One month before the earthquake and, in this second instalment, two years later ...
In December 2009, Tracey Moberly traveled to Haiti as a participating artist in the first Ghetto Biennale, returning in December 2011 as a participant in the second biennale. These photographs were taken in downtown Port-au-Prince, an area that suffered immense darnage from the devastating earthquake.
I set off on the two hour plane journey from an affluent Miami with its oversized meal portions counter-balanced by its over-subscribed gym culture. Arriving at the departure lounge for Haiti, I spotted some familiar faces. A woman I'd first met in London a few years ago at the Foundry who'd translated Creole/ English for the Grand Rue artist when they first guested on my radio show. Another, Richard Morse, lead singer of the band RAM and owner of the Ollofson hoteL who'd been a subject in my new book Text-Me-Up! Richard along with two other Haitian men, had been the first to start tweeting news of the earthquake directly after it had happened. He greeted me and began to fill me in with the news since my last visit to Haiti. He told me how his cousin was now President of Haiti and how he'd been involved in the campaign trail and now held an official governmental position for Haiti with an office in Washington. He was returning to play with the band for the Ghetto Biennale at the Ollofson.
We board the plane and I find my seat, which is next to an ex-pilot who is building toilet and sewer systems in Port-Au-Prince, and my apprehension of landing starts to mount as images of the earthquake's aftermath fills my thoughts.
As we land and file out into a newly built section of the airport, outside the windows are the half destroyed pillars and corridors of the old airport building with cracks - appearing like a giant vein system running through it. Looking battle-scarred as if ready to topple, my attention is drawn to an ordered file ot japanese troops heading toward the airport closely followed by another militia uniform with an unrecognisable flag, all with passports in hand ready to leave Port-Au-Prince.
Passport stamped and bag collected, I'm greeted outside by a bag handler with a sign saying my name as he tell me how the driver can not make it into the airport to park and collect me and how he must take me to him. He asks for my support and would I give him a generous tip for doing this, as he has to feed and support a much larger family due to the loss suffered of family members following the earthquake. Bags placed in the car, central locking on, windows closed and we set off into the shocking devastation as I witness, almost two years on from my previous visit, the aftermath of the earthquake. It has long since gone back to the routine of everyday life here for the inhabitants as I pass people with outward physical scarring and missing limbs, whilst others bore the pyschological scars only visible through their eyes.
There semm to be many more cars on the road jostling for positionat at each turn and corner; concrete and rubble are spewed up into uneven piles. The air is thick with dust clouds in te dry heat as the battered cars, now void of suspension, pound into the rubble mounds creatingexplosive dust clouds on the badly damaged roads. There are five million cubic metres of debris (enough to fill five football stadiums) already cleared with the same amount still remaining. This still entombs many of the unfound corpses that lay beneath. we seem to pass what seems like a 'tent city' after 'tent city' which are much larger than one imagines. Over 500,000 people live in these makeshift refugee camps known as 'tent cities' across Haiti. Although providig some protection against the elements, they have become the breeding grounds for violence and disease against women and girls. Following the earthquake women and girls thoughout Haiti have been at a heightened risk in the form of sexual assault.
We arrive at the hotel, where the older front part which hadn't been built in an anti-seismic way had been shaved off from the building, walking into the newer anti-seismic built exterior part which still stood proud. I quickly change to accommodate the Caribbean heat and head down to the Grand Rue. A lingering odour of urine and sewage fills the air at points. Rotting and decaying matter lines up along the streets and converges in a twisted mass on street corners - some have been burning for days, emitting toxic gases, while others are smouldering half submerged in the dirty water that leaks onto the streets heavy with traffic. I reach the Grand Rue, where the entrance way to 622 Boulevard Jean Jaques Dessalines and the arched concrete structure with it's 'Haitian barber's type painted sign' saying 'Ghetto Biennale' had fallen in the earthquake - hundreds of Haitian artists sculptures greet the second Ghetto Biennale members and visitors alike. Another figure similar to Papa Legba type only dressed in bright red held court amongst these, welcoming people in, his phallus as extreme as the other which remained unaffected by the earthquake. After meeting and greeting a handful of this year's biennale members, the Jakmel Eskperyans performance began. This was followed by the church service and procession funeral band took place for the artists from the first Ghetto Biennale who had died in the earthquake - one of the main reasons I had wanted to return being to honour the dead.
Many events soaked up the days in the lead up to the Ghetto Biennale opening day. These included everything from a vodou ceremony for Ezili Danto at Papa Da's hounfo with Floris Schonfeld; a Life On Earth BBC Wildlife film translated into Kreyol which was produced by Arcade Fire; film screenings showing a selection of Tele Ghetto and artists' films and more. I orchestrated one of a series of socio-political tea parties - which is part of a current project - in an empty swimming pool, inviting artists to air their view point on their vision of the city as members of the Ghetto Biennale, discussing social and political aspects of the country post arthquake. I also collected the next three editions for my long term exhibition from vodou flag maker Marie Ketty Paul who had been working on three of my designs for the Haitian section of my intricately crafted text message exhibition titled 'Text-Me-Up- Sex-Drugs & Rock'n'Roll', a section of which I'm working on with Ketty over a five year period. One of the tea party guests and Ghetro Biennale artists, Karen Miranda Augustine, was also working with Marie Ketty Paul on a piece titled The Three Erzulie / Ezilis yo Twa. It comprised of three pacquets kongo, 'medicine bags' given to Vodou initiates. They contain herbs, charms and special healing rools associated with the lwa that they are being initiated under. They were made to honour three unsung Haitian heroines, one of whom being Kay Fanm co-founder Magalie Marcelin. Kay Fanm is a shelter for women and girls who have been victims of domestic and sexual assault in Haiti.
Another tea party guest and Ghetto Biennale member Kwynne Johnstone's work, assisted by Paul Kain, revved up a mass audience and participation group which took over a street off the Grand Rue. The artist developed the work from two individual events as she tried not to conceptualise the work. The first one occurred in Port-au-Prince and the other at her home in Trinidad. During the first anniversary of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Kwynne was standing near the tents by the Presidential Palace waiting for a taxi when a boy of 7-years trotted by, pulling behind him a toy car led by a string. The body of the car was made by recycling a plastic water bottle. The axle was made from two wooden skewers, which punctured the bottle on either end. The wheels were bottle-caps, with rubber bands securing its wheel knots. The other occurred to her on returning to another Caribbean country and her home Trinidad when her 31 year old brother, who is getting married this year along with his two friends (both fathers), invested US$l,OOO each on remotecontrolled toy cars which they race personally. The juxtaposition of these two events leads to the Gran Rue Grand Prix sculpture and performance.
I look forward to the third Ghetto Biennale and another new creative use for the discarded water bottle, along with the development of the Haitian artists' work and other projects that still continue to stand outside of the mainstream and raise the beacon for the underground art world.
Tracey Moberly is the author of the recently published book Text-Me-Up!
which details Haiti in several of its chapters, with over 2,500 photographs and images accompanying the text, see http://www.text-me-up.com