Continued Fear for the Loss of Haiti’s Cultural Heritage

A recent article in Le Nouvelliste mourns the loss of the Haitian artistic legacy, listing the major losses in this domain. The article begins, “A few colorful pieces are all that remain of the frescoes of the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Port-au Prince. For Toni Monnin, a gallery owner in Haiti, the loss of these frescoes painted by the greatest Haitian artists of their generation is the perfect symbol of the magnitude of the cultural destruction suffered by the country in the earthquake of January 12.  ‘There was an artistic explosion in Haiti that was unique in the world in the aftermath of WWII,’ she explains. ‘This is a country of painters and artists, a phenomenon that only exists here in Haiti.’  The country can undoubtedly be proud of having the highest density of artists in the world, but paradoxically, all the buildings, the history, and the entire cultural heritage of Haiti are in danger.”

Teeluck Bhuwanee, who heads the UNESCO mission in Haiti, says that along with the Ministry of Culture, they are trying to draw attention to the need to protect Haiti’s heritage before it is too late. Many artifacts of the Taíno culture (the pre-Columbian group that existed on the island of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and others) are largely intact because the museum that housed them had them in the basement. However, Bhuwanee says that many sites and objects from later periods, such as those pertaining to the history of slavery and the revolution, did not fare well.  He fears that all this may have been forgotten government’s major reconstruction plan, adding that this plan does not contain “a single dollar for the rebirth of culture in this country.” He stresses that in Port-au-Prince, 30 sites are endangered or have been completely destroyed, for example, the Saint-Louis Roi de France Church, which has already been razed to the ground to make way for the reconstruction.

Although there are more pressing problems for Haitians right now, such as obtaining food, housing, employment, and schooling, Bhuwanee is convinced that Haiti’s rich cultural heritage should be the basis of the development of the country and that this effort in itself could create more jobs. Meanwhile, Monnin is trying to help local artists with whom she works, 90% of which have lost homes and family members.  The art of the great Haitian painters, such as the vodou priest Héctor Hyppolite or Préfète Duffaut (who painted some of the frescoes of the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity and is the only one alive among the leading artists of his generation) is irreplaceable.  She underlines that if it is not possible to reconstruction of Holy Trinity, for example, by finding enough fragments of the frescoes, there are photographs. “Someone can repaint them, we have enough artists. [Perhaps] not to copy, but to paint in the same spirit. It would be a fabulous project.”

For full article (in French), see http://www.lenouvelliste.com/article.php?PubID=1&ArticleID=78685&PubDate=2010-03-20

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