Note: the physical exhibit described in this artist profile is currently inaccessible due to the public closure of the MATV Gallery during the pandemic, but a virtual exhibit and reception is in the works, and we look forward to the re-opening of the exhibit once the lockdown situation has been eased. Read more and stay tuned!
By Joanne Elie
Some art can be so striking on first sight that it sticks to you like ink to skin. Paintings, photos and other mediums can leave an impression that viewers carry with them; they may even be reminded of that artwork in conversation and when listening to music or seeing a film. Multimedia artist Nicolas Hyacinthe desires to spark that effect among viewers of his new exhibit at the MATV Gallery.
“When I put a piece of art on the wall it’s no longer mine anymore. The viewer sees it and resonates with a truth within it and walks away with it. It is my kaleidoscope experience and their human experience colliding; and at that point it belongs to them,” says Hyacinthe.
Hyacinthe was born in Haiti and immigrated to America at the age of 10. Bringing with him the cultural background and history of the island, he was then immersed in the new narrative of American culture. As he watched films and television, he developed a passion for photography and filmmaking, which he began to study at Emerson College, where he graduated in 2001 with a degree in Visual Media Arts.
His experience of living in two countries revealed a universal truth about the world: pain and love. These truths unified the human experience to a young Hyacinthe, convincing him that pain and love transcend any surface differences among varying cultures. Hyacinthe expresses this truth through mediums such as photography, abstract paintings, and film.
With life as his curriculum and his history the unwavering teacher, Hyacinthe carries his background as a Haitian-American with him everywhere. During an in-depth interview, Nicolas reflected on his journey and recapped most pivotal moments that led him into being the artist he is today.
How has being born in Haiti informed who you are as an artist?
Haiti never leaves me, it’s in my pores. I come from a place where the mountains and flowers are a work of art. The expressions that people say are poetry. The people are storytellers and the stories are texturized. Colorful murals and art cover the streets and buses.
The history of Haiti is something I am really proud of as well. I’m inspired by people who have overcome the horror of the Middle Passage and started the first successful slave revolution in recorded history despite the obstacles they faced. They continue to have a culture of generosity, love, and humor. All of these things I carry with me.
As a Haitian-American how does that shape your perspective of the world?
It’s made me able to navigate two different worlds and cultures at once. It’s given me access to people and opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise and it pours into the art.
Describe your transition from Haiti to America at such a young age.
I loved watching television and learning the slang and different nuances as a kid. In a way that’s how I was exposed to different art forms — through the medium of filmmaking. Later having the opportunity to make films was infallible to my seven-year-old self in Haiti watching Kung Fu movies. I never imagined something that I loved so much could be in my grasp until studying films in America.
When did film and photography become tangible?
Going to Emerson really opened me up to the art form. The experience cracked my imagination open like an egg. Film school was where I learned about photography and working with film in dark rooms before the digital era. This was a whole new medium that I would not have had access to had I not been in film school. I then was able to live in Los Angeles, near Hollywood and work in the industry for a while.
Expound on the decision to photograph landscapes shown in some images in the exhibit.
It started off because I wanted to show my friends in America where I was from. There’s a photograph of the beach and I remember I showed it to someone and they were blown away. Of course they knew as an island, Haiti had beaches but because they never associated Haiti having such beautiful beaches it was shocking to see.
I love the Haiti photos because I got to freeze frame and take them with me. I get to expose people to a different part of the island as opposed to what’s shown in the media.
What do you think your artwork says about you?
My art is always looking at and looking through something to develop a deeper meaning. When people come across my work I want them to go beyond the prepackaged experience they were told they were suppose to have. I want people to have a genuine encounter.
I’m very granular, I want every grain of what I am trying to express to be felt. I want you to not just understand what I’m saying but to feel it in the air. Taste it, see it, beyond just the frames and to be immersed in it.
What is one of your favorite pieces from the exhibit?
One of my favorite pieces is called “Shadow.” I love that photograph, it speaks volumes and says more than I’m able to articulate. It speaks to the experience of living in both worlds (Haiti & America). That’s the thing about art, there are certain ideas you may not be able to express in a conversation but art can articulate.
What impression do you want your art to leave upon the attendees of this exhibit?
I want them to sit with it for a little bit and take the time to go beyond the colors and shapes. And I hope that if they do that they get to have a journey of their own.
Where can people find your work?
My website www.nicolashyacinthe.com and Instagram @nicolas_hycainthe. I also have a show at the MATV Gallery which is currently inaccessible due to the public shutdown of the facility during the pandemic. But we are planning a virtual gallery and reception in the meantime and we invite the public to attend. Stay tuned for more details!