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Prominent Haitian artists show paintings in Gallery 51

01/15/2014

Haitian artist Philippe Dodard (in the white shirt) with MCLA students in Haiti last year, and Melanie Mowinski (sixth from left) and Jonathan Secor (seventh from left).

MCLA Gallery 51 will kick off the New Year with the first of several shows of international art, to include exhibitions of work by Dutch and Egyptian artists, and beginning with an exhibit of artwork of by three prominent artists from Haiti - Gontron Durocher, Ronald Mevs and Philippe Dodard.

"Persistence of Spirit," an exhibition of 27 paintings, will open on Thursday, Jan. 30, in the Main Street gallery.

MCLA has a personal connection with Dodard, one of Haiti's most popular artists. Dodard met a group of eight MCLA art and arts management students who traveled to his country last year with associate professor of visual art Melanie Mowinski and Jonathan Secor, director of MCLA's Berkshire Cultural Resource Center.

"He basically became our unofficial guide into the art world of Haiti," Secor explained.

Dodard took MCLA students to his home - which he designed to highlight his paintings and sculptures - and to visit artist colonies, from the slums to the mountains above Port Au Prince, where the group saw the work of emerging and outsider artists.

"It's wonderful to bring part of the Caribbean to MCLA, to be able to share a little of what we experienced with our greater MCLA community," Mowinski said.

According to Secor, one of the reasons the three artists agreed to bring "Persistence of Spirit" to MCLA was because Dodard encouraged the others to participate.

"It's an opportunity for people in the Berkshires to see world-class Haitian art," Secor said. "And, it continues the connection that we've begun to build with Haiti and Haitian art between MCLA, our students and North Adams."

MCLA previously welcomed to campus Bélo, a famous Haitian composer and guitarist, singer Emeline Michel, also known as "The Joni Mitchell of Haiti," and Tracy Kidder, author of Mountains beyond Mountains, a true story about the life of physician and anthropologist Paul Farmer, who fought tuberculosis in Haiti.

"By bringing this exhibit to MCLA, we can introduce to our students and our peers in the community some of the art we saw in Haiti, and hopefully encourage continued conversations about Haiti and other developing nations," Mowinski said.

"There's the beginning of a real relationship between MCLA, North Adams and Haitian music, theater and dance," Secor said. "I'm as excited - if not more excited - about introducing Haitian art to a much larger audience. Originally, we introduced Philippe's work to eight students. Now, hopefully, we can introduce it to 800 as people come to the Gallery throughout the month of February."

Other upcoming exhibitions in 2014 will showcase work by local artists. They include two Williamstown artists - Jessica Park and Gallery 51 Manager Julia Morgan-Leamon - each in a solo show. In addition, North Adams resident Sara Farrell Okamura and her husband, Hideyo Okamura, will present a two-person show in MCLA Gallery 51. 

"Persistence of Spirit" will be on exhibit in MCLA Gallery 51 through Sunday, Feb. 23. The gallery is open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  An opening reception will be held on Thursday, Jan. 30, 5-7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, go to www.mcla.edu/gallery51.

Above: "The Gift of Love," acrylic on canvas, 2009, Philippe Dodard.