NPR’s Reese Erlich reports on Haiti’s Resistance Artists (Atis Rezistans), a group of artists, who create huge metal sculptures as a way of protesting and show them on the streets of Port-au-Prince. Their work speaks to the devastation following the 2010 earthquake and the stark separation between the country’s rich and poor. Here are excerpts with the link to the full transcript and broadcast below:
REESE ERLICH: Off a winding, three-foot-wide dirt path next to Port-au-Prince’s main street stand dozens of huge metal sculptures. An eight-foot-tall figure with a long face seems to play an electric keyboard with hands made of coiled springs. A neighborhood child plucks a rubber band on the sculpture and pretends to sing. [. . .] The sculpture was created by Frantz Jacques who goes by the name Guyodo. He is one of Haiti’s most famous found metal artists. He co-founded a movement called Resistance Artists that emerged from the working-class neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince some 12 years ago. Guyodo uses pliers and scissors to assemble everything from radiators to human skulls into sculptures. He hauls hunks of metal out to a street corner and rents welding equipment from workmen who normally repair cars.
Just around the corner, through another series of narrow dirt alleyways, an empty lot is filled with more metal sculptures. Andre Eugene, one of the other founders of Resistance Artists, shows off a six-foot-high snake, a representation of a voodoo deity. In Haiti, voodoo is recognized as a legitimate religion, and Eugene says it has a bigger cultural impact than Christianity.
[. . .] UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Voodoo is an integral part of Haitian culture, so I use it in my work. It’s not that I’m inspired by voodoo. It’s just part of the landscape of Haiti, so it’s also in the work.
ERLICH: The Resistance Artists’ voodoo-tinged themes always dealt with death as a normal cycle of life. [. . .] Perhaps a way of showing the power of death. But that power took on new meaning after the 2010 earthquake which killed an estimated 316,000 people.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: After the earthquake, they had to rescue people under the rubble. And the people being pulled under the rubble looked just like sculptures.
OXA LEATO: What they produced right after the earthquake, of course, would have been different because we were all in a very big shock.
ERLICH: Oxa Leato(ph) owns an art gallery in the hillside suburb of Petion-Ville. She says the Resistance Artists focus on Haiti’s problems, along with their avant-garde style, makes them unpopular with the country’s wealthy art collectors. Few Haitians buy their work and, in turn, the artists hold the Haitian elite in contempt. Leato says the mere act of living and creating work in the streets is a form of resistance, hence, the group’s name.
[. . .] UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The Haitian people, they resist – they’re people that have a lot of resistance. And the artists, they’re the Vanguard. They express that existence in the work. The art is expressed by the people doing it.
For full transcript, see http://www.npr.org/2013/04/14/177244415/street-artists-protest-status-quo-in-haiti
[Photo: A Haitian man walks past a sculpture made with a human skull at the Atis-Rezistans street museum in Port-au-Prince (February 15, 2010. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado).]