USA Today has published this article about how the earthquake has impacted Haitian artists.
For days, Hugues Larose lay quietly in his bunk aboard the Navy hospital ship Comfort, asking little of his doctors and nurses, a peaceful soul aboard a vessel echoing with the cries of shattered, tormented people.
Larose was one of the first patients brought aboard the Comfort when it reached Port-au-Prince eight days after the Jan. 12 earthquake. After a few days on board, he asked for a pencil and paper “to give birth to my thoughts.” Using the aluminum clipboard hanging beside his bed, he began to sketch a woman crushed by a telephone pole, a survivor sitting dazed in the street, limbs jutting from pancaked buildings, frantic people pouring into the streets, and ships, including the Comfort, anchored offshore.
“My fingers are influenced by the earthquake, all collapsed houses and dead,” Larose says. “Survivors look so different.”
In an instant, the simple black-and-white sketch carried the Comfort’s doctors and nurses ashore to witness the immediate aftermath of le tremblement de terre— “the trembling of the earth” — that in a few minutes flattened Haiti’s densely populated capital, killing 250,000 people and injuring more. It allowed them to experience the tragedy, not through a camera lens, but through the eyes of a survivor who happened to be an artist.
“We had no idea that he was an artist of that caliber. Nor did we have any idea of the visions in his head,” says Lt. Sam Harris, one of his nurses.
The role of the artist in Haitian society
Larose’s visions, and those of other artists caught up in the quake, represent the first tremor of a cultural aftershock that will influence Haitian art for generations, says Duke University professor Laurent Dubois. In Haiti, a country with so many illiterate people, visual art is an urgent and potent form of communication, Dubois says, layered with symbols of slavery, the fight for independence, poverty, the entwined spiritual traditions of Haitian voodoo and Catholicism — and now the earthquake.
Artists will inevitably play a critical role in rebuilding Haiti after the earthquake, too, he says. “Artists remind people they have common connections and roots. They remind people that Haiti’s still there, even though its buildings are gone.”
When the earthquake struck, Larose was working on a canvas. “I was ending a painting in the yard of my house, sheltered from a wall, when suddenly I heard a heavy noise and everything was shaking,” he says. “I knew it was an earthquake. I was going to move when the wall collapsed … my leg was broken and so was my clavicle. I saw my little son Steven and Jefferson (a cousin “I consider as my son”) under cinder bricks. I saw a white cloud.”
Fortunately, Larose says, his wife, Foufoune, their son Stanley and Jefferson’s mother, Junia, were wedged in a doorway and were uninjured. Jefferson and Steven suffered head injuries; both survived and are back in school. A friend suggested Larose try to make his way to the Comfort. “Since my childhood, I wanted to get in a helicopter, but not in that way. Not as a patient,” he says.
Time passed slowly as he waited in Ward 3 Forward for surgery on his broken right leg. Dozens of patients with catastrophic injuries went first. He didn’t complain, Harris says. “I did not say a word,” Larose says. “I concentrated on myself.”
People ‘wanted to be near him’
After Larose revealed himself as an artist, a special relationship blossomed between Larose and members of the Comfort’s crew, according to interviews with doctors and nurses and Larose himself, who is reunited with his family and was able to answer questions for this story via e-mail.
Doctors and nurses accustomed to tragedy began visiting Larose, to talk to him and to watch him work, says Lt. Cmdr. Mark Lynch. “People sought him out and wanted to be near him,” he says. “At some point, we had to begin turning away visitors. That’s how much he affected people.”
Even Capt. James Ware, the hospital’s commanding officer, moved by the sketches, went to see him. He likens the pictures to those drawn by children who survived the Hiroshima bomb. “I knew immediately they would speak of the Haiti tragedy to Haitian children for generations to come.” Larose left the Comfort 17 days after he arrived. His right leg has healed. His collarbone is another story, the fracture still visible under his skin. He’s struggling to eke out a living by painting, propping his easel near the family’s cramped quarters in a battered van parked in the district of Carrefour.
His work draws praise from experts in Haitian art. Bill Bollendorf, owner of Galerie Macondo in Pittsburgh, says Larose’s paintings are “original and emotional, and his technique is very good.”
For Lynch, Larose’s drawings remain a vivid link to Haiti’s earthquake and his experience of caring for survivors. “He’s one of the folks from the Comfort who stay on my mind,” he says. “I open up his drawings frequently. For some reason, it gives me comfort to look at them. It lets me know he’s OK.”
The original article can be found at http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-05-13-Haitiartist13_ST_N.htm