Published: 02 Nov, '23

SYMBIOSIS: The Art “fusion” exhibition

7 Min Read

What they have in common is an island, a material, but also unique know-how. Some twenty artists, designers and entrepreneurs from Haiti and the Dominican Republic worked together, rigorously and perseveringly, over several years to put together an original collection of 153 ornaments, to be presented in June 2023 under the aegis of Caribbean Export, with funding from the European Union.

Santo Domingo, Thursday June 22, 6 p.m., in the first exhibition room, busts of mannequins dressed in sober velvet appear, revealing their finery in stone, horn, metal, wood… With particular dexterity and creativity, Haitian and Dominican designers have played with materials as one plays with brushes to reveal to the world a collective collection of exceptional works through a new Caribbean brand “Symbiosis”.

We’re at Quinta Dominica, in the heart of the Zona Colonial. The spotlight is on the event. Red and green jasper from Haiti mingle with larimar and amber from the Dominican Republic, while metals are joined by fibers, horn and wood or coconut in a dazzling symbiosis. There is both unity and uniqueness, and above all a remarkable enthusiasm on everyone’s part for this exhibition and the project that gave rise to it. As Anny Abate, the exhibition’s curator in charge of its installation, put itIt’s a project that has strength, that expresses something and that seeks its balance. The challenge of the Symbiose exhibition is to connect the creators’ work, giving each of them their own space, without changing the meaning…”

In the beginning, a Taino theme…

It all began in 2019, with the launch of a technical assistance project aimed at strengthening the production capacities of the crafts value chain in the two neighboring countries. This project, part of the “Trade and Private Sector” component of the Haiti-Dominican Republic Bi-national Cooperation Program, financed by the European Union and implemented by Caribbean Export, the only trade and investment promotion organization for the CARIFORUM countries, has truly fostered the synergies desired by the program throughout the process, which are focused on co-promotion and co-production.

From the outset, the idea of ajoint, exportable jewelry collection with a defined Caribbean identification, is proposed as the culmination of the Taino project. Symbiosis, the brand that was born, was intended as a collaborative encounter between Haitian and Dominican designers, based on what we have in common“explains Philippe Dodard, then Director of ENARTS, Ecole Nationale des Arts, some of whose students also took part in this project through exchanges between the two training institutions, ENARTS in Haiti and CENADARTE in the DR.

16 designers in perfect symbiosis

Nine Haitian artists and seven from the Dominican Republic took part in this adventure. Two names come up regularly in their testimonials: that of the famous designer Jenny Polanco, without whom the project would not have seen the light of day and who unfortunately succumbed to covid before seeing it come to fruition, and that of Jorge Caridad, the “master” of stone, founder of the amber and larimar museums, who opened his workshop and his arms wide to all the participants, to share his talent and his knowledge of the mineral, the raw material of most of the jewels on display.

These sessions remain memorable and particularly enriching for everyone. “At the start of the project, none of us Haitians were jewelers or knew anything about stones, and we met specialists in DR. Working together on cutting and polishing techniques was completely new to us.“says Sandra Russo, who accompanied the project. “In Haiti, we have a very ancient tradition and techniques for working with horn and wood. On Michel Châtaigne’s initiative, the Bureau des Mines d’Haïti offered stones then unknown to the Dominicans, such as quartz, jasper, malachite and azurite.“.

Sharing know-how…

This exchange of material know-how, as much as the contribution of new stones, seems to have inspired craftsmen and artists in both countries.

Gisselle Mancebo Castillo, a well-known name in larimar jewelry, exhibited a dozen magnificent sautoirs, blending the blues, reds, yellows and greens of the island’s stones in a kaleidoscope of colors: “It’s the first time I’ve worked with these stones, and it’s been an incredible experience“. Gimarie Grullon, designer of the Tiaggi brand, has also adopted Haitian red and yellow jasper, harmoniously blended with amber in a remarkable creation. For her, it’s a wonderful experience as a designer, “as well as an honor and a pleasure to work with Haitian artisans“.

New designers

Right next to it, a delicate and original finery decorates not only a bust in a majestic way, covering shoulders, arms, chest and even the head. The stones are soberly linked by copper wire and chain. This sober yet intriguing creation by Garibaldi Jean Baptiste captivates visitors. Just like that of Emmanuel Saincilus, whose artistic universe as a painter, visual artist and sculptor is reflected in his highly original hammered goldsmith’s work. These young Haitian designers, graduates of ENARTS, weren’t there to talk about the creative experience, but their creations spoke for them.

Michel Châtaigne, a Haitian fashion icon with extensive experience in the design of clothing, shoes and accessories, signed his first metal jewelry creations here, using the cut-iron technique and combining copper, brass and stones. It’s the same technique that inspired Nora Leurebours of Tipik Créations, accustomed to designing fashion accessories and objects for the home from paper maché, cow horn or natural fiber, and who found herself inspired by the metals and stones available to her creativity.

Blend of materials…

Happy combinations of stones and other materials such as horn and wood were found in the work of several designers such as Gisela Maria Lozada, from the Shelaia Store brand (RD), or Barbara Taveras (RD), each of whom delicately combines wood, shells, amber or larimar. This was also characteristic of the highly ethnic pieces presented by Cristina Nuñez, always rich in endemic inputs from the Dominican Republic such as coconut, bone, amber or larimar, to which she discreetly associated a few stones from Haiti.

Daphnée Floréal, who trained in jewelry making at the Altos de Chavon design school, has had fun enhancing her Bijou Lakay creations (pectoral necklace), where horn is very present, with a few accents of new colors and materials.

An expert in the fusion of tribal elements and urban design, Martine Bourjolly Cantave, Haitian jewelry designer of the Héritage Nomade brand and host of the only jewelry workshop ever held in Haiti, presented a number of striking pieces from her version of the Symbiose brand.

All first times

Like Martine Bourjolly Cantave, Haitian designers have often chosen to stay close to the Taino theme. Régine Tesserot Fabius and Ariel Fabius, designers of furniture and home accessories, have thus created pieces resolutely inspired by Taino designs and objects, sometimes incorporating traditional materials (leather, horn, wood) as well as the stones fashioned and mounted for them in Dominican workshops. “We were led to create on a theme and in a medium new to us,” they report.

An architect by profession, Fatima Polanco developed a passion for jewelry design, and proved herself a virtuoso in the palette of indigenous stones. Symbiosis seems to have inspired his imagination with a rich collection of all the island’s stones arranged with originality.

Tangible evidence of collaboration

The first edition of Symbiosis, both a project and a brand, showcases the creation of handmade jewelry and fashion accessories using the island’s raw materials. For Leonel Naut, Director of Caribbean Export, this first collection is a tangible testimony and the product of a collaboration that highlights the island’s exceptional potential and artisanal talent. “ This collection promotes binational dialogue between the two countries, thanks to the collaborative spirit with which these pieces have been created. It’s an avant-garde project. A collection that can bring so many positive results, it’s moving…” he declared, underlining the extent to which the island’s creative and cultural diversity and the development of new value-added products can enhance the exportable offer and contribute to the sector’s economic development.


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Caribbean Export is the regional trade and investment promotion agency focused on building a resilient Caribbean by providing cutting-edge and high-impact support to the private sector.

Produced with the financial assistance of the European Union.

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