Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The humanizing power of art and Haiti's calamitous losses

A moving article on the front page of today's New York Times describes the impact of the loss of so much of Haiti's cultural heritage. This is the first Times article that describes the destruction, not only of the Roman Catholic cathedral, but also the Episcopal Church’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, with its celebrated murals depicting Biblical characters as black people. Here is an excerpt:

"The earthquake on Jan. 12 has caused untold suffering and has taken tens of thousands of lives... The pain of the cultural loss cannot compare. But in stealing symbols that gave Haitians their hope and grandeur and reminders of a common purpose, the earthquake cast a different kind of shadow over their future.

" 'Of course, we should care about the people first,' said Axelle Liautaud, an art dealer who has been trying to save what is left of the (Episcopal cathedral) murals. 'But the reason why there is still a country, despite all our troubles, is our strong culture.'

"The landscape of the capital was in tatters long before this month’s disaster, and many markers of the country’s past had been looted and destroyed during the political upheavals that racked the country in recent decades. But Haiti has always clung to its history, the struggle to break the bonds of slavery and become the world’s first independent black republic, even if its governments have not done all they could to preserve that legacy. Its vibrant arts scene celebrated the country’s creation, and its public buildings sought to capture the elegance of a past that Haitians held onto though political trauma, staggering violence and a string of natural disasters....

"At an art center that played a crucial role in making Haitian paintings known around the world, the damage was severe. Across the capital on Thursday, an artist raised his two bandaged hands in the air and let out a sound that was half sob, half roar. More than his physical injuries, what seemed to pain the man, Paul Jude Camelot, a student at the École Nationale des Arts, was the damage to his latest creation, a painting of the universe that had had a clay sculpture representing life growing out of the center. 'That’s about all I had left,' he said.

To read the rest of the article, click here