A report by Michael Cavna for the Washington Post.
THIS MONTH marked the eighth anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti, affecting millions and killing tens of thousands. Each anniversary stokes wrenching memories, but this year, a profane word from a president was like salt in the wound.
“It was very disheartening,” Watson Mere, a Haitian American artist, says of President Trump’s recent Oval Office comments in which he reportedly called Haiti and some other Caribbean and African nations “shithole countries.” “Especially since the news of the remarks were announced around the anniversary. . . . During that time is when a lot of Haitians around the world reflect and grieve the event, and just hearing news of the remarks added to the already tough atmosphere during that time of the year.”
Yet Mere, who was born in Florida and now lives in Philadelphia, proudly points to the steeliness of his homeland. “We’ve overcome obstacles that many wouldn’t even be able to imagine.”
One way Mere shows his strength is through his art. He says he began painting while preschool age, before he even communicated verbally, and he has recently displayed his work in live art shows around Philadelphia. The illustration he is most known for, though, is “My Brother’s Keeper,” in which the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. puts his hand over the mouth of Trump.
Mere created the art in Microsoft Paint last year, amid the swirl of the King holiday and Trump’s inauguration.
“I knew that I wanted to create a piece in honor of MLK, but I didn’t know what direction I wanted to take,” Mere says of his process. “So as usual, I just started on the piece and allowed whatever vision came into my head to make its way into the image.
“It was about a week before Inauguration Day,” he recalls, “and the atmosphere of the country was very tense, so I decided to include him because of the polarity between Dr. King’s message and his.”
The artwork struck a chord and was photographed at a women’s march a year ago, Mere says. Last summer, a social-media post of that image received a quarter-million likes.
Last week, the image was widely shared again on the King holiday, in the wake of Trump’s anti-Haitian comments. This year, the artist says, “the remarks seemed to add a different energy behind the piece.”
So what would Mere say to Trump about Haiti, if he ever had the chance?
“I would say that Haiti is not a ‘shithole’ — it is one of the most beautiful countries in terms of the scenery, with some of the most beautiful, vibrant and creative people in the world,” Mere says.
“And Haiti’s contributions to the United States are countless,” he continues. “In terms of major influences to U.S. history, the Haitian Revolution is what allowed the United States to purchase the Louisiana Territory from the French, which added 828,800 [square miles] to the U.S. And the city of Chicago was founded by a Haitian named Jean [Baptiste Point] Du Sable.”
Mere might silence Trump in his art, but in life, he wants the president to truly open his ears.