Haitian Renaissance: Youth Paint a New Country
By Beverly Bell
Other Worlds are Possible
February 10, 2011
"Everyone expects there to be a new problem daily in Haiti.
I can't concentrate on problems each day," said Roseanne
Auguste, coordinator of a youth art program in the
sprawling, under-resourced Port-au-Prince section of
Carrefour-Feuilles. The program is run through the community
clinic Association for the Promotion of Family Integrated
Roseanne swept her hand across hundreds of paintings and
drawings waiting to be packed up for an upcoming art show.
"And people come and say Haiti is the poorest country in the
Western Hemisphere. I hate to hear that. There's so much
richness in this country."
Roseanne, who is director of APROSIFA as well as a nurse and
community organizer, held up one painting. It featured two
hands nurturing a brilliantly colored women's head; the
hands seemed to be helping the woman open her mouth.
"They're envisioning all this despite the earthquake,"
"These kids hear about violence every day," Roseanne said.
"We have to concentrate on what another country could be.
That's what interests me. If we had cultural centers in each
shantytown, imagine what we could do. Culture and
citizenship... if youth came and talked about this every
day, found different ways to express their views on the
matters, we could have a different country."
"Other countries want to control us, giving us a little
money for elections, a little money for development, while
keeping the country as it is. But if we really had the
chance to do for ourselves, if we had the means, you'd see
what we could do."
APROSIFA's youth art program began in 2009 in a couple of
cement-block rooms in the back of the clinic. A few
professional artists donated their time to teach. Today, 68
youth from ages 8 to early 20s are painting and sculpting. A
few of the youth who began learning two years ago are now
teaching the others.
The artwork represents the daily stuff of Haitian life, like
forms of labor, scenes inside village huts, vodou imagery,
and landscapes. The work also feature historical heroes,
maps of Haiti, and Escher-like clocks ticking away the
When the young painters have canvas and paints, the images
are bold, the colors brilliant. Often they have only sheets
of typing paper and a pencil or a Bic pen. APROSIFA raises
money to subsidize the supplies. "We give them string to
fish with," Roseanne said.
In late January, APROSIFA sponsored the Haitian Renaissance
show at a hotel in downtown Port-au-Prince. On opening
night, hundreds of people - journalists, artists, advocates
for women, dignitaries, and especially youth from Carrefour-
Feuilles - squeezed into several rooms whose walls were
covered with art. The theme of the art was the Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
(CEDAW), which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in
1979 and took effect in 1981. Haiti ratified the convention
in 1981 (unlike the U.S., which never has), though it has
never been applied. Roseanne had given copies of the
document to the young artists and had asked them to express
their opinions creatively.
One youth whose work was featured is 22-year-old Islande
Henry. She spoke in front of one of her paintings, of two
women talking in front of their home, inspired by Article 16
of CEDAW which protects women and children's rights in
family relations. Islande said, "To me, CEDAW is a beautiful
thing. It speaks to the restavèk [child slavery] system and
how those kids have no rights. It speaks to violence
against women, and how women are mistreated in society, and
how there are so many things they can't do from serving in
Parliament to playing ball.
"Our artwork says, `No! Women can do anything. Women must
have access to everything this society offers.'"
Islande said, "I have a lot of capacity and I always knew I
could paint, but I didn't have any support. You know,
sometimes your family can't really step up and help with
resources. But I found APROSIFA in 2009. I feel proud as a
woman to sit with a canvas, with all my pride, and create
paintings. We young artists come with our imagination, our
inspiration, our understandings. We can paint anything."
"What I've gotten from APROSIFA, I want to pass along to
other youth so this country can have another future." When
asked what her hope is, Islande replied, "My hope is that I
can be a great painter so the entire world can know my work
and can know that Haitians need solidarity, unity, patience,
love, and peace. I have a lot of hope for that."
[Beverly Bell is Coordinating Committee Member and Program
Coordinator of Other World. She is the founder of Other
Worlds, and is also an Associate Fellow at the Institute for
Policy Studies, Bev has worked full-time for 27 years as an
advocate, organizer, analyst, and writer in collaboration
with justice movements in Latin America, the Caribbean,
southern Africa, and the United States. Her foci have been
just economies, democratic participation, gender justice,
and human rights. She has co-founded and/or co-coordinated
more than a dozen international campaigns, organizations,
and movements. Most recently, she served for seven years as
founding director of the Center for Economic Justice. She
published Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of
Survival and Resistance (Cornell University Press), for
which she received PEN-New Mexico's Award for Social Justice
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