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Street Artists Protest Status Quo In Haiti


You're listening to WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

In Haiti, a group of artists is making a name for themselves by creating huge metal sculptures and showing them on the streets. They call themselves Haiti's Resistance Artists, and their work speaks to the devastation following the 2010 earthquake and the stark separation between the country's rich and poor. Reese Erlich has their story.

REESE ERLICH, BYLINE: Off a winding, three-foot-wide dirt path next to Port-au-Prince's main street stand dozens of huge metal sculptures. An eight-foot-tall figure with a long face seems to play an electric keyboard with hands made of coiled springs. A neighborhood child plucks a rubber band on the sculpture and pretends to sing.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Singing in foreign language)

ERLICH: The sculpture was created by Frantz Jacques who goes by the name Guyodo. He is one of Haiti's most famous found metal artists. He co-founded a movement called Resistance Artists that emerged from the working-class neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince some 12 years ago. Guyodo uses pliers and scissors to assemble everything from radiators to human skulls into sculptures. He hauls hunks of metal out to a street corner and rents welding equipment from workmen who normally repair cars.

What do the men who work on the car doors think of your art?

GUYODO: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Right now, they've started to understand him. But before, they said that he's crazy.


ERLICH: Just around the corner, through another series of narrow dirt alleyways, an empty lot is filled with more metal sculptures. Andre Eugene, one of the other founders of Resistance Artists, shows off a six-foot-high snake, a representation of a voodoo deity. In Haiti, voodoo is recognized as a legitimate religion, and Eugene says it has a bigger cultural impact than Christianity.

ANDRE EUGENE: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Voodoo is a integral part of Haitian culture, so I use it in my work. It's not that I'm inspired by voodoo. It's just part of the landscape of Haiti, so it's also in the work.

ERLICH: The Resistance Artists' voodoo-tinged themes always dealt with death as a normal cycle of life.

EUGENE: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Before the earthquake, I used to put putty on the sculptures for artistic motif.

ERLICH: Perhaps a way of showing the power of death. But that power took on new meaning after the 2010 earthquake which killed an estimated 316,000 people.

EUGENE: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: After the earthquake, they had to rescue people under the rubble. And the people being pulled under the rubble looked just like sculptures.

OXA LEATO: What they produced right after the earthquake, of course, would have been different because we were all in a very big shock.

ERLICH: Oxa Leato(ph) owns an art gallery in the hillside suburb of Petion-Ville. She says the Resistance Artists focus on Haiti's problems, along with their avant-garde style, makes them unpopular with the country's wealthy art collectors. Few Haitians buy their work and, in turn, the artists hold the Haitian elite in contempt. Leato says the mere act of living and creating work in the streets is a form of resistance, hence, the group's name.

LEATO: They are not waiting for galleries to show their work. They're opening their doors to foreigners. Living in that kind of environment is very unusual, so I think they are expressing something very strong. Their presence and their actions are, in a way, a protest against the (inaudible) in Haiti.

ERLICH: Despite the way things are right now in Haiti, with thousands still homeless and an ineffectual government, Andre Eugene and the other Resistance Artists don't want Americans to see Haitian just as victims.

EUGENE: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The Haitian people, they resist - they're people that have a lot of resistance. And the artists, they're the Vanguard. They express that existence in the work. The art is expressed by the people doing it.

EUGENE: (Foreign language spoken)

ERLICH: And what the people are doing is rebuilding Haiti physically and culturally. For NPR News, I'm Reese Erlich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Reese Erlich