Haiti: The Art of Recovery


I’m a wanna-be artist, a sort-of, almost artist—certainly not by training and clearly not because of craft. 

I’m also an artist who has struggled with bipolar disorder, someone who appreciates the creativity that is often an unexpected gift accompanying the illness.  I’m someone who has not only made art when I was sick, but continues to create even when I am well, as an outgrowth of recovery.  In the art world I’m what would be called an “outsider” artist.  I don’t always know what I’m doing.  I just do.  Art. 

I’m also a writer and artist who has lived in Haiti for the last year with my partner.  Sara has directed an international NGO’s response to the earthquake.  But we are preparing to go home next week, and I’m thinking not only about what Haiti has given me, the gifts I will take home, but also what I’ll leave behind.

Indeed, one of the gifts I’ve given is a large piece of art, one I created for Sara’s NGO from a throw-away piece of furniture—a huge serving bar I painted last summer.

 

The bar is nearly 9 and a half feet long and lives on an upstairs patio at Sara’s office in Port-au-Prince.

It was white, ugly, an eye-sore, really.  But Sara wanted to save it.  She thought it, like Haiti itself, should be given a second chance at life, that the bar could be used for receptions, to serve meals on special occasions.  She thought I was the one to midwife this rebirth, that I was the one to take on the task, that as someone who has repurposed art as part of my own recovery, I could gift a born-again bar to the wonderful people who work here.

I loved the idea and took on the project enthusiastically, in the end creating a mixed-media piece—one that incorporates the organization’s logo in strategic places, as well as decoupaged-maps of Port-au-Prince and each location in Haiti the organization works.

I also included stories from the local newspaper, highlighting big events in the news during the months after the earthquake.

I included text from the organization’s 6-month, post-earthquake report, as well as the names of almost all the people who had worked on the NGO’s reconstruction effort—folks from more than a dozen countries around the world.

The front of the bar repeats the organization’s logo above each flower petal:

As well as the names of staff in black and white circles:

The top of the bar includes the maps and newspaper text:

However, soon Sara and I will leave Haiti; soon we’ll leave the places mapped on the bar-top at a bit of a distance, at least geographically.

And though we’ll leave when the organization’s work here is still incomplete, though in many ways it seems too soon, I’ll leave a piece of myself behind, one that I hope will serve the NGO’s mission here well into the future.  I’ll leave not only a piece of my art, but also a piece of my heart, knowing this is not really an end.  We leave but others will come.

Haiti has taught me this lesson: that indeed good things can come from our departure.   It has taught me not only how to birth a new bar, but also  how to hope, how to see potential in seeming destruction,  how to dream a new dream, how to hope a new hope.  It’s reminded me that, if art can come out of sickness, then indeed beauty can come out of the earthquake’s ruin. 

I believe that in every beginning an end is waiting to happen and from every illness or devastation a new beginning will grow.

Peace to people of Haiti—

And thank you!

30 thoughts on “Haiti: The Art of Recovery

  1. I object to you calling yourself an “outsider” artist. You are an artist. An artist isn’t defined by the number of classes she has taken, an artist is defined by the creative gifts she shares. You are n artist in so many ways: because of this beautiful you will leave in Haiti; because of stories you share; because of your creative and caring soul. I love the bar, but more importantly I love that you created that. Wow!

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    • Maybe not the most appealing label, but it’s the one the art world would use–alas. Regardless, I’m pleased you think I’m a real artist. I just always struggle with whether or not I deserve to call myself one. To me, it’s a high calling and one I wouldn’t want to presume about.

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Lisa! I really appreciate it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  2. “Hope a new hope”… Beautiful post and LOVE your bar creation. I think you are more than just a sort-of artist, dear. I hope your move is a little more sweet than bittersweet. Know that while Haiti was your home, you made a world of difference!

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  3. Thanks for sharing such centering thoughts. Endings always brings new beginings which has me wondering, what’s up next for Sara and Kathryn? God bless you both through this transition.

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    • Oh, Marlene–so glad you found these words to be centering. Actually we don’t know what’s next. Sara has a 3 month break–well-earned, I might add–and then we’ll have to see where the next big disaster is or where the organization needs her. Hard to tell. Who would have ever thought we’d end up in Vietnam with Sara being the national director there–not exactly what we expected–just what was needed at the time.

      We love you and are praying for you, Marlene–big hugs to you from both of us!

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  4. I also think your work on the bar was beautiful — absolutely beautiful! They’re so lucky to be able to keep it and remember you by your lovely work. The way you write about new beginnings makes me smile, and makes me hope.

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  5. I love the bar! Love the colours, the collages, the decoupage, the newspaper articles and the names of the people. I especially love that it was a recycling project for an ugly piece of furniture. You are an artist, my friend! I hope that the organization Sara works for will take it with them when they pull out…it is a monument to the hard work they’ve put in.

    Hugs,
    Wendy

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    • Thanks, Wendy! You have made my day, my friend.

      But the good thing is that Sara’s NGO will never likely pull out of here. They’ve worked here with local, national staff for more than 20 years before the earthquake and will continue to be here, though not always with post-earthquake ex-pat folks like Sara. It’s really bringing in the ex-pats that costs a lot.

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  6. This. Is. Beautiful!!!

    I also have to object to the ‘sort-of’ artist label you’ve attached to yourself. I know the Big Kahunas of the art world ask for certain qualifications, but ART is so much bigger than that little slice of the art scene. YOU ARE AN ARTIST!! Embrace the title as you embrace the title of Writer, and keep on creating, Kathy! You do beautiful work! xo

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  7. This piece is fantastic! It makes the whole concept of “outsider art” meaningless to me. You are definitely an artist, by any definition. What a wonderful bit of work. You should be proud. I’m sure the NGO staff really love it. 🙂

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    • How fun that you like the bar! It was a huge project and took lots of time–but it was also massively meaningful. It makes me happy to know there’s a piece of me here in Haiti, and as cliched as it sounds–a piece of my heart will truly always be engaged with this little island!

      Like

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