Thirdeyemom

Art on Wheels: The Tap Taps of Port-au-Prince

“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” – Plato

When I first told friends that I was going to Haiti I got a lot of negative responses. “I would never go there” scolded a doctor friend of mine. “It is way too dangerous” warned another. Sadly the media has not painted a pretty picture of Haiti. Over and over again we have seen images and read articles about the devastation, poverty, political instability and disease, that makes Haiti sound like some kind of backwater, scary place. People thought I was crazy to go there.

As a seasoned traveler who has been to some rough places, I made sure I did my research. I talked to friends who had been there before and all of them said I had to go. That it would change me. And it did.

Now I want to share with the world the good things about Haiti. The stuff the media doesn’t cover because they want to sell a story. I’m not going to talk about the tent communities, the lack of infrastructure and health services. That will come later. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the spectacular art I saw on my trip visiting the artisans who work with Heart of Haiti.

One thing I learned is that Haiti is a nation of artisans. With a population of a little over ten million people, some estimates report that almost half a million Haitians rely on the handicraft sector as their primary or secondary source of income. No other sector employs such a high percentage of people in Haiti. Furthermore, art is an enormous part of Haitian life and culture and can be found nearly everywhere even in surprising, unexpected places.

The devastating 2010 earthquake that tore apart Port-au-Prince significantly hurt the artisan trade. Per Nat Tancrede, Executive Director at ABN (Artisan Business Network), the once thriving handicraft sector was almost destroyed. Before the earthquake it was reported that around 40-50 containers of artisan produced goods left Haiti weekly to the United States during the peak years of 1980-1985. Yet, in 2010 after the earthquake only six containers were being shipped a week. For a nation that depends on the handicraft sector, it had strong implications for the economy and the lives of the artisans. Today, the handicraft sector is continuing to grow and provide more sustainable incomes to both women and men, and Nat foresees even more opportunity down the road.

For a culture that is so strongly connected to art, Haiti is an art lover’s dream yet it remains relatively undiscovered. Art truly is everywhere in Haiti. Along the walls and sides of buildings and even on the side of the street lies handmade metal art, statues, papier-mâché and paintings. It was something that really surprised and amazed me.

Art in Port-au-Prince Haiti

Art in Port-au-Prince Haiti

Art for sale is everywhere in Port-au-Prince, even along the walls.

Art in Port-au-Prince Haiti

Or on display along the streets

No where can Haiti’s profound love of art be seen more than on its beloved system of tap taps. Along the streets, tap taps are everywhere painted like a kaleidoscope of colors and imagination. A tap tap (which literally means “quick quick” is a privately owned vehicle for hire that is usually made from a pick-up truck and has some of the most incredible, painstakingly detailed art imaginable.  Even buses are used as larger tap taps for longer distance rides, and are equally as impressive as the done-up pick-up trucks. Since a relatively small amount of Haitians own their own car, they either get around on foot or via tap tap explaining their proliferation in Haiti (per NPR, 2010).

Tap Taps follow fixed routes and pick-up passengers and let them off along the way. Known for their amazingly lavish decoration and their often contradictory images ranging from religious figures, to Che Guevara or scantily dressed girls, tap taps can take months to design and decorate. They also can cost well over the average Haitian income to decorate and maintain. Is it worth the cost and effort? Why is it done? No one really knows for sure. But the tap taps shine a light into the phenomenal artistic creativity that can be seen with a visit to Haiti.

Art in Port-au-Prince Haiti

“The miracle of God”.

Art in Port-au-Prince Haiti

“Thank you Wonderful God”

Art in Port-au-Prince Haiti

“Thank you Jesus”

Art in Port-au-Prince Haiti

Art in Port-au-Prince HaitiArt in Port-au-Prince HaitiArt in Port-au-Prince Haiti

Art in Port-au-Prince HaitiArt in Port-au-Prince Haiti

Art in Port-au-Prince Haiti

Now for the close ups…..

Art in Port-au-Prince Haiti

And my favorite of all…

Art in Port-au-Prince Haiti

I can hardly wait to share the stories and work of some of the artisans we met in Haiti. Stay tuned.

References:

Haiti’s Tap Tap Bus Art Flourishes After Quake via PBS (a short video on the art of tap taps and history. Definitely worth a watch!).

27 comments

  1. It’s amazing isn’t it, how people who’ve never been to a place still feel qualified to offer up their opinions anyway…
    I’d always associated Haiti with bright colours, but never realised what an artistic culture actually existed there – those photos are incredible! Looking forward to hearing some of the stories behind the artists now 🙂

    • Thank you Jess for the great comments! Yes it is true people can get a little judgmental about traveling to places that they have never been! 🙂 More stories coming soon!

  2. Nicole I am always amazed when people say ” I would never go here or there or anywhere.” I’m not sure why folks feel the need to share that response, especially to seasoned travelers. Your photos are lovely and how lucky for us reading ot have glimpses of this country which is obviously more than devastation.

    • Thanks Sue! Yes it often surprises me the questioning I get about traveling. I would never go somewhere where it is exceptionally dangerous but I do my homework every time. I loved Haiti!

  3. I can’t wait to read more about your trip! I’m heading to Haiti in September, I did have some reservations at first because of the media, but I’ve done some research and am going with a great organization so I’m very excited! This post makes me feel better as well, so thank you.

    I think it’s so important for people to focus on the good things the country has to offer. It’s disasters aren’t why defines it, there’s so much more to the country.

    I would love to get some tips/information from you if you have time, my email is mfcoggeshall@gmail.com.

    • Thanks for the comment! Who are you going to Haiti with and what are you going to be doing? September should be a nice month. I would be happy to answer any questions you have! feel free to send me an email with them at thirdeyemom@yahoo.com. You will love it! 🙂

  4. Interesting. Seems much like India esp Bombay where there is a lot of artistic graffiti. We also have gaily decorated trucks with messages – some sublime, some hilariously funny

    • Yes I’ve been to India and Nepal and remember the fun, brilliantly colored buses. Central America also has their share as well. I just love these!

    • Thanks Debbie! kind of like the chicken buses aren’t they? I bought some art but not too much since Paul wasn’t with me to help select! Otherwise I’d have gone nuts!

  5. It is really great to explore and see things outside our usual view. Tap taps are exactly like the jeepneys that we have here in the Philippines. It also has artistic graffiti and were commonly used to carry passengers in a long distance travel. Have you been here in the Philippines? if not, hope you can visit us! 🙂

  6. Such incredibly amazing artwork on the tap taps. I’m sure you wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on seeing what Haiti has to offer. You’re a very adventurous woman, Nicole. I love seeing your photos from here, there and everywhere. 🙂

  7. Art and craft everywhere…

    5% of the population depending on handicraft section? Unbelievable !!!

    This country looks so colorful and hope they would bounce back and be able to live a decent life.

    Your stories really helped to get to know about this tiny country and the wonderful people out there…

    Thank you so much for sharing and have a beautiful day ahead 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment! Yes it is amazing that so much art comes from Haiti and so many people relay on it for their living. It is a beautiful place.

  8. The Wandering Musulman

    I totally agree with Jess. One of my favourite parts of the world is Eastern Europe. The looks I get when I say I love travelling there are amazing. But even more amazing then that is when I learn why they are shocked (i.e their ignorance) and I instantly remember that is exactly why I continue to go to such places. Haiti has just joined that list!

      • The Wandering Musulman

        Eastern Europe is changing fast. It’s a very exciting region, but for me it’s also a very well preserved region rich in history that in recent years (during communism) was written off as ‘European’. For example the Islamic history of the Balkans. The re-entry of EE into ‘Europe’ main means we now have a far more complex and intriguing tapestry. The cultural mix is even more fascinating and while it’s still relatively well preserved you should get out there!

      • Thanks for the response! Yes I would LOVE to check more out of this part of the world. So many places to go!!! I will have to check out your blog too! 🙂

    • I fell in love with Haiti. There is so much good there with the people and culture that is never shared on mainstream media. That is my job! We also went to Jacmel—I LOVED it! I just haven’t written about it yet. It is beautiful!

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