By Sabrina Garvin
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. –– A little bit of Haiti has appeared in the quiet atrium of Lesley University’s Sherrill Library through “Haiti in Context: A Daily Life,” a collection of large, vibrant paintings by Roberson Joseph depicting Haitian life that currently adorns its walls.
Holding an enormous presence, the paintings are teaming with dramatic colors and are heavy with fantastical realism. Depicting love, family, fun, tragedy, sadness and everyday life in Haiti, these paintings combine realism-centered images of the common people with the glorification of nature and dizzying backgrounds of romanticism. This exhibit must be seen in person, as neither pictures nor words can do justice to the pure magnitude of these paintings.
Joseph’s “Hurricane” (acrylic on canvas, 36” x 48”) presents the scene of a flooded town after a hurricane. The painting centers on a man standing in front of a crumbling bright blue stone building inspecting the damage; other similarly brightly painted crumbling stone buildings surround it while water from the storm floods the streets. Three other people are walking the flooded streets, their reflections appearing in the water with a backdrop of the rundown, tightly built together buildings. Above their heads, a gloriously stormy sky mixed with hundreds of different hues roils in all the colors of the rainbow through a combination of puffy and wispy clouds that spiral and flow.
“Blackout” (acrylic on canvas, 36” x 48”) displays a dimly lit family home. There are two figures in the foreground, a child studying by candlelight and an elderly woman blowing on a fire in the middle of the room, with a black stew pot on top of it. The child sits next to a pile of baskets full of cloth and spices, while the old woman kneels on the floor, leaning over the three rocks on which the soup pot balances. Behind the old woman is a table covered in vegetables, and clothes hang drying from the ceiling. Behind the child are a kitchenette, a door and a lattice work window. This painting is the darkest of the collection, yet it is the warmest. It is full of the comfort of home and the love of family.
“Traverse” (acrylic on canvas, 30” x 40”) shows a man wearing green shorts with a towel around his neck on a small sailboat in the ocean, facing the sunset and away from the viewer. The ocean is a clear blue, with the waves near the boat cresting a crisp white. The hull of the boat is also white with a blue and green stripe around the edge. The sail hangs loose and the man sits on the edge of the boat with his head bowed and his arms dangling. The sunset is a rich yellow that blends into a soft red, and then turns violet in the clouds, which the sun’s light does not touch. Further up, the sky is orange and turquoise. The man appears tired, yet intent on something the viewer cannot see. Although the sail is slack, it is unlikely that he plans on going anywhere, and the cresting waves indicate he is close to shore. Perhaps this man has reached his destination and is enjoying a rest while watching the beautiful sunset.
(Haiti in Context: The Daily Life, will be on view through January 30, 2018 in the Sherrill Library Atrium at Lesley University, 89 Brattle Street, Cambridge, Mass. For more information please visit lesley.edu-haiti-in-context.)