“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.
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.
Now for the close ups…..
And my favorite of all…
I can hardly wait to share the stories and work of some of the artisans we met in Haiti. Stay tuned.
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!).