The earthquake in Haiti has left the country in ruins. Amidst a tragedy of such devastating scope, one of the most poignant losses is the blow to the nation’s art.
Tracy Wilkinson of the Los Angeles Times draws attention to this under-reported aspect of the crisis. Haiti’s main art museum College Saint Pierre is located in Port-Au-Prince, the capital city that was hit hardest by the earthquake two weeks ago. Like much of the rest of the city, the museum was left in ruins, many of its prize pieces destroyed.
Joseph Gaspard, who serves on the board of the museum, struggles to put the loss into words:
“Haitian art is what makes the international eye see us,” he said. “Every Haitian is an artist. Art, it is us, it’s what we are. Even our children are artists.”
Haiti’s art was essential to its cultural identity. Despite being an extremely poor country, Haiti was host to a thriving art scene. Works celebrated the country’s history, geography, and culture: from traditional banners to elaborate statues. Now, much of that work has been destroyed. Since the earthquake, museums and galleries have struggled to find out how many artists have been killed or wounded. Only about half have been accounted for.
“It is difficult to talk about saving art when we must save lives,” said painter Maritou Chenet, whose oldest friends were killed in the disaster. But art is such an integral part of Haitian life that the works must be protected, she said, even as the buildings housing them are demolished.
Yet out of tragedy, art will help the city rebuild itself. Haitian artist Frantz Zephirin, whose work appears on the cover of last week’s New Yorker, has already completed his latest painting.
“I wanted to show Haitians in a sea of blood,” Zephirin said. But amid the hands in the sea of blood, Zephirin has painted “Haiti will reborn.”
I highly recommend reading the whole article; it is both devastating and inspiring:
Haiti: A cultural agony in a nation where art is life
Darcy Zacharias, CC ’10