the artist’s work is supporting the continuity of the Village of Noailles and therefore, the survival of the ironworks art industry,” the Spanish Embassy in Haiti said in a statement.
On the first day of the exhibit, the craftsmen were on hand to speak with attendees about their work and share the stories behind each piece of art. Dressed in apricot yellow t-shirts and sitting behind a table with their artworks, the artisans spoke about their intricate pieces of ironworks, hand-carved wooden sculptures and vibrant paintings depicting scenes from Haitian life and culture. With each explanation, their passion, skill and creativity came through, dazzling the fair’s attendees.
Robert, for one, uses discarded objects such as PVC pipes, pieces of cardboard and worn shoes to create his works.
Like his fellow ironworks artists, Robert starts off with used metal barrels, then fashions the sheets into objects using such tools as hammers, pliers and chisels.
“It is this recycling business that allows us to make a living,” adds Robert.
On display during the fair were hundreds of pieces – from household items such as lamps, chairs, metal tables to tall decorative metal structures depicting Haitian history and mythology. Altogether, the carved pieces recall the customs, the value of the traditions of Haitians and the peasants’ way of life. Works that only the artists can explain to sellers.
Besides helping people earn a living, supporters of the fair said the Artistic Village of Noailles must be preserved to pass on Haitian craftsmanship.
“It is important to continue to support arts and culture in Haiti despite the particular security context,” said Fabrizio Poretti, who represents Switzerland in Haiti.
Tatiana Villegas, representative of UNESCO in Haiti, said her organization hopes to renew the commitment of the United Nations institution for culture with artisans and the Haitian State.
“The goal is to perpetuate the know-how of “ironworks” or “cut metal” officially registered in the National Register of Haitian Cultural Heritage, both tangible and intangible,” says Villegas.