A lakou, which translates into English as a courtyard, serves as space for people to gather for purposes as varied as sacred space to a place to clean and sort rice. This lakou is surrounded by work in three styles of Haitian art – Port-au-Prince, Capashen and Croix-des-Bouquets – on the museum's mezzanine level.
Most of it was donated to the museum by collectors Richard and Erna Flagg. The couple left the Germany during the rise of the Nazi regime and Richard Flagg became a successful tanner in Milwaukee. Kantara Souffrant, manager of the museum's schools and teachers program, related the story of Richard Flagg walking through the streets of New York City one day in 1973 and seeing a work of art unlike anything he had seen before.
"He trusted that it was good because he had cultivated an eye as a collector," Souffrant said.
He bought it and thus what would become one of the best Haitian art collections in the world. That collection was gifted to MAM in 1991.
Sorted by style, the work addresses spiritual traditions, everyday life and history of Haiti. Most of the artwork in the collection was created in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
The northwestern section is filled with paintings in the Port-au-Prince style, defined by Hector Hyppolite, a painter and Vodou priest whose paintings often include references to spirits and Vodou. At the time Hyppolite worked, the Catholic Church and the Haitian government were discouraging Vodou and black nationalism was on the rise. His paintings like "Saint Francis and the Christ Child" show figures like the patron saint of animals as dark-skinned rather than white.
His use of Vodou spirits "becomes a way of him saying actually I am here I refuse to deny this part of my cultural tradition," Souffrant said. Vodou, Souffrant said, "sees every single thing in this world as having spirit and being divine. From water, earth, trees to you and I."
Shown on the eastern wall is art in the visually flatter Capashen style, which focuses on architecture history. These works are brought to life through an audio station that allows visitors to hear what the scene in the painting, if real, would sound like through spoken word and music.