Troubling island: the imagining and imaging of Haiti by African-American artists, 1915-1940 Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 22, 2019
  • Twa, Lindsay Jean
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Art and Art History
  • Images of Haiti have circulated in the social imagination of the United States through painting, sculpture, illustration, performance and film since the late eighteenth century. Although much scholarship addresses the intertwined and often problematic relationship between the United States and Haiti, sparse art historical research addresses the complexities of U.S. visualizations of Haiti. The period of the U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) and its immediate aftermath resulted in the opening up of Haiti to unprecedented numbers of writers, ethnographers, and artists who focused both on Haiti as a contemporary nation, and retold and reinterpreted its revolutionary history to express new social and political needs. This dissertation contributes to a greater understanding of how representations of Haiti overwhelmingly articulate issues of race, while also touching on cultural anxieties of class, religion, patriotism and national identity. This dissertation specifically examines how African-American artists have worked against mainstream representations of Haiti to create alternate visions, combating and complicating many stereotypes, while also furthering an understanding of the transnational influences and outlook of several prominent twentieth-century African-American artists. Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, and William E. Scott are just a few of the African-American artists who drew on Haiti as a source of racial pride and heritage, personal transformation, or as a signifier for revolutionary change. iv While rooted in art historical analysis, privileging the visual over the text, this is an interdisciplinary dissertation that focuses on the broader context of cultural studies. I draw on both popular media and the performing and fine arts, and match art historical traditions with histories of anthropology and its evolving ethnographic practices, and the politics of U.S. international relations in the Caribbean. Through this lens, I expose how creative representations by African-American artists attempted to open new spaces in interpretations of Haiti, escaping the litany of tired and derogatory tropes so frequently applied to the "Black Republic."
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Harris, Michael D.
  • Open access

This work has no parents.