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I leaned forward as if doing so would help drive home the significance of the discussion. We were “talking Haiti,” a topic that can wrench at the coldest of hearts. Why a promising historical narrative veered onto a path of destruction, has perplexed the best minds, some have nixed learning about that nation’s history, politics and economics, opting for outlandish theological injunctions. Think Pat Robertson. I made my way to Newkirk Avenue, the belly of Brooklyn, looking for more answers. More importantly, solutions. In the sprawling living room of a house bedecked with paintings, sculpted pieces and motifs, I am reminded of the unparalleled artistry of the Hemisphere’s poorest and most beleaguered nation. A sheer paradox—if ever there was one. Before me sat two Haitian artists, and another from Guadeloupe, all of whom recently showed off their wares at the first Caribbean Film festival, organised by CariBBeing, the brainchild of Trinidadian Shelley Worrell. Worrell was also present.
We talked art. But could never ignore what was going on in Haiti—where hope and despair were enjoined. “Maybe art can save Haiti,” I suggested. It wasn’t as flippant a comment as I imagined.
“Of course, art will define the spirit and soul of the Caribbean,” Shelley said. Seated across from her was Nicole Titus, author, painter and playwright, who has worked assiduously to fight illiteracy—which she viewed as the “number one problem” in her native land. She has dubbed he work, “psychology art,” and proudly stated: “Haitians are the artists of the Caribbean.” She referred to the inimitable Jean Michael Basquiat as “the heir to Picasso,” and mentioned Haiti’s strong literary heritage that was being strengthened, “despite all that is going on.” She talked of ongoing efforts to translate Shakespeare and Plato into creole. Yet, she admitted, “No country can develop with an illiteracy rate of 53 per cent. It is untenable.”
Her recent book, Akin To No One, explores this problem in compelling terms. Her analysis of the issues besetting Haiti runs deep. She talked of child labour (restavec), the erosion of the middle class and social justice. “But the root of the problem is illiteracy,” he reiterated. Sitting to her right was filmmaker Janluk Stanislas from Guadeloupe. “Haiti’s problems are ours,” he said. His work is influenced by West Indian and African artists, but he is drawn to Haiti, calling Raul Peck his “favourite.” “We in Guadeloupe speak creole and French, and we shared the same coloniser—the French.” His work, Onlanmen Ka Lavelot (United We Stand)” chronicles his country’s humanitarian work in Haiti after the earthquake in January.
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