In “Haïti, les peintres de l’espoir” [Haiti, Painters of Hope], Annick Cojean (Le Monde) features Haitian artists in the quake aftermath: Frantz Zéphirin, Henri Jean-Louis, Reynald Joseph, Levoy Exil, Préfète Duffaut, and Pascale Monnin. Frantz Zéphirin, Henri Jean-Louis, and Pascale Monnin have been painting their surroundings, with all the horror and destruction they have witnessed; Reynald Joseph prefers not to dwell on the losses and deaths, but his work has been transformed nonetheless; others, like Levoy Exil and Préfète Duffaut had premonitory dreams, seeing the destruction weeks and days before it struck.
Some of these artists, like Frantz Zéphirin and Henri Jean-Louis, began painting feverishly, immediately after the quake, as a way to process the horror they had just witnessed. In the aftermath of the January 12 disaster, Zéphirin took a painting to Pétionville to gallery owner, Michel Monnin; undoubtedly, the article underlines, the first painting to be produced after the earthquake. The painting, full of eyes—eyes of horses, zebras, giraffes, birds, mermaids, specters, and winged creatures—is “magnetic and inspired.” And it is not the only one; there are five or six more in the making. As Zéphirin says, it is impossible for him to do otherwise: “I can only think of this. The earthquake. I walk in the devastated streets, I drink, I think, and I go back to paint. I do not sleep. I paint. I paint like I breathe.” Also a vodou priest, many mythological aspects are present in his work. In his paintings “leaning over the disaster, spirits and gods, struck [by the event], meet, connect, and merge to find a solution to the problem of Haiti.” Zéphirin feels that the earthquake can act as a catalyst to produce deep and positive change. He also wants to convey a message about treasuring ecological wealth and fighting deforestattion. He wants to point out through his paintings that while houses and buildings were crumbling, the trees remained intact and resisted.
Henri Jean-Louis also returned to the Monnin Gallery wanting to share his sadness and his disarray and bringing a painting that he had begun before the earthquake—one of the market scenes he is fond of painting. A week later, the painter has returned to the gallery with two canvases “post-earthquake.” Haiti and its lush countryside appear covered with tents, stretchers, shrouds, aid from so many countries arriving to help the wounded, and soldiers—a refugee camp. Jean-Louis explains that he feels traumatized and can no longer paint a carefree life. He says, “I want other countries to see the abyss in which Haiti fell. I want future generations to know that we endured exploitations and suffering.”
Reynald Joseph, on the other hand, refuses to paint disaster. Joseph has begun painting a large triptych although his workshop crumbled along with a large amount of his paintings. He explains that in his paintings there will clearly be “a before and an after the earthquake.” “Nothing in my paintings is stable. Everything is precarious in Haiti. Life, buildings, institutions, power. Death [. . .] is our only fixed point. Everything else can fly off at any time.” Although he will not change his usual themes of inspiration–street scenes, marriages, carnival, or markets—“everything will be more shifting, unbalanced, at the edge of chaos.” However, he insists that there is no way he will paint the dead, the wounded, anguish, and death; he prefers to maintain, what he calls, a Haitian a stoicism in the face of misfortune.
Photo (by Jean-Claude Coutausse) of Henri Jean-Louis. The second is a painting by Frantz Zéphirin.
For paintings by the artists mentioned here, see the Galérie Monnin site at http://www.galeriemonnin.com/Artists.html