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Large Paintings And Metal Sculptures Are One Artist's Haitian Tradition

Philippe Dodard can't remember the first time he came to Miami. He lives in Haiti and has always come to visit one family member or another.

"What is interesting about Miami is every time I come back, I see something new," says Dodard. "And now I see that the culture is getting more and more alive everywhere."

By "culture," he means Miami's Haitian Heritage Museum, Haitian Compass Festival, and Haitian Heritage Month in May.

Dodard says the growing culture here gives young Haitians exposure to life on the island. Particularly, he says, to the Haitian students who either never lived in Haiti or left long before they could remember their roots.

Carol Damian, director of the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, invited Dodard to display his work for Haitian Heritage Month. His exhibit is called "Tradition," made up of large paintings and metal sculptures.

"We want people to see it and say, 'Oh, I'm coming to a Haitian show. This isn’t what I expected. I expected to see small sort of naive paintings with palm trees, the beautiful landscape and the sea.’ And this doesn't look like that at all," she says. 

Damian describes Dodard’s art work as abstract. She says he has a "magical way" of transporting himself from the island and its traditions into the contemporary world.

"It's a wonderful example of the fact that Haitian art is as diverse as art anywhere," says Damian. 

Dodard says his work is "profoundly inspired from the human conditions of the Haitian people and the way they express their joy, their sorrow, their hope."

Before Dodard’s exhibit opened, he took a walk through his display in the Frost Museum.

He stood in front of an older acrylic painting from 1996 called "A Coeur Ouvert." It depicts a Haitian woman carrying a filled basket on her head. Dodard chose orange and light yellows to recreate dawn. Around 4 a.m., he often hears these women walking past his house in La Montagne Noire, or the Black Mountain.

"I believe that women in Haiti are very powerful and very strong and they carry the weight of the whole family sometimes on their shoulders," he says. 

On the other side of the wall where the painting hangs is a metal sculpture. It’s called "In Memoriam." He made it for the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United States.

"I used the tools that enslaved people used to work on the field," he says. 

On the black metal of the tools, you can see small line markings Dodard says symbolize the whipping of enslaved people, but they also count the days of slavery.

"You see that the piece can... symbolize also the sugar cane machine," he says. "When you look at this piece you can feel what they went through."

When “Tradition” opened to the public, some observers picked up on the Haitian symbols Dodard uses throughout his work.

"We memorialize dead people a lot in Haiti, so I think that's one of the ways that his paintings kinda show tribute to his culture," says Haitian FIU junior Phalancia Louisy. 

Vodou symbols appear throughout Philippe Dodard's collection. So do musical representations. 

"I really like what he's doing right now," says retired Broward professor Shirley Bayard. "He's involving a lot of music and dances to the art."

"Haiti is a very beautiful country to discover, to visit and the culture is very rich there," says Dodard. "And they will see that through the collection that I am presenting."

Philippe Dodard's "Tradition" will be open at the Frost Art Museum, 10975 SW 17th St., Miami, until June 29.