Queens Library is proud to present “Festival an Koulè (Festival of Colors),” a six-week exhibit of twenty established and emerging artists who represent the rich culture of Haiti.
During the six weeks of the festival, we’ll introduce you to some of the participating artists so you can learn more about them, their work, and Haitian art in general.
Our first artist is Chantal Paret Antoine. Chantal was born in Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, a few months after the election of Francois Duvalier in 1957. Five years later, she was forced into hiding with her mother and sister until being reunited with her father, a high-ranking colonel in the Haitian army, in New York in 1965. Chantal’s love of Haitian art was sparked by her maternal grandfather, Cesar Muller, who was part of the “Haitian Renaissance” at DeWitt Clinton Peters’ Le Centre D’Art in Port-au-Prince that introduced Haitian art to the world.
Chantal received a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Art Therapy from Hofstra University and a BFA from the Fashion Institute of Technology in Interior Architecture and Design. Chantal has served as Library Planner-Senior Designer in Queens Library’s Capital Facilities Management department for the past nineteen years, involved in the planning, design, and interior outfitting of all existing branches and new library construction.
What motivates you and inspires you artistically?
My confidence to draw and paint originates from my memories of bonding with my grandfather. He was quite disciplined and strict; however, he was quite adept at anything he wanted to do. He would help me with my homework covers, and I learned to have confidence in my abilities from him. I still have one of the covers we worked on, now in a frame, and it symbolizes, for me, the start. My grandfather was a pharmacist in Cap-Haïtien, but he painted prolifically and quite well, and did for a while participate in the famed Centre D’Art. I love to see his name as one of the first generations of Haitian artists that added to the strength of Haitian art throughout the world. I especially get a real kick out of seeing his name in the many Haitian art books that I collect, and I wonder what he would say if he could see that I have kept it up. The legacy and strength of Haitian art historically motivates me, initially and consistently. Haiti, and its incredible “Joy of Art,” despite all of its adversities and material poverty, is truly what inspires me.
What type of art are you showing during the festival?
For this collection, I have selected only drawings, using oil pastels on textured watercolor paper. My style is more in the Traditional or Naïve School; what I am drawn to in my art is that aspect of Haiti that I have a few memories of, the humble scenes that move me, the vendors, the kids playing with marbles, the everyday life which still, to this day, happens in Haiti. Haiti is in many ways still untouched and not too modern, really. My drawings tap into a sense of longing and nostalgia, and depict traditional subjects using a modern medium.
Is this your first exhibit? If not, where have you shown your art before?
Although I have a real “day job” (not to mean that art for me is not real or work!), I have been quite lucky to show my work in a few exhibits. My first exhibit was a solo show, with 45 paintings, at the African American Museum in Hempstead, Long Island. I have had exhibits at the Bread and Roses Gallery in Manhattan, the International Monetary Fund Gallery in Washington—it was the first Haitian exhibit they sponsored, with five artists, and I was the only woman—and at the Haitian Consulate in New York, a “women artists only” show called “Peinture a la Feminin.” My art traveled to Haiti, and was shown at the Musée du Panthéon National Haïtien, as part of an exhibit of Haitian artists living abroad, and was published in the accompanying catalogue Dreams of Haiti in Colors. That was really exciting. Other places include the Waterford Library in Connecticut; the service agency Haitian-American Family of Long Island; and three large murals that I painted at Chez Antoine, a restaurant my husband owned in Baldwin.
How does your art embody the spirit and culture of Haiti?
I think the Jacques Roumain quote that I shared in the Festival an Koulè brochure sums it up for me: “If you are of a country, if you are born there, then you have it in your eyes, your skin, your hands, with the hair of its trees, the flesh of its soil, the bones of its stones, the blood of its rivers, its sky, its taste, its men and women.” And, of course, that all comes through in its music, food, resilience, pride, and art!
Keyi Ble (The Wheat Pickers) by Chantal Paret Antoine.
What do you want our patrons to learn about Haitian art in particular?
The inexplicable volume of artists and art that comes from that country—which is so often maligned and depicted as “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” always with its hand out begging for aid, suffering one disaster after another—is a sign that Haiti is much more than what is known. Haiti, the first country born of a slave revolution, is a country with a rich history and amazing legacy that is communicated through its art. Haitian art is the best ambassador of Haiti.
How do you feel about showing your art to the Queens Library community?
I am torn, so excited and a bit nervous. I am wearing four roles at this exhibit, as an employee of the Library, a member of the selection committee for this exhibit, an exhibiting artist, and a Haitian woman proud of her culture. I want my library colleagues and the Queens community to see the country I was born in, differently than it is always portrayed. I would like the exhibit to surprise our patrons with the beauty and depth of expression of these incredible artists, many of whom live in the same Queens communities. And I am so proud to be with the artists that are participating in this exhibit.