First, Music, Video & Entertainment, Reportage

Return to the Trembling Heart: Grand Rue, Port-au-Prince

Three months after the earthquake that devastated our neighbouring island of Haiti, 22-year-old Haitian writer/filmmaker Claudel ‘Zaka’ Chery takes FIRST on a short tour around Grand Rue, a main street running through the heart of the commercial district in Port au Prince.

Zaka is part of a collective of Haitian artists who have been chosen to work on The Trembling Heart, which is a limited edition book of sculptural artwork – just 20 copies will be created. The book is intended to serve as a historical testimonial of the cataclysmic events in Port-au-Prince following the earthquake and its’ aftermath.

Each page will be executed by some of the most respected contemporary artists in Haiti today. Jean-Euphele Milce (Alphabet of the Night, Pushkin Press) is writing 20 original short stories based on personal experiences of the cataclysm of January 12 2010. The accompanying pages will be wrought from metal (Sculptor’s of the Gran Rue, Guyodo and Cheby) Wood (Lionel St Eloi, Jean Frederic and Nathalie Fanfan) and Beads (Myrlande Constant, Drapo Artist).

During the creation of the work interviews with the artists and studio sessions will be broadcast online to build anticipation for the auction of the completed work. The proceeds of the auction will be split with 50 per cent going towards a permanent residency programme for Haitian and Caribbean cultural exchange and the remaining 50 per cent divided amongst the participating artists.

In its completed form the giant book will be a freestanding work of art which will stand on sculptural legs and be targeted for inclusion in museum collections around the world.

For more information about the Trembling Heart Project contact:

More from FIRST’s trip to Haiti:

PHOTO-ESSAY: Into the Trembling Heart: Five hours in Port-au-Prince
MORE PHOTOS: Port-au-Prince: In Living Colour

Art & Design, Reportage

Into the Trembling Heart: Five hours in Port-au-Prince

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – walking around in the rubble on Grand Rue, one gets the distinct feeling that people are putting on a brave face. Three months after the earthquake that took the lives of more than 200,000 people, life continues despite the indescribable destruction as its residents continue the painstaking process of rebuilding the capital – arguably the most important cultural and historical city in the Caribbean.

Coming from Kingston, the scenes of poverty are not entirely alien, and yet, despite its obvious economic disadvantages there’s something distinctly developed about the Haitian people. Amid the piles of broken concrete, trash and flattened buildings, there’s no begging, no wailing, no time for anything but digging upward and outward for the inhabitants of this rebel nation.

On Grand Rue I follow the unconquerable Melinda Brown to the studio of her fellow artist Andre Eugene. Brown’s got some bad news to tell the sculptors who’ve gathered there: their visa applications to visit Jamaica have been rejected. While Brown has received no official explanation (yet) as to why some of Haiti’s most respected visual artists were denied entry to Jamaica, one can’t help but feel a sense of shame as she relates the news to the disappointed faces.

“We’ll find out why and try again in June,” Brown tells the artists she handpicked to create a one-of-a-kind testimonial to the Haitian cataclysm aptly titled The Trembling Heart.

The Australian-born Brown is no stranger to the process of rebuilding places that most people would never tread. Back when the Meatpacking district in New York City still had rampant crime, fish guts and beef blood running in the streets, Brown was running Bombora House. Years later she arrived in downtown Kingston where she set about doing the same in places like Church Street and Rose Town.

Months before the earthquake, Brown had been noticeably missing from the Kingston landscape as she had begun working with sculptors and artists from Port-au-Prince and Grand Rue. For Brown, the Haitian earthquake was no ‘hot charity’ – she was in the narrow alleys of Grand Rue long before the tragedy of January 12.

Back into the streets I follow Zaka, a 22-year-old filmmaker (and primary translator for us hopelessly monolingual Jamaicans) who was just granted a US$10,000 artist residency at the prestigious Vermont Studio Centre in the United States.

As we walk through a tent city and the remnants of a destroyed church, Zaka tells me about the people he lost and the chance for renewal: “Grand Rue can be a symbol to world,” he says with almost bizarre confidence, “a chance to show how the people of Haiti can create good from so much destruction.”

Click on more to see the rest of the photographs: Continue reading


Downtown shootout: Jamaica on edge

The country was on edge yesterday as rumours started lighting up, first on cellphones, and then the radio, of a shootout in Denham Town, West Kingston. The speculation was wild: had Jamaican security forces finally made a move for Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke in neighbouring Tivoli Gardens?

Everyone was nervous. While we shrug at the daily list of fatal police-gunman shootouts, this was Tivoli. The worst ‘incursion’ by security forces had left 27 dead in 2001. Now of course, the United States wants to extradite Dudus, and removing him, likely by force, threatens a repeat of Mogadishu.

It’s this situation that should remind us how close we’ve been to the edge for a long, long time.

And yet we’re a ‘narco-state’, an island where politicians-criminals-businessman can at times be indistinguishable, except by public pretense. These few photographs were taken while FIRST was downtown today, and in the event, quickly. You’d find these images okay, in your community? Continue reading