The Role of Arab Immigrants in Haiti’s Art Culture 

benoit

“Les Sirenes” by Rinaud Benoit

A recent article published in Saudi Aramco’s World publication details the history and modern-day presence of Arab immigrants to Haiti in the creation and preservation of Haitian fine arts.

Referred to as the “Syrian’s”, although initially hailing from Lebanon and parts of the West Bank, Arab immigrants first arrived in Haiti in the late 19th century, typically avoiding the tumultuous final decades of the once vivacious and thriving Ottoman empire. First bringing simple wares with them to sell in the countryside, the immigrants soon turned to commerce and quickly rose to prominence in retail and international trade. Although they did not assimilate into Haitian society, typically marring amongst themselves, this community became an integral part of the Haitian economy. Among these immigrants were the families of Issa El Saieh and Georges Nader.

Obin

A painting by Fritzner Obin

Opening galleries and department stores throughout the 20th century such as La Belle Créole, Galérie Issa, and the Nader Musée d’Art, these families amassed enormous collections of paintings by world famous Haitian artists including Hippolyte, Obin and Benoit. Georges Nader himself, a man in  his mid-70s, is rumoured to have a personal collection of just over 12,000 of these spectacular, tropical works.

And though the earthquake that took place on January 10th, 2010 ruined many of the galleries and, aside from causing a horrific loss of life and infrastructure, also ruined approximately $65 million worth of paintings in the Nader’s art gallery, the art scene, partially spurred by this unique community of immigrants. The Smithsonian donated a hefty fund to the salvage and restoration of many of the damaged works.

Click here to access the article. Make sure to subscribe to Saudi Aramco World – the publication is free and the content is unique, well-researched and enlightening.

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