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:

For a horizontal view of the photographs visit: The Afflicted Yard

More from FIRST’s trip to Haiti:

VIDEO: Return to the Trembling Heart: Grand Rue, Port-au-Prince
PHOTOS: Port-au-Prince: In Living Colour


14 thoughts on “Into the Trembling Heart: Five hours in Port-au-Prince

  1. Myrtha Desulme says:

    Melinda Brown is a genius! The Haitian people are the bravest, and most courageous people on this planet. They will survive.

  2. thanks for sharing this and for the amazing images. Haiti is an inspiration to us all. what could possibly be the reason these artists were “denied” entry to Jamaica? shame on us!

  3. Roy says:

    Awesome photoreport Peter.. Broken and hanging by a thread, love the close ups, the skulls just shows the abundance of death and Voodoo, the black & White treatment are some serious statement, broken buildings of Church and state thanks for sharing, its so good to see this through the eye of one of the best Jamaican guerilla photographer. Nuff Respect to Afflicted Yard for sharing, this is serious photojournalism
    I pray that they will overcome this terrible fate,

  4. Suzanne says:

    This photograpy is fantastic! Really getting close up to where we can actually touch the scene. Taking us up close and personal.
    Thank you Peter-Dean for keeping the world focused on what’s important.
    Big Love!

  5. Claris says:

    Yow PD,

    Thanks for this insight into Haiti from an artist perspective. It provide for us from the diaspora who still are in shock to wonder what de ass to do to help; outside of giving to all these established who we are still not sure how they are dispensing aid in Haiti.

    Great work as usual.


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