Experiencing Haitian Art

By Bryan Schaaf on Saturday, January 10, 2009.

Art is the medium through which some first come to know Haiti, and for others, to know Haiti better.  Haitian art is too expansive to be confined to shops and galleries – it is found on public transport, on the walls, in churches and Vodoun peristyles alike.  Art is Haiti's only inexhaustible resource.  When others use the tired phrase "Haiti - the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere", let us counter that Haiti is the culturally richest country in the Western Hemisphere instead.

 

 

Haiti’s art is imaginative, colorful, and often surreal.  With its echoes of Africa, it tells stories of resilience, resistance and hope not reflected in the mass media.  Haitian art is readily recognizable.  A friend once invited me to her home to see her Dominican art, which was in reality Haitian. I was frustrated that Haitian artists would feel that had to either leave their country or sell their works to the Dominican Republic for lack of a national market.

 

 

Tourism in Haiti remains under-developed. Haiti has nice beaches, but other countries have nice beaches.  Haiti is close to the United States, but other countries are close to the United States.  Haiti has a compelling history, but that in itself will not be enough to entice tourists.  Art, music, and other cultural events could ressurect Haiti's ailing tourism sector.

 

 

 

 

This lack of visitors directly impacts the ability of a Haitian artist to sell his or her works.  For some, there are opportunities to sell art aborad. Unfortunately, by the time a piece of art arrives lot bo dlo, whether in the United States or elsewhere,  it has changed hands so many times that the price increases dramatically. One street away from my apartment is a gallery that sells some Haitian iron-work.  What would cost ten dollars in Haiti is two hundred and fifty dollars here.  

 

 
Some organizations, such as Aid to Artisans, have set in place programs to help expand markets for Haitian art. In 2006, ATA helped aristans generate 440,000 in sales by securing contracts Aveda, Williams-Sonoma, Pier 1, Smith & Hawken, and Cost Plus. Aid to Artisans also arranges for  Haitian artists to participate in festivals such as the 2004 Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the Santa Fe Folk Art Festival in 2005 and 2006.  In the USA, Aid to Artisans participates in Haitian cultural activities with the Haitian Association in Hartford, Saint Boniface Haiti Foundation in Boston and a unique store, Haiti's Back Porch in nearby Middletown, CT.

 

 

Aid to Artisans also published a book entitled Artisans of Haiti,  a great starting point for those wanting to learn more about the different kinds of Haitian art.  The book is available in both English and French and features photographs and interviews with renowned Haitian artists. To buy Aid to Artisan products, including several Haitian pieces, visit their online store. For more information, you can view a video clip about the organization here.  You can also sign up for their email list.    

 

 

The best way to experience Haitian art is to visit Haiti.  Once in Port au Prince, you dont have to go far as there are many different options.  You can go directly to Croix-des-Bouquets, a short drive from Port-au-Prince, to the area of Noailles.  There are over 60 metal workers there.  You can watch them work, discuss the process, and negotiate a more reasonable price than would ever be possible in the United States.  One could hire a driver or take a taxi. According to Corbett's List colleagues, the new Lonely Planet Guide for Haiti/DR gives instructions on taking tap-taps there, but this takes time. You have another option though. Jacqui Labrom of Voyages Lumieres offers well guided tours of this and other areas in Port au Prince.  You can contact her at: voyageslumierehaiti@gmail.com.

 

 

Artists in other neighborhoods, and Bel Air in particular, specialize in the creation of Vodoun flags.  Sequin by painstaking sequin, veves of Haitian spirits emerge upon sheets of silk. These beautiful flags can take over a month to create.  There are many poor quality flags out there, but there are flags of extraordinary quality as well.  Many shops and galleries carry them, although it is better to buy directly from the artist if you can.

 

 

 
For those who are patient and not averse to tight spaces with a lot of people, there is always the Iron Market downtown.  It is a very old market, of which a portion is devoted to arts and crafts. While loud, crowded, and hot,  there are interesting things to see.  We continue to argue that building a large artist’s pavilion in a more central and stable part of Port au Prince, perhaps in the Champ de Mars neighborhood, would help promote the livelihoods of Haitian artists.  The Iron Market has too many disadvantages, artists deserve better.

 

 

Heading up LaLue (John Brown Ave.), there are many roadside art stores.  Almost all are very small but worth a visit.  Just watch out for the traffic.  Once in Petionville, there are vendors selling art on the street, particularly outside of the hotels and Place Boyer.  Perhaps the most amazing gallery in Haiti is Nader Galerie, as much a museum as a gallery. 

 

 

 

Haitian art consists of more than paintings, iron work, and flags.  There are sculpters, craft-workers, and many other varieties.  The art community is also bigger than just Port au Prince.  In fact, Jacmel is widely regarded as Haiti's artistic center of gravity.  Jacmel is known for its excellent paper mache masks as well as the country's best Carnivale.  Jacmel is also home to an annual film festival. Cap Haitian has an artist community although not to the extent that Jacmel does.

 

Can’t make it to Haiti?  You can also experience Haitian art online.  Many galleries have websites that feature Haitian art including Medalia, Gallery of West Indian Art, Loblolly Gallery, Fine Caribbean Art Gallery, Galerie Makondo, Haitianna, Galerie Martelly, Art Haiti, Carrie Art Collection, Art Lakay, Haitian Paintings, Haiti Art Cooperative, Ridge Art, Valcin II, Artickles, Barrister's Gallery, Voodoo Authentica, Gallerie Des Antilles, Expressions Art Gallery, Studio Wah, the Lady from Haiti, etc.  Some non governmental organizations such as Friends of Hospital Albert Schweitzer, Alternative Chance Haitian Art Gallery, Project Medishare, and HELP Haiti sell Haitian art to expand their programming. 

 

 
Other good resources include the Haitian Art Society, Bonjour Haiti, Discover Haitian Art, Art Media Haiti, the Haitian Art Collection, Haitian Art Education and Appraisal Society and the Webster Guide to Haitian Art, Music, and Dance

 

 

 

I am very fond of Haitian art but am by no means an expert.  You dont have to be an expert though to develop a deeper understanding, through art, of a special but minunderstood country.  Art, music, and dance keep Haiti strong during the hard times and will see the country into better times. Should you know of places where people can experience Haitian art, in Haiti or abroad, that I have not mentioned, please feel free to post links in the commments section below.  Thanks!

 

 

Bryan

The Smithsonian To Develop Haitian Cultural Recovery Project

5/17/2010
Art Knowledge News
By Wendell MacGivens
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WASHINGTON, DC.- The Smithsonian is leading a team of cultural organizations to help the Haitian government assess, recover and restore Haiti’s cultural materials damaged by the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. A building in Port-au-Prince that once housed the United Nations Development Programme will be leased by the Smithsonian. The 7,500-square-foot, three-story building will serve as a temporary conservation site where objects retrieved from the rubble can be assessed, conserved and stored. It will also be the training center for Haitians who will be taking over this conservation effort in the future.
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Haiti’s Ministry of Culture and Communication and the Haitian President’s Commission for Reconstruction will lead the effort for Haiti. The “Smithsonian Institution–Haiti Cultural Recovery Project” is conducted in partnership with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities with assistance from several other federal agencies—National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The project is also supported by contributions from The Broadway League, the international trade association for Broadway and the Broadway community.
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The U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization dedicated to the protection of cultural property affected by conflict or natural disasters, is involved in the project as is the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. Local Haitian cultural organizations and a number of international organizations will also be involved in the effort.
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The rainy season in Haiti has already begun, and the hurricane season is on its way. Much of Haiti’s endangered cultural heritage is in destroyed buildings and is at risk of permanent destruction.
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“The highest priority of the Haitian government and the international humanitarian communities has rightly been to save lives and provide food, water, medical care and shelter,” said Richard Kurin, Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture at the Smithsonian. “However, Haiti’s rich culture, which goes back five centuries, is also in danger and we have the expertise to help preserve that heritage.”
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The long-term goal, according to Kurin, is to “rescue, recover and help restore Haitian art work, artifacts and archives damaged by the earthquake.” Last week, six engineers from the Smithsonian and a conservator from the Smithsonian American Art Museum spent four days in Port-au-Prince checking the leased building that will be used for conservation in the coming months. Conservators from the American Institute for Conservation and the president of the U.S. Committee of the Blue Shield joined them.
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The artifacts recovered and eventually conserved may include building features such as stained glass and historic murals as well as paper documents, photographs, artifacts and some of the 9,000 paintings from the Nader Museum, now in ruins from the quake. “With this unprecedented inter-agency effort involving the major federal cultural institutions and the private sector, we express our collective belief that in times of great tragedy it is essential to help a country preserve and protect its cultural legacy for future generations,” said Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
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In 2004, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, under the direction of Kurin, highlighted the country in the program Haiti: Freedom and Creativity from the Mountains to the Sea, which featured more than 100 traditional Haitian artists and crafts people, performers, cooks, writers, researchers and cultural experts in performances, demonstrations, workshops and concerts. That collaboration with Haitian cultural leaders resulted in an ongoing relationship with the Smithsonian.

Haitian artist Larose describes the earthquake in vivid images

5/12/2010
USA Today
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For days, Hugues Larose lay quietly in his bunk aboard the Navy hospital ship Comfort, asking little of his doctors and nurses, a peaceful soul aboard a vessel echoing with the cries of shattered, tormented people. Larose was one of the first patients brought aboard the Comfort when it reached Port-au-Prince eight days after the Jan. 12 earthquake. After a few days on board, he asked for a pencil and paper "to give birth to my thoughts." Using the aluminum clipboard hanging beside his bed, he began to sketch a woman crushed by a telephone pole, a survivor sitting dazed in the street, limbs jutting from pancaked buildings, frantic people pouring into the streets, and ships, including the Comfort, anchored offshore.
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"My fingers are influenced by the earthquake, all collapsed houses and dead," Larose says. "Survivors look so different." In an instant, the simple black-and-white sketch carried the Comfort's doctors and nurses ashore to witness the immediate aftermath of letremblement de terre— "the trembling of the earth" — that in a few minutes flattened Haiti's densely populated capital, killing 250,000 people and injuring more. It allowed them to experience the tragedy, not through a camera lens, but through the eyes of a survivor who happened to be an artist.
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"We had no idea that he was an artist of that caliber. Nor did we have any idea of the visions in his head," says Lt. Sam Harris, one of his nurses.
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Larose's visions, and those of other artists caught up in the quake, represent the first tremor of a cultural aftershock that will influence Haitian art for generations, says Duke University professor Laurent Dubois. In Haiti, a country with so many illiterate people, visual art is an urgent and potent form of communication, Dubois says, layered with symbols of slavery, the fight for independence, poverty, the entwined spiritual traditions of Haitian voodoo and Catholicism — and now the earthquake.
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Artists will inevitably play a critical role in rebuilding Haiti after the earthquake, too, he says. "Artists remind people they have common connections and roots. They remind people that Haiti's still there, even though its buildings are gone."
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When the earthquake struck, Larose was working on a canvas. "I was ending a painting in the yard of my house, sheltered from a wall, when suddenly I heard a heavy noise and everything was shaking," he says. "I knew it was an earthquake. I was going to move when the wall collapsed ... my leg was broken and so was my clavicle. I saw my little son Steven and Jefferson (a cousin "I consider as my son") under cinder bricks. I saw a white cloud."
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Fortunately, Larose says, his wife, Foufoune, their son Stanley and Jefferson's mother, Junia, were wedged in a doorway and were uninjured. Jefferson and Steven suffered head injuries; both survived and are back in school. A friend suggested Larose try to make his way to the Comfort. "Since my childhood, I wanted to get in a helicopter, but not in that way. Not as a patient," he says.
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Time passed slowly as he waited in Ward 3 Forward for surgery on his broken right leg. Dozens of patients with catastrophic injuries went first. He didn't complain, Harris says. "I did not say a word," Larose says. "I concentrated on myself." After Larose revealed himself as an artist, a special relationship blossomed between Larose and members of the Comfort's crew, according to interviews with doctors and nurses and Larose himself, who is reunited with his family and was able to answer questions for this story via e-mail.
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Doctors and nurses accustomed to tragedy began visiting Larose, to talk to him and to watch him work, says Lt. Cmdr. Mark Lynch. "People sought him out and wanted to be near him," he says. "At some point, we had to begin turning away visitors. That's how much he affected people." Even Capt. James Ware, the hospital's commanding officer, moved by the sketches, went to see him. He likens the pictures to those drawn by children who survived the Hiroshima bomb. "I knew immediately they would speak of the Haiti tragedy to Haitian children for generations to come."
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Larose left the Comfort 17 days after he arrived. His right leg has healed. His collarbone is another story, the fracture still visible under his skin. He's struggling to eke out a living by painting, propping his easel near the family's cramped quarters in a battered van parked in the district of Carrefour.
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His work draws praise from experts in Haitian art. Bill Bollendorf, owner of Galerie Macondo in Pittsburgh, says Larose's paintings are "original and emotional, and his technique is very good." For Lynch, Larose's drawings remain a vivid link to Haiti's earthquake and his experience of caring for survivors. "He's one of the folks from the Comfort who stay on my mind," he says. "I open up his drawings frequently. For some reason, it gives me comfort to look at them. It lets me know he's OK."

Rescuing Art From the Rubble of the Quake (NYT - 5/10/2010)

By KATE TAYLOR
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Susan Blakney, a paintings conservator from New York, scrambled up a mound of rubble left by the collapse of the Episcopal Holy Trinity Cathedral here, searching for small shards of the cathedral’s murals.
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The cathedral is a cherished part of this country’s cultural heritage and most of its murals were destroyed in the earthquake that struck here in January. Two from the north transept, though, one depicting the Last Supper and the other the baptism of Christ, remain largely intact.
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“It looks like there are some chunks underneath here,” Ms. Blakney, 62, yelled to colleagues working with her last Thursday in an effort to save thousands of works of art damaged in the quake. The rescue is being organized by the Smithsonian Institution, which is to open a center here in June where American conservators will work side-by-side with Haitian staff members to repair torn paintings, shattered sculptures and other works pulled from the rubble of museums and churches.
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Haitian artists and cultural professionals have been conducting informal salvage operations for the past four months. But the Americans are bringing conservation expertise — there are few if any professionally trained art conservators in Haiti — and special equipment, much of it paid for by private money. The initiative, in its swiftness, its close collaboration with a foreign government and its combination of private and government financing, represents a new model of American cultural diplomacy, one that organizers believe stands in stark contrast to the apathy Americans were accused of exhibiting during the looting of Iraqi artistic treasures in 2003.
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“Mistakes have been made in the past, in times of great tragedy or upheaval, by not protecting and prioritizing a country’s cultural heritage,” said Rachel Goslins, the executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, which has been involved in finding money for the project. “I think this is a huge opportunity for us to say, ‘We get it.’ ”
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The initial financing is coming from three federal agencies and the Broadway League, the trade group for theater owners and producers. Smithsonian officials say the project will cost $2 million to $3 million over the next year and a half, after which the center is expected to be turned over to the Haitian government.
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Ms. Blakney traveled here last week with two other conservators, a museum curator, and a group of engineers and planning experts from the Smithsonian. The conservators’ task was to assess precisely what kinds of damage the art had sustained, not just from the earthquake but from subsequent exposure to rain and sun and from improper storage both before and after the quake. Based on that information, they will decide what specialized equipment that they, or whoever the Smithsonian ends up sending to work at the center, will need.
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Restoring the most compromised art will not be a job for beginners. If the Episcopal Church decides to save the surviving murals from Holy Trinity, which were painted in the early 1950s by some of Haiti’s most famous artists, they will probably need to be removed from the damaged building — a feat of engineering as much as conservation that would involve gluing a piece of fabric to the face of each mural and attaching the mural to a secondary support structure of plywood or steel before chiseling it away from the wall.
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In her search through the rubble, Ms. Blakney found some small pieces of painted concrete that have now been brought to the Smithsonian for an analysis that will help to determine the right adhesive to use. The American conservators will spend part of their time training Haitians in conservation, in preparation for turning the laboratory over to them.
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The rescue operation came together largely because of the efforts of Corine Wegener, a curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and a retired Army major who served in Iraq shortly after the looting of the Iraqi National Museum, and Richard Kurin, the under secretary for history, art and culture at the Smithsonian Institution. Three weeks after the earthquake, Ms. Wegener convened a meeting of art professionals and State Department officials in Washington about how to provide cultural assistance, and invited Mr. Kurin, who already had ties to Haiti from organizing programs on Haitian art and culture for the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival in 2004.
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Ms. Wegener, who also made the trip last week, said she had been horrified by what had happened at the Iraqi National Museum, where she worked as a liaison between staff members and American officials during her deployment. “It was so disturbing for me as a museum professional to see the staff so completely in shock,” she said. “How would I feel if I came to work one day and found 15,000 objects had been looted?” She was determined not to see history repeat itself in Haiti, she said, and believed that the sooner conservators arrived on the ground, the more artworks could be saved.
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Mr. Kurin conveyed the need for help to Ms. Goslins of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, a group that includes the heads of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, as well as well-connected art patrons like the Broadway producer Margo Lion. The three agencies ended up committing $30,000 each, while the Broadway League, of which Ms. Lion is a member, contributed $276,000.
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As for the rest of the money that’s needed, Ms. Goslins expressed confidence that it would materialize once the center was operating. “We’ve been having conversations with both the federal and the private sector about further support,” Ms. Goslins said, “and I’m optimistic that once we get through the initial urgent phase of getting this up and running, we’ll be able to see the project through.”
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The conservators and Ms. Wegener spent four days here, visiting museums, churches and libraries, accompanied by Olsen Jean Julien, a former minister of culture and communication, who is acting as an intermediary between the Smithsonian and the Haitian government. They visited the ruins of the Musée d’Art Nader, a private museum that before the earthquake housed 12,000 paintings and sculptures by 20th-century Haitian masters like Hector Hyppolite and Préfète Duffaut, thousands of which were either destroyed or badly damaged when the museum collapsed. They also saw what was left of the Centre d’Art, a workshop where many of those artists trained in the 1940s and 1950s, which also collapsed. In the weeks after the earthquake, volunteers pulled thousands of paintings from the wreckage, which were stashed inside two storage containers parked in the sun in front of the ruined building.
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Some of the Haitian officials and cultural professionals with whom the group met were hearing about the conservation center for the first time, and responded with relief and many questions, like when it would be open and how much money was being set aside. The American aid is “fundamental for us,” said Patrick Vilaire, a sculptor, who took the lead in saving the collections of several damaged libraries after the earthquake.
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A few, however, expressed frustration that aid had not come sooner and a worry that foreign experts were better at conducting visits and assessments than providing real, practical help. At a meeting with Daniel Elie, the head of the government agency in charge of preserving Haiti’s national heritage, the discussion in front of the plywood shack from which he and his staff have operated since January turned momentarily tense when his colleague and translator, Monique Rocourt, said she was fed up with hosting visiting advisers who came and did nothing.
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“If I bring another team of experts to Jacmel,” she said, referring to a city in southern Haiti that was seriously damaged in the quake, “we will look in front of the population like we’re just bringing foreigners to look at disasters. It’s cynical, but that’s what people will think.”
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Ms. Wegener is sensitive to such concerns, she said on another occasion. She noted that this was her third trip to Haiti since the earthquake. “We’re showing a constant presence,” she said, “and now we’re bringing people who are specialists.”
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At the same time, Ms. Wegener and her colleagues appeared anxious not to seem like cultural imperialists, frequently repeating that they wanted to know first what the Haitians wanted to do.
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Occasionally, their efforts clearly seemed like overkill to some of the people they encountered. When Ms. Wegener suggested to two members of a foundation that supports voodoo art that they write a proposal outlining what the Americans could do to help, one of the two practically rolled her eyes.
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“Everyone is coming here and asking us for a proposal,” the woman, Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique, said. “You write us a proposal.” Ms. Wegener, anxious to explain, said that they did not want to create the impression “that we’re telling you what you want.”
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“Don’t worry about that,” Ms. Beauvoir-Dominique’s husband, Didier Dominique, interrupted, adding with a smile, “We know what we want.”

Haitian Artists Play a Role in Reconstructing Haiti (5/6/2010)

MediaGlobal
By Allyn Gaestel
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Haiti has long housed a vibrant art scene, recognized internationally for its painting, music and writing. But, like the other facets of society, the arts suffered immensely in the 12 January earthquake.
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The Centre d’Art, and Musée d’Art Nader, two of Haiti’s largest exhibition spaces were badly damaged, and many art pieces were lost or destroyed. The Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral contained murals by renowned 20th century Haitian artists, all of which crumbled. The losses have placed a heavy toll on the economic, social and cultural well being of the country.
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Haitian writers have also struggled to cope with the trauma of the earthquake and transmit their experiences. Dominique Batraville is an award winning poet, novelist and playwright. He nearly died in the earthquake, escaping only by running out from beneath a tumbling balcony. He told MediaGlobal that it wasn’t until he left Haiti to visit New York this month as a guest of the City University of New York Graduate Center that he was able to process and write about his experience.
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Yet despite the trauma, Haitian artists play an important role in the national healing. Street art has popped up in Port-au-Prince in the absence of exhibition spaces. Musicians have produced songs to lift Haitian spirits for the struggle to rebuild.
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Batraville, while deeply troubled by Haiti’s current state, remains optimistic that reconstruction will occur and that artists will play a role. “The country will not stay as it is. It will rebuild. And artists will contribute to this, either by creating or by participating in conferences and reflecting on the reconstruction.”
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Haiti is mourning the loss of the tangible manifestations of past artists. But as Haiti rebuilds, artists will continue to contribute to the creativity and vibrancy of its society.

Out of ruins, Haiti’s visionaries (3/27/2010)

New Strait Teams
By HOLLAND COTTER
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In a disaster, you focus on lives first, all else later. When the earthquake hit Haiti in January, the news was about the dead and missing, miraculous survivals, towns smashed to bits. Behind this news came other news. One of Haiti’s proudest cultural monuments, the Episcopal cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, had collapsed, destroying murals painted in the late 1940s by some of the great artists of what is often called the Haitian Renaissance: Philomé Obin, Castera Basile, Rigaud Benoit, Wilson Bigaud and Prefete Duffaut.
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Their images of verdant, fruit-coloured tropical heavens had helped turn a politically volatile nation into a tourist destination, and art itself into an export industry. The Centre d’Art, where these artists once met with AndrÈ Breton, Aimé Césaire and Wifredo Lam, was seriously damaged, as was the Musée d’Art Haitien. Catastrophically, many of the 12,000 Haitian works, accumulated over half a century, in the MusÈe/Galerie d’art Nader were lost when the building that housed them, a family home, disintegrated. Objects retrieved from the Centre d’Art and the Musée d’Art Haitien have been locked in containers.
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Axelle Liautaud, an art dealer, removes a painting from the Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 21, 2010. “We had so much despite the fact that we’re so poor,” she says
Axelle Liautaud, an art dealer, removes a painting from the Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince on Jan. 21, 2010. “We had so much despite the fact that we’re so poor,” she says Nearly everything recovered will need conservation. Far more difficult to assess is the survival of art produced outside the fragile museum and gallery network, though some of this work has relatively high visibility through commercial connections with the United States and Europe.
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A funky downtown section of Port-au-Prince called the Grand Rue was the scene, in December, of a first-time art event called the Ghetto Biennial. Based on international models but operating on a tiny budget, it brought in a few artists from abroad but was basically a showcase for a collective of Haitian sculptors who call themselves Atis Rezistans.
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The group’s three senior members — André Eugëne, Jean HÈrard Celeur and Frantz Jacques, known as Guyodo — work together in the Grand Rue, in a warren of cinderblock car-repair shops that supply the material for their art: rusted chassis, steering wheels, hubcaps, broken crankshafts, cast-off oil filters. With the help of young assistants, they turn this industrial junk into demonic doomsday figures with giant phalluses and gargoylish bodies topped by plastic doll heads or human skulls. These artists, all around 40 years old, belong to a generation that is internationally attuned — they have a higher profile abroad than at home — and has experienced life in Haiti at its most abject, which is saying something, given the nation’s scarifying modern history. Their art comes across as a hellish response to the older painters of tropical idylls, though in reality all of these artists share a common bond.
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To a greater or lesser extent, and in different ways, much of their work is based on the Afro-Caribbean religion of voodoo — or vodou, as many scholars prefer to spell it — Haiti’s majority religion and continuing source of social and cultural cohesion.
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Where Centre d’Art painters such as Andre Pierre (circa 1915-2005) and Hector Hyppolite (1894-1948), who were both voodoo priests, emphasised the religion’s more benign aspects with images of regal deities in bosky settings, the Atis Rezistans group tunnels into its dark, dystopian, underground side.
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Many of their sculptures depict the ghoulish spirits called Gedes and their paternal leader, Baron Samedi, the lord of death, decay and grotesque eroticism. When the quake struck, much of the Grand Rue was flattened, and unknown numbers of Atis Rezistans sculptures are likely to have been crushed and buried.
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An exception was a single colossal metal figure of Baron Samedi, which stayed intact and erect as if surveying the havoc he had wrought. But the greater unknown is the fate of voodoo religious art.
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Anyone who saw the travelling exhibition Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou, organised by the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1995, knows how visually potent this art can be. Voodoo has ancient roots in West Africa, where at some point it met up with European Christianity and later, in the Caribbean, through the Atlantic slave trade, with indigenous New World religions. The result was a baffling, exhilarating, multifarious sacred art, which takes a visually explosive form in assemblage-style altars.
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These are dedicated to specific voodoo deities, often embodied in a printed picture or statuette of a Christian saint, around which is distributed a purposefully crowded array of devotional objects and substances including dolls, Buddhas, Roman Catholic holy cards, playing cards, political portraits, satin-swathed bottles, perfume atomisers, rosaries, carved phalluses, Masonic diagrams, candles, kerchiefs, money, mirrors, fruit, rum, flowers and human and animal skulls. The largest altars are often in voodoo temples, which can be rooms in homes or shedlike congregational spaces that are decorated with wall paintings and sequined ritual flags called drapo.
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Wherever it is, the altar is a total, balanced work of religious art, a model of good ritual housekeeping. By some estimates, Haiti has tens of thousands of voodoo temples, the bulk concentrated in cities, and most all but invisible. Tucked away in alleys and basements, or behind garage doors, they rarely announce themselves.
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This makes any attempt to survey them and the art they hold difficult under any circumstances, but particularly now, when the very topography of cities such as Port-au-Prince and Jacmel to the south, renowned for its production of Carnival masks, has been altered. At least one of the Port-au-Prince temples replicated in Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou is known to have been destroyed in the quake.
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But word has come that a celebrated maker of sequined flags, Myrlande Constant, after camping with her family in a tent city in Port-au-Prince for more than a month, is back at work in a borrowed studio. The mask-maker and painter Civil Didier, left homeless in Jacmel, is in New York, as part of a new, possibly temporary diaspora of Haitian artists that the quake has created. Meanwhile, long before January, the Fowler had already begun work on a sequel to its 1995 Vodou show, organised, as the first one was, by Donald J. Cosentino, a professor of African and diaspora literature and folklore at UCLA, partnering with the art historian and anthropologist Marilyn Houlberg of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
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Circumstances in Haiti have greatly changed in the two decades since the earlier exhibition was conceived. In 1991, when research was beginning, Jean-Bertram Aristide was president; the country was giddy with hope for the future. The hope couldn’t last. Aristide was forced into exile, returned and left again, under a cloud. The country has since endured extreme levels of poverty and violence.
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The tropical Elysium of older Haitian art has never looked more out of place. This is the reality that Cosentino has set out to address in the new exhibition, initially titled Haiti in Extremis.
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And voodoo gives him apt images to work with.. The Atis Rezistans collective was on the preliminary list of artists to be in the new show, which is scheduled to debut in 2012, as were contemporary painters and sculptors such as Edouard Duval-Carrié, Frantz Zephirin and Didier, all of whom gave their voodoo sources a deeply fatalistic spin. Then came the earthquake. And Cosentino had to rethink the show.
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He expanded its title: Haiti in Extremis: After the Apocalypse. News came from Port-au-Prince that a particularly vibrant Gede temple overseen by voodoo priest Akiki Baka, called Emperor Sonson, and situated near the Grand Rue, at the very epicentre of the quake, had survived unscathed. An altar from the temple would be in the new show. So would art being created in direct response to the disaster. In other words, this would be a project whose shape and contents are, like life in Haiti, in the making and unpredictable. And it’s still two years away, which could be, depending on how the Gedes play their hand, never or forever.

Haitians see hope through art (Miami Herald - 3/25/2010)

By FABIOLA SANTIAGO
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Artist Marie-Thérèse ``Marithou'' Dupoux, had just fired the kiln in her studio near Pétionville when she felt the floor undulate and heard the roof rattle. Clinging to a column, she watched the kiln's flames wobble and everything around her bounce, and then the propane tank fell. ``I knew right away it was an earthquake,'' Marithou says.
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Her ceramics and most of her studio and equipment were ground to rubble on Jan. 12, but a few paintings and sculptures had been stored at a Miami gallery and will be exhibited at a Haiti Pavilion at arteaméricas, the Latin American art fair that opens to the public Friday at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Arteaméricas organizers Leslie Pantín Jr. and Emilio Calleja have donated the 30-foot-long booth in which the works of Marithou and 14 other artists who live and work in Haiti will be exhibited and sold to raise money to help rebuild their homeland's arts community.
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The pavilion, along with Galerie Marassa and Bourbon Lally of Pétionville, will join 45 galleries from Spain, the United States and the Americas to showcase the works of 300 artists. The fair runs through Monday. The schedule includes conferences by museum administrators and curators and a new-collectors program organized by Celia Birbragher, owner and publisher of ArtNexus.
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``By bringing the artists to the fair . . . we are helping sustain the production of Haitian art,'' says Alina Rodríguez-Rojo, an organizer of the Haiti Pavilion. he Pavilion show, Contemporary Haitian Memory in Motion: From the Ashes We Still Rise, is already commanding attention as some participating artists arrive in Miami and share their stories of survival, loss and hope -- the themes of their new work.
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``The only way of expressing my feelings is through my art,'' says Philippe Dodard, cultural advisor to Haiti's first lady, who was working in the now-flattened National Palace 30 minutes before the earthquake hit. Dpdard, who was being driven by his son, was photographing the route of the February carnival parade when he felt the tremors and heard a loud sound ``as if there had been a big accident.''
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He looked back, saw a man running and, all of a sudden, ``this collective `OHHHHHHH' '' rising from the city. ``The mountain fell right behind us on the road,'' Dodard, 55, says. He and his son abandoned their car and walked for an hour and a half to get home. Their house was standing but empty. It took hours of more walking to find out that their family had survived. But some colleagues didn't make it out of the palace alive. Dodard's friend Joel Baussan was trapped for three days before he died.
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In his memory, Dodard has painted Trapped in the Dark, a haunting black-and-white acrylic on canvas to be exhibited in his one-man show at Galerie Marassa's arteaméricas booth. Marithou, 61, whose symbol-laden work expresses a power often denied to Haitian women by the island's patriarchal culture, will show five oversized paintings in vibrant red, white and black and Children of the Universe, a 12-piece installation that appears to be bronze but is really made of papier-mché, plaster and aluminum.
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``She is the mistress of a new language in Haitian art,'' says Babacar MBow, coorganizer of the Haiti Pavilion and owner of Miami's Multitudes Contemporary Art Center, 5570 NE Fourth Ave. But she has no new work to sell. The earthquake destroyed all the pieces Marithou had made for a March show in New Orleans. ``I had fired the kiln to finish the last piece,'' she says.
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She was going to stay in Miami for arteaméricas but decided to return home after she began dreaming of dead relatives. ``I can't explain it, but I feel like I need to get back to Haiti,'' she says. ``I saw things I never thought I'd see.'' Sculptor Ludovic Booz, who will exhibit bronze sculptures at arteaméricas, feels the same way.
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His body caked with dust, his head dripping blood, Booz, 69, had fled from his house. ``I thought everyone was going to disappear,'' he says. The quake heavily damaged his two houses, foundry and marble artworks. Booz's children, who live in the United States, persuaded him to come to South Florida where he has begun painting and trying to find peace through color and design.
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But his heart and inspiration remain in Haiti. ``You can't forget,'' he says. For weeks after the quake Dodard could not paint. He worked day and night in the search, rescue and relief efforts and, most recently, assisted with plans to rebuild. He took pictures of the places, now destroyed, he had photographed just minutes before the earthquake. But only after a German television camera crew asked to film him painting did he pick up a brush.
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``Then, I could not stop,'' he says. ``Sometimes my heart was beating so hard.'' Dodard is helping Haiti's first lady, Elisabeth Delatour Préval, with Plas Timoun -- The Children's Place -- an initiative to convert old buses and tents into temporary shelters where children can engage in art making and sports. The program needs supplies and equipment, and Dodard is knocking on doors in Miami and asking for donations.
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``Through your culture you can find the strength to rise again,'' he says. ``Painting allows you to reach for the hope. It's about the light of those who left that inspires us to rebuild the country in a better way.''

Artists Join UN to Rebuild Cultural Life (IPS - 3/25/2010)

By A. D. McKenzie
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As international donors prepare to meet at the United Nations headquarters in New York to discuss ways to rebuild Haiti, after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, the country’s artistic community has been mobilising to make culture a key aspect of reconstruction. Led by Haiti’s minister for culture and communication, Marie-Laurence Jocelyn-Lassègue, writers, artists and musicians gathered in Paris this week at the U.N.’s cultural agency, UNESCO, to map out medium- and long-term strategies for "recreating" the Caribbean nation.
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"Culture is at the basis of our development," Jocelyn-Lassègue told participants Wednesday at a forum entitled ‘Rebuilding the social, cultural and intellectual fabric of Haiti’. "For us, culture is not a luxury, not an accessory," she added. "It is through culture and by culture that we’ll be able to develop certain aspects of our society."
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She told IPS in an interview that the UNESCO forum, which included internationally known artists such as African writer Wole Soyinka, was necessary to "keep Haiti on the agenda", as the world’s attention shifts in the aftermath of the disaster. She said the agency was helping to re-focus attention on Haiti’s continuing plight and working to find international partners to help in reconstruction.
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Some of these partners are expected to announce further plans for action at the International Donors’ Conference on Mar. 31 in New York. Organisers of a preparatory meeting held last week in the Dominican Republic have already declared that 3.8 billion US dollars over 18 months will be provided in assistance. Jocelyn-Lassègue, whose chief of staff was killed as he sat next to her when her office collapsed in the earthquake, has been leading a crusade to keep Haiti in the world’s consciousness. She said that recent flooding has added to the country’s woes.
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Villages in the south have been inundated by seasonal rains, even as Haitians try to come to terms with the losses from the earthquake. The minister told IPS that she herself had lost 58 relatives and friends, among the estimated 222,000 people killed in the disaster. "Everyone has been touched, and our patrimony, material and immaterial, has been all but destroyed," she said.
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UNESCO’s director-general Irina Bokova visited Haiti earlier this month to see the situation first-hand, and Wednesday she stressed that the agency was committed to helping Haiti recover. "Haiti is a test for humanity," Bokova said. "The Haitian people are masters of their own destiny. But there are moments when one needs help and solidarity, to regain strength and hope, and Jan. 12 was one of those moments’’. Expressing sadness at the immense loss of life, she said that people around the world "all carried lasting images of the Cathedral of Port-au-Prince pulverised, of libraries and museums destroyed, of schools torn apart."
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In the wake of the destruction, Bokova said UNESCO was focusing on education as well as the preservation of Haiti’s unique cultural legacy, which is "now threatened by vandalism, looting and illicit art trafficking". The agency has taken steps to establish an International Coordination Committee for Haitian culture to "bring together all the organisations concerned with the rehabilitation of the country’s culture". This will be directed by the Haitian government, she said.
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To highlight Haiti’s cultural contributions, UNESCO is also hosting two exhibitions at its headquarters here – one on Haitian art, and the other showing photographs of Haiti before and after the earthquake. In addition, Bokova has named the Haitian playwright, artist and musician Frankétienne as UNESCO ‘Artist for peace’, to help promote culture worldwide. Accepting the honour before a packed audience Wednesday, the white-haired playwright burst into a song. He said he would carry out UNESCO’s work "conscientiously".
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Some observers have expressed surprise at the speed with which UNESCO, long considered an almost irrelevant U.N. bureau, has seized the initiative to help provide assistance. But Haitian representatives credit Bokova, who took over the agency’s leadership last October, for the new dynamism. "It seems women do things differently and are more pragmatic," an official told IPS. Davidson Hepburn, the Bahamas’ ambassador to UNESCO and president of the agency’s general conference, said that the disaster had presented UNESCO with an unusual opportunity to take the lead in education, as "macabre as that may sound".
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He said the agency was focusing on this sector, among other areas of assistance, because "schools and universities matter". The earthquake destroyed hundreds of schools, and killed more than a thousand teachers, according to Haitian officials. Many children in the capital Port-au-Prince still have no formal classes, and the city’s three universities are in ruins. France this week announced that it would send 30,000 books to the island and help in setting up a digital library. The French government is also implementing residence programmes for Haitian artists, and will dispatch experts to repair damaged works of art in Haiti itself, officials said.
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French minister of culture, Frédéric Mitterrand, plans to go to Haiti in the coming weeks, following a visit by President Nicolas Sarkozy in February - the first by a French leader since the country gained its independence from France in 1804. Some black French associations have been calling on France to repay Haiti the crippling sum it demanded in reparations after the Caribbean country had the world’s first successful slave revolt. But Jocelyn-Lassègue said her country had moved beyond these historical disputes. "We’re no longer there," she told IPS. "France is with us now."

Haitian writer Frankétienne named UNESCO Artist for Peace

3/24/2010
UN News Center
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The United Nations cultural agency today named the Haitian writer Frankétienne as one of their Artists for Peace in recognition of his contribution to French-language literature, his commitment to preserving Haitian culture and his contribution to the promotion of the agency’s ideals.
The agency’s director-general Irina Bokova bestowed the honour on Frankétienne at a forum in the Paris headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to discuss the reconstruction of Haiti’s social, cultural and intellectual heritage following January’s devastating earthquake.
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A writer, actor, painter and teacher, Frankétienne is considered an emblematic figure in the Haitian culture. The author of 40 books in French and Creole, including Dezafi and Ultravocal, he has received numerous awards and literary prizes. His play Melovivi or Le Piège (“The Trap”) will be staged for the first time at UNESCO headquarters today.
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Appointed for two years, Frankétienne will provide particular support to UNESCO's programmes to promote books and linguistic diversity. The UNESCO Artists for Peace are personalities who use their influence, charisma and prestige to the service of UNESCO's message. The musicians Manu Dibango (Cameroon) and Gilberto Gil (Brazil), the actress and singer Maria de Medeiros of Portugal and the fashion designer Bibi Russell of Bangladesh are among personalities who have previously been designated.

Haiti's cultural heritage faces quake extinction (3/22/2010)

AFP
By Andrew Gully
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Brilliant colors shine through the ruins of the Cathedrale de la Sainte-Trinite, fragments of wonderful murals that were the climax of Haiti's artistic explosion 60 years ago. For gallery owner Toni Monnin, the loss of irreplaceable frescoes by the first generation of Haitian master painters is the most powerful symbol of the cultural devastation wrought by the January 12 earthquake.
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"There was this explosion of art in Haiti after the Second World War like nowhere else in the world," explained Monnin, a native Texan. "It is a country of painters and artists and it is a phenomenon that exists only here in Haiti." In the capital Port-au-Prince, a teeming mass of humanity fights to recover from unimaginable horror, but the backdrop is a wall of paintings, vibrant colors splashing canvas and somehow masking the smell of death and loss.
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Haiti could lay claim to having a greater concentration of artists than any other country, but beyond them, it is the buildings, the history, the entire cultural heritage of the Caribbean nation that is at risk. "What we have been trying to do with the minister of culture is raise awareness of the need to protect the heritage because once it is gone, it is gone," Teeluck Bhuwanee, head of the UNESCO mission in Haiti, told AFP.
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Recorded history dates back to 1492, when Christopher Columbus discovered the island -- which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic -- and named it La Isla Espanola, which became Hispaniola.
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Artifacts from pre-Columbian times, the era of the Taino Indians, survived the quake largely unscathed at the National Museum of Art, fortuitously located underground. But many important sites, born out of Haiti's compelling history of slavery and revolution, were not so fortunate, and Bhuwanee fears culture has been forgotten in the government's grand reconstruction plan. "In Port-au-Prince, there are about 30 sites that have been identified as really in danger of total destruction or total extinction. Two of them have already been razed," he said.
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The capital is a graveyard of fallen cathedrals, libraries and cultural sites. Invaluable private collections were also decimated by the quake.
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Despite the extent of the loss, the word culture is absent from the draft Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) drawn up by the government in conjunction with the international community. "We've been fighting to get the PDNA to include culture but when the executive summary came out, there was not a single line on culture, not a single dollar for the re-foundation of culture in this country," Bhuwanee said. There is an urgent need to protect damaged sites, many of which have been pillaged or, like the Eglise Saint Louis Roi de France, totally razed by the bulldozers that cleared the way for the capital to function again.
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Haiti can lay claim, as the first black country to gain independence, in 1804, to being at the root of universal human rights and countless documents attesting to those fights and struggles may also have perished. The country, however, has more pressing concerns -- hundreds of thousands of quake survivors are still at risk, perched in camps on treacherous hillsides that could slide away into the abyss when the heavy rains come.
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Sam Worthington, president of InterAction, which coordinates the work of dozens of US NGOs and their almost one billion dollars of American public money, has a clear priority list. "It is the ability of children to learn to read, it's the ability of an individual to walk through a camp and be safe and not face violence or rape, it's the ability of someone to be able to set up their small business and get back to their life before the quake," he said.
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But he admitted that culture, too, is important. If properly marketed, Haiti's heritage could be a tool to create jobs, to stir interest, to help get the country of almost 10 million people back on its feet again, according to Bhuwanee. "We are saying 'Let's do something, let's make culture at the root of the development of the country,'" he said.
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Walking the ruins of Sainte-Trinite, it is easy to see this as a pipe dream, but one wall symbolizes hope, stubbornly standing against all odds and signed by the last living first generation artist, 87-year old Prefete Duffaut. Monnin offered a short history. She spoke of Americans, DeWitt Peters and Selden Rodman, who discovered local talent like Hector Hyppolite, a voodoo priest who painted with chicken feathers and household paint.
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Rodman's vision produced this amazing collaboration on the walls of Saint-Trinite, a work that put Haitian art on the map -- soon art lovers from all over the world needed a Duffaut or a Hyppolite to grace their collections. "Works by the first generation artists are irreplaceable," Monnin said, sadness in her eyes as she recalled the horrors of the fateful day. So galled was Monnin by the plight of the 50 or so artists she works with that the longtime Port-au-Prince resident opened up another side of her FONDAM foundation, set up in 2004 to battle deforestation, to help them.
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"Ninety percent of these guys have lost either their entire homes, part of their homes, one or two or more family members," she said. "They didn't have any works left, they lost them all." So how badly was Haitian culture damaged by the quake?
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"It has lost everything," she said. "All of the major institutions, not only paintings, the archives, the national library, all of these things were ruined, they were wiped out." Dismissing vain attempts to clamp down on trafficking -- where would they find experts who know the difference between a Hyppolite and Haitian street art, she scoffed -- Monnin suddenly hit upon an idea.
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"I don't know if it's UNESCO's job, but what people should be concentrating on are things like reconstructing the church at Saint-Trinite," she said. "If you can't find the pieces of the mural there is enough photographic evidence. Have somebody repaint them, we have enough artists. Not copying, do it in the same spirit. Now that would be a fabulous project."

Out of Ruin, Haiti’s Visionaries

3/18/2010
New York Times
By HOLLAND COTTER
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In a disaster, you focus on lives first, all else later. When the earthquake hit Haiti in January, the news was about the dead and missing, miraculous survivals, towns smashed to bits. Behind this news came other news. One of Haiti’s proudest cultural monuments, the Episcopal cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, had collapsed, destroying murals painted in the late 1940s by some of the great artists of what is often called the Haitian Renaissance: Philomé Obin, Castera Basile, Rigaud Benoit, Wilson Bigaud, Prefete Duffaut. Their images of verdant, fruit-colored tropical heavens had helped turn a politically volatile nation into a tourist destination, and art itself into an export industry.
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The Centre d’Art, where these artists once met with André Breton, Aimé Césaire and Wifredo Lam, was seriously damaged, as was the Musée d’Art Haitien. Catastrophically, many of the 12,000 Haitian works, accumulated over half a century, in the Musée/Galerie d’art Nader were lost when the building that housed them, a family home, disintegrated. Objects retrieved from the Centre d’Art and the Musée d’Art Haitien have been locked in containers. Nearly everything recovered will need conservation.
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Far more difficult to assess is the survival of art produced outside the fragile museum and gallery network, though some of this work has relatively high visibility through commercial connections with the United States and Europe. A funky downtown section of Port-au-Prince called the Grand Rue was the scene, in December, of a first-time art event called the “Ghetto Biennial.” Based on international models but operating on a tiny budget, it brought in a few artists from abroad but was basically a showcase for a collective of Haitian sculptors who call themselves Atis Rezistans. The group’s three senior members — André Eugène, Jean Hérard Celeur and Frantz Jacques, known as Guyodo — work together in the Grand Rue, in a warren of cinderblock car-repair shops that supply the material for their art: rusted chassis, steering wheels, hubcaps, broken crankshafts, cast-off oil filters. With the help of young assistants, they turn this industrial junk
into demonic doomsday figures with giant phalluses and gargoylish bodies topped by plastic doll heads or human skulls.
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These artists, all around 40 years old, belong to a generation that is internationally attuned — they have a higher profile abroad than at home — and has experienced life in Haiti at its most abject, which is saying something, given the nation’s scarifying modern history. Their art comes across as a hellish response to the older painters of tropical idylls, though in reality all of these artists share a common bond. To a greater or lesser extent, and in different ways, much of their work is based on the Afro-Caribbean religion of voodoo — or vodou, as many scholars prefer to spell it — Haiti’s majority religion and continuing source of social and cultural cohesion.
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Where Centre d’Art painters like Andre Pierre (circa 1915-2005) and Hector Hyppolite (1894-1948), who were both voodoo priests, emphasized the religion’s more benign aspects with images of regal deities in bosky settings, the Atis Rezistans group tunnels into its dark, dystopian, underground side. Many of their sculptures depict the ghoulish spirits called Gedes and their paternal leader, Baron Samedi, the lord of death, decay and grotesque eroticism.
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When the quake struck, much of the Grand Rue was flattened, and unknown numbers of Atis Rezistans sculptures are likely to have been crushed and buried. An exception was a single colossal metal figure of Baron Samedi, which stayed intact and erect as if surveying the havoc he had wrought.
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But the greater unknown is the fate of voodoo religious art. Anyone who saw the traveling exhibition “Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou,” organized by the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1995, knows how visually potent this art can be.
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Voodoo has ancient roots in West Africa, where at some point it met up with European Christianity and, later, in the Caribbean, through the Atlantic slave trade, with indigenous New World religions. The result was a baffling, exhilarating, multifarious sacred art, which takes a visually explosive form in assemblage-style altars. These are dedicated to specific voodoo deities, often embodied in a printed picture or statuette of a Christian saint, around which is distributed a purposefully crowded array of devotional objects and substances including dolls, Buddhas, Roman Catholic holy cards, playing cards, political portraits, satin-swathed bottles, perfume atomizers, rosaries, carved phalluses, Masonic diagrams, candles, kerchiefs, money, mirrors, fruit, rum, flowers and human and animal skulls.
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The largest altars are often in voodoo temples, which can be rooms in homes or shedlike congregational spaces that are decorated with wall paintings and sequined ritual flags called drapo.
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Wherever it is, the altar is a total, balanced work of religious art, a model of good ritual housekeeping. At the same time, it is unfixed: kinetic and ephemeral, meant to be added to and removed from, to be tasted, touched, lighted, adorned, fanned and fed. It is a form utterly unsuited to conventional museum display, though the Fowler show incorporated several altars, some of them recreations of ones that already existed in Port-au-Prince. At the Fowler itself, and then in museums, as the show traveled to Miami, Washington, Chicago, New Orleans and New York, the altars invariably attracted voodoo devotees who left offerings of money and food. Clearly they saw no distinction between sacred art and museum art. Or, put another way, for them the presence of sacred art made the museum a sacred space.
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By some estimates, Haiti has tens of thousands of voodoo temples, the bulk concentrated in cities, and most all but invisible. Tucked away in alleys and basements, or behind garage doors, they rarely announce themselves. This makes any attempt to survey them and the art they hold difficult under any circumstances, but particularly now, when the very topography of cities like Port-au-Prince and Jacmel to the south, renowned for its production of Carnival masks, has been altered. At least one of the Port-au-Prince temples replicated in “Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou” is known to have been destroyed in the quake.
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But word has come that a celebrated maker of sequined flags, Myrlande Constant, after camping with her family in a tent city in Port-au-Prince for more than a month, is back at work in a borrowed studio. The mask-maker and painter Civil Didier, left homeless in Jacmel, is in New York, as part of a new, possibly temporary diaspora of Haitian artists that the quake has created.
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Meanwhile, long before January, the Fowler had already begun work on a sequel to its 1995 Vodou show, organized, as the first one was, by Donald J. Cosentino, a professor of African and diaspora literature and folklore at U.C.L.A., partnering with the art historian and anthropologist Marilyn Houlberg of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Circumstances in Haiti have greatly changed in the two decades since the earlier exhibition was conceived. In 1991, when research was beginning, Jean-Bertram Aristide was president; the country was giddy with hope for the future. The hope couldn’t last. Mr. Aristide was forced into exile, returned and left again, under a cloud. The country has since endured extreme levels of poverty and violence. The tropical Elysium of older Haitian art has never looked more out of place.
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This is the reality that Mr. Cosentino has set out to address in the new exhibition, initially titled “Haiti in Extremis.” And voodoo gives him apt images to work with, from the cult of the Gedes and Baron Samedi, guardians of the dead, who could, through cataclysmic fusions of eroticism and destruction, generate a recuperative vitality.
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The Atis Rezistans collective was on the preliminary list of artists to be in the new show, which is scheduled to debut in 2012, as were contemporary painters and sculptors like Edouard Duval-Carrié, Frantz Zephirin and Mr. Didier, all of whom gave their voodoo sources a deeply fatalistic spin.
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Then came the earthquake. And even before Mr. Zephirin’s painting of a skeletal Baron Samedi had appeared on the cover of The New Yorker, Mr. Cosentino was rethinking the show. He expanded its title: “Haiti in Extremis: After the Apocalypse.”
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News came from Port-au-Prince that a particularly vibrant Gede temple overseen by the voodoo priest Akiki Baka, called Emperor Sonson, and situated near the Grand Rue, at the very epicenter of the quake, had survived unscathed. An altar from the temple would be in the new show. So would art being created in direct response to the disaster. In other words, this would be a project whose shape and contents are, like life in Haiti, in the making and unpredictable. And it’s still two years away, which could be, depending on how the Gedes play their hand, never or forever.

Love, Laughter & Art in Post-Quake Haiti (3/18/2010)

Where there’s love, there’s life,” said Gandhi and Port-au-Prince has been overflowing with both since the arrival of the Martha Machado Artists’ Brigade here in Port-au-Prince. The brainchild of Cuban artist Alexis Leyva Machado (Kcho–pronounced KAHcho) the artists’ group aims to alleviate the psychological and emotional effects of natural disasters. Watching children’s beaming smiles and hearing squeals of delight peal from teens and adults alike as the group performs, I’d say it’s working.
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Founded after a trio of hurricanes hit Cuba in 2008 causing $10 billion in damages, the Brigade features a rotating roster of painters, musicians, magicians, clowns, puppeteers, and circus performers. Fifty of these Cuban artists are now in Haiti to help heal through laughter, dance, art, and play; many are veterans of the original Brigade that visited the Cuban provinces hardest hit by the 2008 hurricanes. One of those provinces was the special municipality of Isla de Juventud (Isle of Youth), from where Kcho hails. The Brigade is named after the artist’s mother who gave shelter to family, friends, and neighbors affected by the storms.
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The healing properties of laughter and play are well documented and serve particularly well for children in post-disaster situations. Young survivors are often unable to express the resulting trauma verbally, complicating mental health diagnoses and the work of health care professionals. For this reason, the Martha Machado Brigade is formally a part of Cuba’s post-disaster mental health program in Haiti, coordinated by psychologist Alexis Lorenzo of the Latin American Center for Disaster Medicine (CLAMED) in Havana. “Much of what we’re seeing are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances,” he told me, including anxiety, fear, stress, and sadness – a trio that gets blown to the four cardinal points when people become engaged with the Cuban artists in their midst.
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“The situation is so sad here, but you can feel the energy shift when the Brigade shows up. The kids enter a new world,” artist Ernesto Rancaño told me as we watched an event unfold at the Renaissance Hospital. A magic trick deftly executed; stilt walkers rocking babies and clowns kidding teens; a Cuban artist and Haitian child painting side by side–these are the building blocks of happier memories for Haitians traumatized by the January 12 earthquake. The more the children can express their feelings the better, according to psychologists, since drawing and other types of creativity help them gain symbolic control over confusing and frightening events.
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One of Cuba’s most talented contemporary painters and original member of the group in Cuba, Rancaño and several other painters supplied all the materials for the post-hurricane work in Cuba, creating alongside Cuban children affected by the storms. This experience is being replicated in Haiti; the resulting works of art by Haitian children, together with over a dozen paintings by Cuban children brought by the Brigade for this purpose, will be installed in public hospitals in Haiti. Twenty five works of art by Kcho, Rancaño, Sander Gonzales, and Juan Carlos Balseiro will likewise be permanently installed in Haitian hospitals. All told, the collection comprises over 150 works of art.
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“This goes beyond Cuba, beyond Haiti. Our mission is to bring smiles and hope to people who have suffered natural disasters. The healing power of art and laughter are universal and this is what our Brigade tries to do,” said Kcho later at an event at the Cuban field hospital in Carre Foure west of Port-au-Prince. The group of artists has pledged to stay as long as necessary. Still made up as clown and musician, Ronny Fernández from Havana told me why he joined the team in Haiti: “It’s beautiful to be able to use our skills to take these people away from the catastrophe, if only for a moment…. We’re living in tents and conditions can be tough, but the smiles on the kids faces–that’s plenty compensation.”
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Combining caring and science is part of psychologist Diaz´s work, including a methodological framework for addressing disaster-related mental health disorders. As coordinator of CLAMED’s master’s degree program in Mental Health and Disasters, Diaz is accompanied in Haiti by the two-year program’s first graduate. Also in Haiti to address the mental health needs of earthquake survivors are four sychologists, 12 child psychiatrists, and 7 general psychiatrists. Psychologist Mariela Almenares is among these Cuban volunteers working with Haitian children and teens who survived the quake.
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In an initiative launched on March 17, Mariela leads a team comprised of Argentine and Haitian doctors and 5th year students trained at Havana’s Latin American Medical School. They are providing integrated medical and psychological services to several orphanages in Port-au- Prince, where the Artists´ Brigade also performs. All agree this is one of their hardest assignments. “Yet, ten years down the line, hopefully these kids will remember today and have at least this one good memory from this terrible tragedy,” Rancaño told me. I’m betting he’s right.

UN troops, workers rescue Haiti's artwork from ruins (2/22/2010)

Reuters
By Pascal Fletcher
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Shifting debris and twisted metal by hand, Haitian workers backed by Japanese U.N. military engineers on Monday rescued remaining valuable paintings and sculptures from the collapsed rubble of one of Haiti's most notable art museums. The workers and U.N. troops were trying to salvage what they could of Haiti's rich artistic heritage, ravaged by the Jan. 12 earthquake that may have killed up to 300,000 people, according to the country's president.
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Port-au-Prince's Nader Art Museum, which with 12,000 paintings housed probably the world's most important private collection of Haitian art, was reduced to rubble by the quake, which also badly damaged the presidential palace, the city cathedral and many other historic buildings. Since the quake struck six weeks ago, gallery staff have been carefully extracting the most important works from the wreckage. Brightly-colored canvases, many torn and smeared with dust, are piled to one side, while empty wooden frames are stacked in another pile.
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Workers carry away wooden and metal sculptures, some missing arms and legs in a grotesque reflection of the horrific human injuries inflicted by the quake. Georges Nader Jr., 40, son of museum owner Georges S. Nader, said the 'search and rescue' phase of the museum salvage operation was almost over."We've been digging for a month ... the hand removal stage is almost over, then heavy machinery will move in," he said. "But if you put a mechanical digger in there right away, you will lose everything."
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He was philosophical about the loss to the collection. "I think about 50 percent, with some kind of restoration, will be salvageable," Nader said. A separate Nader gallery in Petionville district survived the quake. About 95 percent of the Haitian masters part of the museum collection, including works by Hector Hyppolite (1894-1948) and Philome Obin (1892-1986), survived because they were housed in a front part of the collapsed building, Nader said.
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"Some are not even scratched. We have someone working on restoration, where necessary, right now," he added. Asked if the collection was insured," Nader laughed wryly: "If it was, I wouldn't be here". Of the museum's sculptures, reflecting the rich African heritage of Haiti, which won independence through an 1804 slave revolt, Nader put losses at 60-70 percent.
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"When we pulled the sculptures out, some of them had broken arms and legs," he said. Japanese U.N. officers wearing blue caps and helmets and the shoulder patches of Japan's Central Readiness Regiment, supervised laborers and a mechanical digger. Around 200 Japanese troops are participating in the international relief operation in Haiti, and this number would rise to over 300 in March, said Captain Shingo Hayakawa.
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Nader's father George, 78, who started the collection in 1966, and his mother, both survived the quake. Nader said he believed much of the Caribbean's country's artistic patrimony, including the famed 1950s mural paintings of the Sainte Trinite Cathedral, had been lost.
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But amazingly, many of the city's oldest houses, which are built of wood in the elaborate "gingerbread" Caribbean style, withstood the magnitude 7 quake, while hundreds of more modern concrete, steel and mortar structures crumbled. "This would a good time to restore the old houses," Nader said.
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France, Haiti's former colonial master, will draw up a preparatory study for reconstruction of the wrecked presidential palace, and has offered to restore a damaged 1822 painting depicting Haitian independence heroes which was salvaged by a French team from inside the ornate white palace. (Editing by Alan Elsner)

Haitian Artists Express Earthquake Tragedy (2/17/2010)

Washington Post
By Edward Cody
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Since it was devastated by an earthquake Jan. 12, Haiti has been synonymous with death, destruction and misery. But a month later, out from under the rubble has come a sign of the irrepressible human spirit that makes this tragic country someplace special. Earthquake art has arrived.
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Haiti has long expressed itself through its world-renowned painting. Now, in their ramshackle studios or in borrowed back rooms, using scavenged oils and makeshift easels, Haitian artists have begun painting the first canvases that seek to depict the horror of the quake and proclaim a tenacious hope that things will get better, if only because they can't get worse.
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Dorvelus Gerald put the finishing touches on his first earthquake art here Saturday, daubing acrylic paint on a clock marking 4:57 -- the hour the magnitude 7 tremor struck -- that was set in pale yellow high on a towering church steeple. Under the steeple, a titanic struggle was underway, matching a dragon-like monster emerging from the bowels of the earth to devour Haiti against a deep blue angel trying to protect the country from evil.
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Gerald, 50, said he began the work about four days after the earthquake. The quake destroyed his mother's house in Port-au-Prince, the capital, where he normally lives and works, and he was forced to take refuge in this little town atop terraced hills about 15 miles to the southeast. He lost most of his oil paint in the rubble, he said, and could resume painting only after a friend gave him some salvaged tubes of acrylics.
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"He wanted to give me some money," Gerald recalled. "But I said I didn't want anything but paint. Just give me paint." Gerald, who sells his work in galleries in Port-au-Prince and Miami, said he hopes the first earthquake canvas will bring in $2,000, money badly needed to repair or rebuild his family home. He recently started a second earthquake painting, showing a cemetery where endless rows of grave markers seem to reach up to flowers floating by in what appears to be turbulent air.
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After signing the completed painting, Gerald took a late-morning swig of Haiti's celebrated Barbancourt rum and stepped back to admire his works. A row of a half-dozen empty rum bottles sat atop the refrigerator in his little farmhouse. Just behind him, facing the easel, hung a dime store portrait of the Virgin Mary, who seemed to be looking down with motherly indulgence.
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With one painting completed and another underway, Gerald said he has no plans for any more works dealing with the tragedy, at least for the time being. "The earth turns, and so does our spirit," he said. "With these paintings, I have expelled the evil of the earthquake from my brain."
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Haiti's musicians have also composed their first earthquake songs, loping Caribbean tunes promising that, although times are tough, the country's tears will dry one day. "There are many artists in Haiti," said Markaens Midy as an earthquake song, with its promise of a brighter future, played on his car radio. But the status of painting has long been particularly high here. For decades, painting has been a splash of color, humor and success in a history otherwise benighted by dictatorship, corruption and poverty so grinding that people go to sea in little boats to get away.
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One of the few things people here remember fondly about the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, for instance, was that he contributed to the founding of the National Art School in the early 1980s. Gerald was in the first graduating class in 1984.
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After a violent uprising in 1986, Duvalier, son of the infamous "Papa Doc," was put aboard a U.S. Air Force transport plane and flown to exile in France, where his wife, Michelle, left him and he lives in a modest Paris apartment. Duvalier's departure, however, did not end Haiti's problems. It only changed the cast of characters, evolving into one more disappointment for the country's 9 million people. Through it all, Haiti's painters stayed true to their tradition, using their art and whimsy to comment on the country's political and social upheavals, invoke the mysteries of life and Voodoo, and give people relief from the misery of their daily lives.
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The mystical personality of Haitian painting was popularized on the international market in the 1970s by Andre Malraux, the French literary figure and culture minister. During a visit here, historians have written, Malraux was approached by artists from the populist Saint Soleil movement carrying their works toward him in a sort of procession as he sat amazed on a little knoll, his interest aroused for the rest of his life.
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More recently, Haitian painters, some of them world famous, have been selling works at competitive prices at galleries in Port-au-Prince and in art capitals such as New York, Paris and London.
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Toni Monnin, a transplanted Texan who with her husband runs the Galerie Monnin in the capital's upscale Petionville suburb, said she expects that over time Haitian artists will represent the earthquake as a challenge to be overcome by spiritual resilience rather than as a hopeless tragedy. "Haitian artists don't like to show that side of life," she added. "So they embellish things. It's unusual to see them emphasize the negative side of things."
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To provide stipends to keep most stricken artists going, Monnin said, she and her husband have diverted funds from their reforestation foundation, Fondam (http://www.fondam-haiti.org).
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Some of Haiti's best-known painters have brought in earthquake art for sale in Monnin's gallery, including Reynald Joseph and Frantz Zephirin, the Voodoo master. Prefete Duffault, whose fantasy scenes of crowds marching ant-like across bridges and arches are appreciated around the world, told Monnin that he is reflecting on how to portray the earthquake in his own, much-imitated style.
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"Zephirin just started painting like crazy the minute it happened," Monnin said. "He's the champion. Of course, he was before the earthquake anyway. He's so prolific." One of four paintings he brought in for sale showed a mouth devouring Haiti. Another showed skeletons standing amid the ruins holding up signs in English vowing, "Haiti will reborn," and proclaiming, "We survived the ocean's blood earthquake." "We need shelters, clothes, condoms and more," reads the sign held by another skeleton in the rubble. "Please help."

The Earthquake Destroyed Many Works of Art (1.15.2010)

The Guaridan
By Tom Phillips
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http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/15/haiti-earthquake-art-destroy...
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Number 18 Rue Bouvreuil was once a mecca for lovers of Haitian art. Outside the Musee Galerie d'Art Nader, perched on a hillside overlooking Port-au-Prince, a sign greeted visitors.
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"On top of the town, top in the arts," it boasted. Inside, the walls were plastered with thousands of paintings recording nearly a century of Haitian history. Now the three-storey art gallery is gone, reduced to a dusty heap of rubble and torn canvases. Broken picture frames from irreplaceable local masterpieces poke from the gallery's ruins. "My dad has about 12,000 paintings here and we are trying to save what is left,"said Georges Nader, the son of Haiti's best-known art collector and the owner of the gallery, as he scanned the debris. "We have only been able to save about 2,000 of them."
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The human cost of Haiti's worst earthquake in more than 200 years – at least 150,000 lives lost – has been well documented. But the disaster also struck a knockout blow to the heart of Haiti's vibrant arts community. Several galleries were destroyed and thousands of paintings lost under the rubble of flattened government buildings and art museums.
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The Cathédrale Sainte-Trinité, built in the early 1920s, was almost completely destroyed, taking with it a series of celebrated 1950s murals depicting scenes from the life of Christ. A painting by Guillaume Guillon Lethière, the 18th century French neoclassical painter, is thought to have been destroyed when the presidential palace collapsed.
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"There are paintings from 1905 that have been lost," said Cedoir Sainterne, an artist from the city's Pétionville district. "It's terrible. We are going to have to start all over again." Nowhere was the destruction greater than at the Musee Galerie d'Art Nader, Haiti's largest private collection of Haitian and Caribbean art. "When it [the earthquake] started I said, 'What the hell is that?' And I ran out," said Nader, whose father, also called Georges, was one of the biggest patrons of the local art scene. "I was in an 11-storey building and I saw the building dhaking and shaking and moving in all directions.
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"The next day when I came here and I went downtown I saw everything. I don't think there is any word to explain that [what happened] to the world … You have to be here to see what is going on." Nader's parents, both 79, survived. When the quake struck they were sleeping in the only room of the museum that emerged unscathed. Stunned, they fled to the neighbouring Dominican Republic, where Nader says his mother suffered a heart attack. They then headed to Miami. "The first day my reaction was that anything material was not that important for me. When you see your dad is safe and your mum is safe I
was OK," said Nader.
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"But when I came it was very sad. My dad loves Haitian art. He lives for Haitian art. His life is Haitian art. This is a guy that won't buy a house [because] he would prefer to buy Haitian art." Nader quickly called in some Haitian friends from New York in an attempt to save some of the collection. Several paintings by Hector Hyppolite, Haiti's most revered painter, have already been plucked from the wreckage. At the Musee Galerie d'Art Nader dozens of men were wading through the rubble. Occasionally they emerged clasping canvases depicting scenes of rural life or voodoo ­ceremonies. Some of the paintings were by Alexandre Gregoire, one of Haiti's first generation of naive artists, whose work has been sold at Sotheby's in New York.
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Also among the rubble was an information card from an exhibit by the Haitian artist Adam Leontus. "Leontus has taken part in many national
and international exhibitions," it read in black typewriting. Leontus's paintings were nowhere to be seen. Nader said the museum's losses, estimated at up to $30m (£19m), could not be replaced with any amount of money. "We have lost the biggest collection of Haitian art, not only in Haiti but in the world," he said, clambering down from the roof of what was once his family gallery. "There are pieces that you won't be able to find any more. This is finished."
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Amid the destruction and despair, some Haitian artists are seeking inspiration in the disaster. One graffiti artist has taken to daubing a map of Haiti on walls around the city: a weeping eye looks out from Port-au-Prince's location, above the words "We need help". Artist Frantz Zephirin has painted more than a dozen canvases inspired by the quake, showing distraught faces trapped in ruined buildings and hands reaching up through a sea of blood.
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Elise Francisco, an artist who has sold paintings to Nader's father, said it was important artists registered the earthquake. "I'll paint the houses that have fallen, the buildings that are destroyed, the cracked land," he said.
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"We are going to show our children what happened here. This is our history." Haiti may be the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but fans of its art say it is the Caribbean's most culturally wealthy nation.
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From the intricately crafted tap-tap buses that clatter through Port-au-Prince to the explosively colourful paintings that once adorned the walls of its many art galleries, it is impossible to miss the creative spirit of the world's first independent black republic. While there are records of art schools dating back to the early 19th century, Haitian artists only began to gain international recognition in the 1940s, following the creation of Port-au-Prince's Centre d'Art. Dozens of "naive artists", among them voodoo priests and small-time farmers, gathered there to depict Haiti's turbulent history in unmistakably colourful and often surreal paintings and patchworks of "voodoo flags". The centre's role in promoting Haitian art is disputed. Some say it discovered and nurtured a generation of talented but untrained artists; others say it merely helped already skilled artists make contact with overseas buyers, bringing much-needed funds to the local art scene. Through the centre, Hector Hyppolite, a one-time shoemaker and voodoo priest, became Haiti's most internationally revered artist, leading a generation of local painters whose instantly recognisable canvases featured religious imagery and scenes of the country's life.
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More than 60 years after his death, Hyppolite's works fetch six-figure sums while several other Haitian folk artists, including Philome Obin and Wilson Bigaud, have become well-known. The Haitian-American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, a one-time collaborator of Andy Warhol, often alluded to his Haitian roots in his paintings, which have been sold for millions at auctions.

For Haiti, galleries and museums practice the art of giving

The Miami Herald
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO
fsantiago@MiamiHerald.com
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From Homestead to Pompano Beach, art communities in South Florida are responding to the tragedy in Haiti by fundraising for relief organizations through art sales and exhibitions and offering programs to help survivors. The Haitian Cultural Arts Alliance, headed by Haitian-born Miami artist Edouard Duval-Carrié, has launched a multifaceted effort to help Haiti's artists by fundraising to commission works and find venues for exhibits. The organization is also searching for artists in the United States who can temporarily house and mentor Haitian artists.
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``It's not just to give them money but to do something of quality so that they can put their best foot forward,'' Duval-Carrié says. ``Haiti is very isolated. We want to get them out of the traumatic situation they are in and give them an aperture.''
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The alliance is fundraising through an Internet art sale at haitianartrelief.com. In North Miami, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) has announced a program designed to help local Haitians coping with the tragedy. Children and their parents or guardians who have been affected by the earthquake are invited to participate in an afternoon of therapeutic art-making at MOCA.
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Museum instructors, including Creole speakers, will guide children and adults through exercises designed to encourage expression, exploration and healing from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 13. Admission is free.
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``Art can serve as a great tool in helping people who are affected by catastrophic events,'' says Bonnie Clearwater, executive director and curator of MOCA. ``We want to extend the resources of MOCA's HeART to HeART program to children and families in our community who have been so deeply impacted.''
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MOCA's year-round HeART to HeART works with people with physical, mental and emotional challenges through partnerships with Jewish Family Services of North Miami and Miami-Dade County Public Schools' Exceptional Student (ESE) program.
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The Museum of Contemporary Art is located at 770 NE 125th St.in North Miami. For reservations and information, call 305-893-6211 or visit mocanomi.org.
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Other events:
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* A panel discussion ``How to Inject Funds into Artistic Community of Haiti'' takes place at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables. It features Duval-Carrié and Arthur Dunkelman, director and curator of the Jay Kislak Foundation and will be moderated by ArtTable member Elisa Turner.
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Duval-Carrié will discuss plans to stage exhibitions by Haitian artists at Miami International Airport galleries and at a fundraising booth at the upcoming fair arteaméricas, which has donated the space for the effort.
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``I'm issuing a call to all Miami-based artists to give a piece of work not worth more than $500 to the start-up fund,'' Duval-Carrié says.
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* The artists' collective Fine Arts R Us is presenting the exhibition Rhythm and Color with donated artworks from artists to be raffled with the proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders working in Haiti. Opening receptions start at 6 p.m. Feb. 19 and 2 p.m. Feb. 20 at Fine Arts R Us, Art Gallery/Studios, 3685 N. Federal Hwy., Pompano Beach; more information at 954-224-5090.
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* Little Havana's Leal Gallery exhibits ArtxFood / FoodxHaiti featuring the works of a group of artists who will exchange their work for food and money to be sent to Haiti.
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``In this equation, the real value of food can replace the symbolic value of money, erasing the differences between art and life,'' says artist Rafael López-Ramos. ``An artwork can make the difference between life and death for a citizen of Haiti.''
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Each piece on display will have a retail value. Artworks can be purchased with checks payable to the American Red Cross. Organizers also encourage donations of non-perishable food. The sale is Feb. 12 at Leal's Gallery, 1555 SW Eighth St., Miami; more information at 305-642-3133, 786-337-1628 or lealartframe.com.
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* In Homestead, artwork in the exhibit Island Colors Haitianda is being sold between Feb. 13 and March 6 to raise relief funds. An opening reception is at 3 p.m. Feb. 13 at ArtSouth Cultural Arts Center, 240 N. Krome Ave. Works include Joey Kernisky's photography and watercolors depicting the Virgin Islands along the Sir Francis Drake Passage and a Valentine's fashion-design event with Haitian designer Marie Joeberthe. More at artsouthomestead.org.

Vibrant Haitian art vanishes in the dust (1/24/2010)

The Miami Herald
BY LESLEY CLARK
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The vibrant murals that once adorned the walls of the Cathedrale of Sainte Trinite -- created in the 1950s by some of the giants of Haitian art -- are now largely dust, part of the gray rubble that covers most everything in Port-au-Prince.
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The earthquake two weeks ago buried hundreds of thousands and struck deep into Haiti's vibrant arts community, erasing in seconds cultural touchstones like the murals that depicted Christ's birth, crucifixion and ascension. Even as talk turns to rebuilding, artists struggle to account for the loss of thousands of expressions of artwork that shows themselves -- and the world -- a creativity that persists through years of political strife, turmoil and poverty.
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``We'll be knocking on every door possible to save whatever is left,'' said Gerald Alexis, a Haitian-born curator and expert on Caribbean art who from his home in Quebec is trying to mobilize arts groups to find a way to preserve the portions of the mural that survive. ``It is essential for future generations, for our identity.''
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The losses on the cultural front are staggering. At the Centre d'Art -- the successor home of the original movement that launched Haitian art -- the front of the building has been torn off and reduced to rubble. Neighbors were able to salvage some pieces, Alexis said, though many are visible but out of reach on the second floor.
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Private collections across the city, and at least one artist and several arts patrons, perished in the quake. The Haitian government has asked former Culture Minister Daniel Elie to conduct an inventory to determine what is lost.
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Among the biggest losses: one of the most significant private collections of early Haitian art -- 15,000 pieces collected over the past 40 years by Georges Nader and housed at his home and museum, Musee D'Art Nader.
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The pieces included works by Philome Obin and Hector Hyppolite, masters of Haitian art who painted at the Centre d'Art in the 1940s and have influenced generations of artists.
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``They were the founders of Haitian art,'' said Georges Nader's son, also named Georges, who made four trips and spent hours combing through the rubble of the house to salvage what he could of the collection that his father so loved.
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Among the 100 or so pieces he was able to rescue: several primitive landscapes and a playful self-portrait by Obin, who painted himself in the 1950s standing next to his ``dedicated friend,'' Georges Nader.
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Several pieces by Hyppolite, considered Haiti's leading artist, were pulled from the debris. Haitian art is alive with rich color, yet every piece that was rescued is coated with dust and grime. Several on cardboard were ripped in half or suffered gouges. The younger Nader hopes to find restoration experts in the United States or Canada, but he fears art restoration will not be a priority as the country struggles to feed and house the hundreds of thousands made homeless by the earthquake.
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``My parents survived, that's the important thing,'' he said, noting that his parents -- both 79 -- had decided to retire to their bedroom for a nap when the quake struck. The bedroom was the only part of the house that survived. The Nader Gallery in nearby Pétionville, which carries some traditional work, but mostly contemporary Haitian art, survived the earthquake with hardly a single frame askew. A month ago, the multistory gallery was the site of an exhibit of the works of the old masters.
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``They were all here and they might have made it,'' Nader smiled ruefully, gesturing to the artwork that hangs brightly on the gallery walls. ``We returned them to my dad's just three weeks ago.''

The Waterloo Center for the Arts in Iowa, which has the largest public collection of Haitian art in the United States, is setting up a relief fund and serving as a clearinghouse for information about the lost art and affected artists, said Cammie Scully, the museum's executive director.
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The museum has contacted some artists but believes at least one compound was hard hit.
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``With unemployment at 85 percent, art has been one of the ways people have been able to make money,'' Scully said. ``A lot of people are taking care of extended families through the arts. It's an unbelievably creative culture.''
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Some artwork that hung in Haiti's now collapsed presidential palace has been pulled from the rubble, but not the most significant piece -- a painting by the French neoclassical painter Guillaume Guillon Lethiere. The painting had recently been rehung after being restored at the Louvre, Alexis said.
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Haitian artist Phillipe Dodard's Culture Creation Foundation, which promotes arts in the schools, lost its offices -- and 18 years of work, Dodard said. But Dodard, whose work has met with international acclaim, said he was grieving the loss of the murals at the Episcopal cathedral, dozens of colonial-era gingerbread houses and the Nader collection.
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``All those major artists, we don't have them anymore,'' he said of the old masters. ``Haitian culture isn't just buildings and art, it's people. But this is like losing part of our memory.''
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Haitian artists also lost a leading arts patron and collector with the death of Carmel Delatour, 85. Her private collection -- which included works by some of Haiti's most significant artists -- was lost in the earthquake, and son Lionel said he's uncertain if any of her sons will continue her work.
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Still, Delatour said, he believes artists, like the country, will rebound.
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``I have no doubt the creativity of the Haitian people will not have been extinguished by this event,'' he said. Indeed, as soon as the dust settled -- and international reporters and relief workers began landing in the country -- street vendors were back at work, selling paintings, steel sculptures and vivid flags beaded with various Vodou spirits.
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But Jeanguy Saintus, the founder and artistic director of a dance school, Artcho Danse, and a dance troupe, Cie Ayikodans, said he is running short on optimism. The gingerbread house on a quiet tree-lined street in Pétionville that houses his school and studio is still standing, but the back wall threatens to peel away. Parents are pulling students out of class to leave for the United States and Canada. Most of his troupe -- six drummers and 10 dancers -- lost their homes. His principal dancer, Linda Francois, is leaving shortly for the Dominican Republican to stay with a sister. She promises to return.
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``The arts in Haiti, particularly dance, have always been like a catastrophe, chaos,'' Saintus said, noting there is no government and little private support for dance. ``People think you are crazy to do professional dance in Haiti.'' But over 22 years, Saintus has built a respected troupe of Haitian-born, Haitian-trained dancers. One dancer, Vitolio Jeune, was a recent contestant on the hit American TV show So You Think You Can Dance. Cie Ayikodans has performed around the world, proving to audiences in Amsterdam and at Carnegie Hall that Haiti is more than political turmoil and poverty. It is movement and heart and joy.
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The scope of the damage to the school -- and the uncertainty -- threaten to sap Saintus' resolve.
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``I want to be positive, I want to be optimistic, but I can't say everything is going to be all right, because I just don't know,'' he said, sitting on the porch steps, outside the studio. ``No one knows.''
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Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this report

Recycling and Imagination Inspire Haitian Artistis

Ghetto Biennale:
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BY RICHARD FLEMING Special to The Miami Herald
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PORT-AU-PRINCE -- On the Boulevard Jean Jacques Dessalines stands an enormous sculpture of Papa Legba, the vodou spirit guardian of entryways and crossroads. Some 25 feet high, it has been welded together from an abandoned truck chassis, with its head a battered oil drum. The rusty giant is an incongruous sight among the bustling street vendors and small businesses crowding this busy street in Haiti's capital. Behind Papa Legba are more sculptures, an uncountable tangle assembled from chunks of carved wood, ironing boards, car parts, lengths of scrap fabric, even human skulls. This army of gargoyles, most representations of the pantheon of African lwa still so present in the spiritual life of this country, are the work of the sculptors of the Grand Rue, a loose collective of artists born and raised in the dense slums here.
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Their work is a spectacular combination of recycling and imagination. Although drawn from the same deep well of Afro-Caribbean culture as
traditionally exported examples of Haitian art, it looks nothing like them.
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``When we first started going around the neighborhood and collecting stuff in order to work, people said we were crazy,'' says Céleur Jean Herard. `They said, `Look at all these useless metal parts they are taking.'Really, it was a struggle not to be discouraged.''
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Herard and André Eugene, the Papa Legba sculptor, pioneered the Grand Rue phenomenon. Both once worked within the traditional economy of this neighborhood of artisans, carving wooden ashtrays, candy bowls and statuettes. Such tourist trinkets are still mass produced here for export to more popular Caribbean vacation destinations. The slum's narrow cinderblock alleys are filled with the sound of hammering and the scent of varnish.
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This shared past spent struggling on the handicraft production line may be one reason why the sculptors of the Grand Rue are adamant that their work be taken as fine art, not compartmentalized as ``ethnic'' or ``outsider.'' Behind his sculpture garden, André Eugene lives in what he calls the E. Pluri Bus Unum Museum, three small rooms crowded with neighborhood art. Eugene says that after traveling to galleries and museums around the world, he was struck that only the wealthy seemed to build arts institutions and determine what should hang in them. In Haiti the exhibition and selling of art has generally been dominated by the tiny upper-class *boujwazi*.
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``I had the idea of making a museum here in my own area, with my own hands, because the artists you see here never had their own thing. They always let the Big Man exploit them,'' Eugene says. With similar intentions, the Grand Rue sculptors spent three weeks in November and December hosting the first Ghetto Biennale. Assisted by two outside curators, they used the Internet to solicit project proposals from
international artists and selected 35 from more than 100 applications. But instead of bringing completed artworks, as at a traditional biennial, the chosen artists were asked to create work in the Grand Rue environment. For many, the harsh realities of life in a Caribbean slum meant completely reformulating their ideas. London-based Jesse Darling had wanted to build ``a trash church,'' a sacred space made of found materials.
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``When I got to Grand Rue, the first thought was, `Well, what is waste
here?' '' Darling says. ``Every little fan grate, every little nothing has
been reincorporated into the structure of someone's home, the structure of somebody's life, reused, made to work again.'' Forced to reconsider her materials, she ultimately used hundreds of the tiny, discarded plastic sachets in which small servings of fresh water are sold on the streets. Hugo Moro, a Cuban-born artist based in Miami, says that despite a familiar Caribbean feeling he recognized from trips to Cuba and the Dominican Republic, Haiti was a shock.
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``It was a kind of terror,'' he says. ``The Grand Rue was definitely a
mind-blowing, unexpected level of poverty.'' Moro quickly realized that even the modest materials he had brought along were inappropriate for the environment. He describes his project, *7,000 Trees for Haiti*, as a version of the famous *7,000 Oaks* project by Joseph Beuys, the late pioneer of social-environmental artworks.
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``I see it like somebody going to the Louvre 100 years ago and copying the masters.'' Moro says. ``I'm taking Joseph Beuys and attempting to recreate his piece for the Antilles.'' Haiti, he says, ``is the most obvious place to do a reforestation-based piece of work.'' Moro sees the time he spent in Port-au-Prince as the beginning of a long-term relationship. To continue it he is collaborating with the Lambi Fund of Haiti, a grass-roots not-for-profit dedicated, among other things,
to environmental causes.
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Building long-term links with artists outside of Haiti was undoubtedly one
of the goals of this unique take on an art expo, even though Eugene, Herard and other Grand Rue artists have now traveled to show their work in Paris and London and, notably, at Florida International University's Frost Art Museum. Whether those connections will sustain is a question that may have to wait two years, until the next Ghetto Biennale. But especially after the recent influx of visiting artists from around the globe, nobody in the neighborhood calls the Grand Rue artists crazy anymore.

Haitian Designer Turns Busted Umbrellas into Luxury Goods

BY Elizabeth Lazarowitz
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
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Most New Yorkers are moaning about the soggy summer weather, but for Catherine Charlot all those
clouds have a silver lining.
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The Haitian-born, Carroll Gardensbased
designer turns discarded umbrellas into boutique-ready bags and clothing,and blustery, wet days have meant a broken-umbrella bonanza.
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"I'm so happy. I wish it could rain every day," said Charlot, 44, who immigrated to Brooklyn in 1994
and has spent most of her time in Marine
Park"I'm thinking of moving to
Portland just for that."
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After big storms, Charlot scours her neighborhood for material. Last week, just two days of searching on her way to and from work yielded nearly 20
busted umbrellas from garbage cans and off the streets.
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"This year I've collected more than ever," said Charlot, who now has about 425 umbrellas in her basement-level studio ready to be transformed.
The damp weather couldn't have come at a better time, because demand for her products is picking up.
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"People like it because it's waterproof and of course recycled," said Jean Tanler of New York City made goods retailer Local Labels, which sold Charlot's totes at a kiosk in Grand Central Terminal
this summer and also took in old umbrellas for her to convert. "I do think a lot of people are more environmentally aware."
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Charlot's handbag line ranges from simple black tote bags that she decorates with paint or embroidery to evening bags fashioned from patterned umbrella fabrics. Prices range from $18 to $100. Jackets, dresses and suits cost $150 to $300.
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While selling anything in such bleak economic times is tough, green goods have a growing cachet and give shoppers a reason to stop and look, said Candace Corlett president of New York based retail research firm WSL Strategic Retail "Recycled everything has an audience," Corlett said. "A third of shoppers tell us that they'll go out of their way to buy earth-friendly products."
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Charlot had a busy clothing business in
Haiti but pushed that aside when she moved here and began doing medical billing and French translation work. In 2002, she returned to fashion full-time, launching Himane, a custom clothing, pattern and sample-making business, but she longed to find her own niche.
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Four years ago, she decided to try making water-resistant but fashionableclothing and accessories after getting drenched in a rainstorm. Water­proof
fabrics proved to be pricey, so when she stumbled across an old umbrella in her closet, a light bulb went off.
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"You see them on the street all the time," she said. "You can take an old umbrella and turn it into something nice and beautiful." Charlot admitted Dumpster diving has its hazards. Once while digging in a sidewalk garbage can for an appealingly patterned umbrella, she was mistaken
for a homeless person by a well-meaning woman who offered her lunch.
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Charlot said she's surprised at how excited people get when they realize something that seems unusable can find a new purpose. One woman brought her
50 umbrellas she'd collected over the years and was reluctant to toss. "It's amazing the way people react to this."

Haitian Art in the Diapsora

“Here… There and Beyond” The Work of 16 Haitian Artists of Florida
By: Christian Nicolas and Fred Thomas
.
The book presents a collective effort to define this new breed of artists in the Haitian Diaspora and to provide them the means to access mainstream art world. Each chapter is divided in several themes. Each artist’s biography, styles and art work are presented to give the reader an interesting
insight about the man or woman behind the brush and the canvas.
.
2009, 328pp, Perfect Binding, Hard Cover
ISBN: 9781584325314
.
The cover can be seen at
_http://www.educavision.com/catalog.php?c=28&b=B520_
(http://www.educavision.com/catalog.php?c=28&b=B520)

Haiti's Talented Artists Touch the World (USAID/July 2009)

Port-Au-Prince, Haiti—Music and art are part of the fabric of life in Haiti, whose creations are found in galleries of world capitals and sold on street corners of Port-au-Prince. Oil paintings, wood carvings, metal sculptures, Compás music. They all grow out of the long history of African and Caribbean influences nurtured over the centuries.
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Haitian painting depicting the nation’s colorful tropical landscape. Haitian painting depicting the nation’s colorful tropical landscape. A riot of colors is everywhere.
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They adorn the Tap-Tap painted trucks that transport Haitians through crowded streets. A kaleidoscope of art and messages abound with whimsy as well as religious themes as murals on dilapidated walls left by anonymous artists.
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Music of Haiti and its Caribbean region has shaped the world’s tastes. It is always in the background in Haiti but emerges in its own right mostly at night, when the noises of the day diminish.
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To tap into the creative talent of Haiti and use it as a catalyst for economic growth, USAID has partnered with Aid to Artisans (ATA), spreading Haitian art and music beyond this island nation.
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Einstein Albert’s woodworking skill in crafting bowls has found outlets in such high-end retailers as Nieman Marcus. He is one of many who benefitted from an ATA/USAID grant.
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When asked how he got his name, Albert smiled in anticipation of the question. He came from a family of musically talented siblings.
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He was the last child and his parents thought his name would destine him for celebrity. This was perhaps not a matter of pure whimsy since high schools on the island have been named after John Paul Sartre, Sir Isaac Newton, and Immanuel Kant. Applying the names of geniuses may be seen as a way to encourage genius.
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Albert uses the wood from the obeechi tree for his bowls and has a plantation of 22,000 trees to sustain his enterprise. “Obeechi is a soft wood,” he explains, “so it can’t be used for charcoal.” It is also a fast growing tree that makes it ideal for soil reclamation and redeeming the deforested hillsides that afflict so many people with mud slides, flooding, and erosion.
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He would like to see the tree more widely planted and exploited for commercial purposes—furniture making, for example. The Haiti MarChe Project builds local skills and links producers with regional and international buyers. Those links were severely damaged when the United States imposed a comprehensive trade embargo on Haiti in the 1990s to force a return to constitutional government.
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Small scale exporters were devastated, Albert said. MarChe also targeted the tourism sector by getting local talent better known in hotels and resorts throughout the region.
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Over the past 10 years, ATA efforts have produced $230 million in retail sales, helping 125,000 artisans—70 percent of whom are women—sell products in 41 regions of the world.

Haiti's Wild, Redeeming Metal Art (Stephen Puddicombe - CBC)

Haiti is known for its devastating hurricanes, violent political clashes and crippling poverty. But there is a village on this island country that is also becoming known around the world for its art, unusual art at that.
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Sculptor Jean Eddy Remy, president of the artists and artisans association of Croix-des-Bouquets. Sculptor Jean Eddy Remy, president of the artists and artisans association of Croix-des-Bouquets. (CBC)
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Artists here are recycling old metal oil drums and transforming them into everything from landscapes to mythological sea creatures.
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Their products are not only visually stunning. There is a rhythm to their creation that can stop the visitor cold.
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About an hour out of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, you can hear it, the soft, sometimes frantic pounding of metal. Turn down the small dusty dirt road leading to the village of Noailles and you see them squatting under umbrella-like shade trees, pounding and chiselling their metal canvases, turning what once was tossed into ditches to rust into art.
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CBC reporter Stephen Puddicombe's video of the Haitian artists' colony can be seen here. (Runs 2:26)
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There are almost two hundred metal artists in this small community, practising an art form that has been around since the 1950s. Metal sculptor Jean Eddy Rémy, the president of the association of artists and artisans of Croix-des-Bouquets, says this artist colony owes its existence to a simple blacksmith, Georges Liautaud.
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In his time, Liautaud constructed simple metal crosses for the graves in his village because so many Haitians couldn't afford headstones. With the help of an American teacher, the blacksmith would create decorative metal sculptures that went on to shape the sensibilities of a whole generation of imitators.
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Each work is unique, Rémy says, crafted by hand with a few simple tools and whatever is at hand. Dried banana or sugar cane is first placed inside the oil drum and set on fire to burn away any impurities.
With a minumum wage of only about $2 a day, recycling scrap metal has become a grinding way of life for many in Haiti. (Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press)With a minumum wage of only about $2 a day, recycling scrap metal has become a grinding way of life for many in Haiti. (Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press)
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Once cooled, the artisan flattens the drum with a hammer, pounding it into a metal canvas. Then they often use chalk to sketch a design. Salvaging metal for some secondary use has been both a blessing and a curse in this poor, benighted country.
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But here in Noailles, on the west coast, the magic seems to come in a flurry of hammer and chisel strokes as these artists create everything from large suns to sea goddesses and luminous Haitian landscapes.
Each work has a three-dimensional quality, courtesy of the bumps and hammer marks. Most are coated with varnish, a few are painted, but many are left to rust in places to heighten the effect.
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Metal art has helped this area in many ways, says artist Jean Bruneau. Apart from the almost 200 artists in the community, there are hundreds more selling the work in the larger centres and more still gathering the unwanted drums.
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Economically and socially, this work has changed the village and the region, Bruneau says. Its importance to Haiti's reputation abroad has even helped them get the ear of government. Measure twice, cut once. Haitian metal artists in Noailles examine a canvas. (CBC)Measure twice, cut once. Haitian metal artists in Noailles examine a canvas. (CBC)
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Buyers of Haiti's metal art include Canada's Governor General, Michaëlle Jean as well as Hollywood celebrities Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The artists' association is currently preparing for exhibits in France and Los Angeles.
,
But for many of those here, the real importance of their work is how it has changed their lives. His fingers taped with small bandages, Felix Calixte sits beside the yellow wall of the artists co-op, gently pounding a piece of metal that he holds steady with his feet.
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He grew up in the slums in Port-au-Prince and says that before he became an artist he was in school only when his parents could afford it. He likely would have grown up poor and in a gang, he says. But he happened to see the metal artists at one point and began the long apprenticeship of learning how to seek out the best drums and mould the steel sheets.
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The metal called him, he says. And his life was changed.

best gallery

Been buying art from www.medalia.net for about 5 years...the best! Extremely honest and dependable.

thank you

Thank you for publishing this post, I am enjoying visiting the links. It is strange how the world and the media in particular, always focus on the negative and, mostly, impersonal aspects of everyone's lives. It is thanks to people like you that we are able to glimpse these hidden creative treasures. We do have a store here in Grenada that sells some Haitian art, your post enables us to enjoy the diversity.

thanks!

This is a good post. its important to point out that Haiti is not simply a disaster zone as is often suggested by the newscasts on cable--

Haiti's irrepressible artists are like Jamaica's musicians...unrelentingly creative. adversity only seems to strengthen their product.

congrats!

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