Monthly Archives: January 2010

Saving Haiti’s Artistic History

An email today from Frazier Meade sounds the alarm for urgent action in regard to Le Centre d’Art, the Port-au-Prince launching pad of many artistic careers from Hector Hyppolite and Rigaud Benoit to Jorelus Joseph, and what may be left of the Saint Trinity Church, also in the city, and home to many irreplaceable wall murals with a Biblical theme. He is reaching out to non-profit organizations, embassies in the U.S., Canada, and France, galleries, collectors, and individuals to help safeguard what art is left in both locations with an eye to long-term conservation and preservation.

Meade is working in partnership with Axelle Liautaud, whose celebrated art gallery in Petionville excited many collectors over the years. On January 21st, she posted this email: “I am very confident that we will get the fence and security for the Centre tomorrow or the day after. But I doubt with the quantities of displaced persons that we can find a tarp of the dimensions needed. We are also trying to find amongst the crew that are here for some tarps that are not being used, so they help retrieve the art at the Center and put it in the storage area of the museum. Funds need to be raised soon for the preservation of our culture. This is not a futile battle. People who have been hurt the way we have been are going to need the help of their culture to go on living.”

The good news is that fundraising toward these buildings and artwork has begun. Already Pan American Projects is raising money for the re-building of Le Centre d’Art. To donate, visit the website

–Candice Russell


Stories of Hope

Long-time Haitian human rights advocate, Haitian art collector and filmmaker Jonathan Demme spoke to CNN-TV’s Alina Cho this week about his love for the country so eviscerated by the recent earthquake. He made two documentaries in Haiti, including “Haiti: Dreams of Democracy” about the fall of Baby Doc Duvalier’s regime in the mid-1980s. With Jonathan’s permission, I was proud to host a showing of the film at Books and Books, an independent bookstore in Coral Gables, Florida many years ago, along with a discussion afterward. In the audience that night was Dr. Paul Farmer, another passionate advocate for Haiti. We gave all the proceeds to Dr. Farmer, who was going to Haiti the next day to set up a hospital.

Demme says he plans to go to Haiti within six months to a year to make another film about Haiti and its recovery from the event that decimated Jacmel, Leogane and too much of Port-au-Prince. His own personal collection of Haitian art was shown in Miami Beach at the Bass Museum several years ago in a show I co-curated with Axelle Liautaud called “Allegories of Haitian Life from the Jonathan Demme Collection.” He has some marvelous, irreplaceable paintings and sculptures, including all the masters like Georges Liautaud and Hector Hyppolite among many others. I hope that Jonathan explores the artistic side of Haiti in this new era of recovery.

Another hopeful story comes from a charity based in Boca Raton, Florida, which revived a tiny school in Cite Soleil, a Port-au-Prince slum in the fall of 2009. It had closed due to lack of funds. Annette Scalzo, a middle school teacher, and Reverend Gary Guerrier, a Baptist minister, are the co-founders of the Children’s Project for Haiti. They found the means to re-open the school serving the poorest of the poor in Haiti. While the school survived the earthquake, the children need help. To contribute, visit the web site or send a check through the mail to: The Children’s Project for Haiti, P.O. Box 810962, Boca Raton, Florida 33481-0962.

–Candice Russell

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Stories of Help and Survival in Haiti

Did you see the wonderful televised benefit last Friday night for the earthquake in Haiti? With singers like Rihanna, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Haitian-born Emeline Michel, the event raised $58 million, a figure that will increase from sales of downloaded music and CDs. The world is finally paying attention to Haiti, which has suffered so much.

Yet there is still no word on so many people, including the artists who make Haitian paintings, Vodou flags, and metal crafts that are the visual ambassadors for this country. With this fact in mind, I am personally donating 10 per cent of all sales on my website in 2010 to earthquake relief in Haiti.

For those interested in up-to-date news, CNN on TV is doing a better job than any other news organization. Christiane Amanpour devoted the full hour of her Sunday afternoon program to Haiti and reported from that country in a live transmission. She interviewed the president of the International Monetary Fund and the head of the United Nations Mission in Haiti about the country’s eventual redevelopment, as well as Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat, who lives in Miami, Florida.

Here’s an important tip, courtesy of CNN: if you want to check out streets and neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince, the TV network has a 360-degree camera (actually, eleven cameras shot the images) that can be adjusted up or down. Log on to a computer and type in “” and look around.

A friend asked me if she could help someone directly. An art dealer who lives in Haiti named Bazil Justin did manage to survive. I received an email from him, describing a trip to the Dominican Republic for food. He is with sixty people, all of whom need help. To contact him directly, his cellphone number is 011-509-3-829-518-9291.

Amazing stories of survival continue to come out of Haiti, as they will for months and years ahead. National Public Radio aired an interview with Romel Joseph, a Juilliard Music School-trained violinist and head of a music school in Port-au-Prince with 238 students. Thankfully, all of the students were off the premises during the time of the earthquake on January 12th. But Joseph and five other people were on site. This almost totally musician lost his pregnant wife to the tragedy. Ironically, the earthquake occurred ten years to the day that the school had burned down in the year 2000.

Joseph, interviewed at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami where he is recovering from injuries to his hands, was trapped under the rubble for many hours. Prayer and meditation occupied some of his time, but the bulk of it was devoted to mentally playing different concertos. Music got him through. He is confident that he will paly violin again and be able to teach once more. “The school is a very important part of my life,” says Joseph. “Haiti has very little art education and music. We’re going to reconstruct the school as soon as possible. I need more than an earthquake to stop my work in Haiti.”

— Candice Russell

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Help for Haiti

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, 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

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 Pray for Haiti.

–Candice Russell

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Shamanic Thoughts for the New Year

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A friend, Haitian art collector and customer visited my home today in order to purchase a superb Vodou flag by master artist Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph. She mentioned how she arranges her collection of small to medium size Vodou flags on a wall in her home and the power that emanates from them. This friend made the connection between the intense spirituality of the flags, which are used in Vodou ceremonies and thought to have considerable influence on the outcome, and shamanism.

When she left, I looked up the meaning of a shaman, a practitioner of shamanism. That person is a medium between the visible and the spirit world, which is the exact definition of a Vodou flag’s function when in spiritual use. Vodou flags are held aloft on poles held by special celebrants and “danced” around the Vodou temple, in order to make contact with the unseen pantheon of the spirits. That is why flags are glittering and beautiful, to attract and honor the spirits. When not in use, flags are folded and carefully laid aside so as to renew their spiritual strength.

Spiritual people of all beliefs profess attraction to the innate qualities of Vodou flags. Erzulie, with her universal symbol of the heart, stands for love of every variety, which accounts for her popularity among collectors. But the masculine spirits, like Grand Bois, the spirit of the forest and a healer, is alluring for others. Explore the qualities of Haitian Vodou flags on my website, where I have written about each one.

–Candice Russell

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