Petion Savain depicts a bustling market where men in wide-brimmed hats pass women with headscarves, generous bosoms, jutting knees, and dresses trimmed with white lace. The painter’s focus on the women underscores their prominent role in Haitian society and evokes the popular archetype Madam Sara, the resourceful female entrepreneur. Calabash bowls and arched bundles of sugarcane, signifiers of the cruel but defunct slave trade, echo the elegant contours of the women’s bodies. Because figures in Savain’s painting harvest and trade their own sugarcane, the image evokes the resilient spirit that fueled the Haitian Revolution and created the first Black Republic in 1804. Savain was active in the Indigenist movement that advocated a return to Creole culture. This painting suggests correlations between the poto mitan—the central pillar in the Vodou temple—and the critical socioeconomic role of Haitian women depicted in Savain’s novel La Case de Damballah (1939).
Written by Dr. Carolyn Shread, Visiting Lecturer in French, Mount Holyoke College
agriculture; figures; food; fruit; trade; women
Link to share this object record: