Visionary Aponte: Art & Black Freedom
Exhibit is open at Little Haiti Cultural Complex through January 20, 2018
“Havana, Haiti: Two Cultures, One Community,” was conceived to shatter a myth — that Cubans and Haitians have no more in common than Caribbean waters and the city of Miami — and set the record straight — that throughout history, and to the present day, the lives of Haitians and Cubans are intertwined in a way that clearly makes them part of one community.
Jose Antonio Aponte was born a free man in Cuba around 1760. A carpenter and wood sculptor, he created fine cabinetry and intricate figures of saints for the churches of Havana. A member of Havana’s black militia, where his father and grandfather also served, he fought the British during the American Revolution.
Aponte was also an intellectual, at a time when Cuba, quickly becoming the largest producer of sugar in the world, was importing more and more African captives, enslaving men and women in record numbers.
On March 14, 1812, three free men of color led a revolt with aims to free the slaves. They were inspired by the successful Haitian Revolution — one of the leaders named himself Jean Francois, after one of the leaders of in Haiti, and called for a revolution in French.
The revolt was not successful, and in the questioning that followed, Aponte’s name came up repeatedly. During a search of his house, the authorities found Aponte’s “Book of Paintings,” a 63-page handmade tome — works of mixed media that depicted historic figures, including black priests and emperors in Europe and Africa, military scenes, and stories from the bible. Aponte had used his book to teach and inspire, to show that the degradation visited upon Africans by slavers and white, European culture in the Americas, need not remain the status quo.
Aponte was detained and questioned, made to explain each and every scene he’d created for his book. And though the book disappeared, it is this detailed record that inspired 15 contemporary artists to create the works that are part of the exhibit, “Visionary Aponte: Art & Black Freedom.”