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Vibrant Haitian Art Vanishes in the Dust

Lesley Clark / The Miami Herald

January 26, 2010

Men walk past a mural of voodoo representations of death in Port-au-Prince,
Haiti, on Wednesday, January 20, 2010. CAROLYN COLE / MCT

Port-au-Prince, Haiti – 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.

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.

“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.”

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.

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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