Tuesday, January 12th will live in infamy as a date of great historical importance in Haiti. It has been almost a week since that afternoon when a devastating earthquake leveled much of Port-au-Prince and surrounding cities in Haiti, leaving millions of people homeless and injured, with countless others dead. The news reports from all television stations are heartbreaking and compelling in equal measure, with stories and pictures of human suffering on a scale so large it is hard to fathom.
With telephone lines down and computers unable to make contact with people in Haiti, waiting became the name of the game for relatives and loved ones of Haitians outside the country., myself included. The state of unknowingness is particularly painful when punctuated by yet another news story about a collapsing concrete building.
There is some good news to report about those who survived this catastrophe. My friend Lange Rosner, who lives with his wife and children in Croix-des-Bouquets near Port-au-Prince, made it, as did his family. The same is true for Axelle Liautaud, whose Gingerbread Gallery in Miami, Florida and Petionville, Haiti has a long and storied reputation for selling outstanding Haitian art in all media. She and I worked together co-curating “Allegories of Haitian Life from the Jonathan Demme Collection,” an exhibition of art from the personal collection of filmmaker Demme, who made the movies “Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia,” among many others.
Since I live surrounded and nourished by Haitian art every day of my life, I cannot help but wonder and worry about the fate of so many artist including great Vodou flag makers Myrlande Constant, Georges Valris, Yves Telemaque, Lerisson Dubreus, and Mireille Delice. They all live in Port-au-Prince. I know that Maxon Jean Louis, a wonderful painter, is alive because his cousin, another terrific artist and Miami, Florida resident named Eric Jean Louis, told me so. But Eric’s brother Henri Jean Louis, who is also a fine painter, and their mother, haven’t been heard from as yet. What about so many others, including Gerard Fortune or La Fortune Felix who lives in St. Marc? Only time will tell.
Remarkable stories continue to make the rounds of media. Byron Pitts of CBS-TV was asked about moments of his experience in Haiti that he will never forget. He spoke this morning of people’s limbs being amputated by rusty hacksaws in the hospital, an idea so horrific as to defy comprehension. And then he mentioned a scene of transcendent union among the patients of that same hospital who began to sing in unison the Haitian national anthem. The Haitians are artists like no other in the world and people of remarkable strength. I hope that they finally begin to get the respect for these and other things that they so justly deserve.
In the weeks, months, and years ahead, one cannot help but hope and pray that the generosity of the world toward Haiti isn’t just a temporary gesture of goodwill in the face of disaster but a long-term commitment to getting the country back on its feet. Once that is accomplished, and people are decently housed, fed and employed to a degree that has never been seen before in Haiti, it will be time to address the question of cultural preservation.
Along that line, I am nervous to know what happened to the museums and galleries in Port-au–Prince, where the visual legacy of the nation is housed. Are they standing? Is any of the art able to be retrieved and saved? And what about the libraries and the colleges? The Saint Trinity Episcopal Church with the Biblical murals created by Wilson Bigaud, Gabriel Leveque, Castera Bazile, Rigaud Benoit, Toussaint Auguste and three other artists is a source of wonder, painted in the late 1940s under the direction of the late author Selden Rodman. Is this handsome edifice with its priceless treasures still standing?
To help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, there are certain charities I recommend including the Children of Haiti Enhancement Foundation at
www.cohef.org, founded fifteen years ago by Elsie Craig, a Haitian-American in Miami, Florida. She emailed me today that the schools that her non-profit charity supports in Kenscoff, Haiti were destroyed by the earthquake, leaving the students and teachers homeless. Judy Hoffman, who owns a marketing firm in Lake Worth, Florida, runs a charity for children with art emphasis in Jacmel, Haiti. While this city twenty miles from Port-au-Prince has sustained extensive damage, the art school is intact, though students and staff are sleeping in the streets with nowhere else to call home. To donate to Judy’s charity, visit the website www.artforhaitichildren.org.
Other worthy organizations to receive donations are Doctors without Borders because their hospitals in the capital of Haiti were destroyed, Food for the Poor, Americares, and the new non-governmental foundation established by the coming together of two former U.S. Presidents — Bill Clinton and George Bush. It is called
www.ClintonBushHaitiFund.org. Pray for Haiti.