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Haiti & art therapy

January 23, 2010

It has been nearly two weeks since the 7.0 earthquake hit the island nation of Haiti, killing tens of thousands instantaneously.  The news we have been receiving each day since does not seem to have gotten any better either. It is now estimated that millions have lost their homes and tens of thousands are losing their lives everyday due to lack of resources—namely food, water, medical care—and homes that made it through the first quake are collapsing in the subsequent aftershocks. Although many countries are sending aid and groups such as Doctors Without Borders are doing the best they can to attend to the sick and injured, it seems unlikely that particularly uplifting news will be coming from Haiti any time in the near future. Even prior to the quake—thanks in large part to the United States government—Haiti was the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, and it is now uncertain how physical, economic and psychological rebuilding will begin.

One resource the country has never lacked, however, is art. Creativity and personal as well as communal expression through painting, performance, writing, singing and dance have all played active roles in Haitian society, no matter what the circumstance. The same is true for today. In both Haiti itself as well as with Haitians living outside the country, people are turning to creative expressivity to respond to the pain that they are feeling. I suggest that all of us do the same as well. Create but also listen, view, read or watch. I have begun re-reading Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory, which has been a favorite of mine since I first read it fours years ago in a women’s studies course college. The Wall Street Journal has also published a Reading and Listening List made by Danticat for those interested in Haitian art and culture at this time, which I would also recommend checking out. Earlier this week, Haitian-American pianist, singer and dancer Goussy Celestin performed “Nan Fon Bwa” on GRITtv and spoke to the various upcoming benefit concerts for Haiti. Facets Multimedia put together a “Scenes from Haiti” film guide. Here is the Caribbean Art World Magazine’s article about Haitian painting from November 2009. Lastly, numerous Haitian musicians and singers were featured this week on Democracy Now’s many in-depth stories on disaster. Included among these was a woman who lived for a week in the rubble and when a French rescue team finally pulled her out, she came out singing.

I know this list is brief. I will try to add to it as I learn more. Please feel free to include any other sources on Haitian art and creative responses to the pain in the comments section below.

  1. alicia permalink
    January 23, 2010 6:06 pm

    Great post.

    Last night I attended a Haiti benefit concert at the Kennedy Center in D.C. Among the performers was the Haitian band Tabou Combo ( They played infectious dance music. In describing the music they write and play (in response to social issues in Haiti – including the earthquake) they said, “We want people to dance and forget their sorrows.”

    Standing in a room full of Haitians, Americans and others – all emotionally dancing and singing together – I was reminded of the powerful healing power that music holds.


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