Vacations in Port-au-Prince?
Many were surprised when I decided to visit Port-au-Prince, but a handsome Haitian man had convinced me to go and I do not regret. I was aware of where I was going: a country plagued with political instability, poverty, and unfortunately many sequels of the devastating 2010 earthquake. "It's way too risky", I've been told, based on the way Haiti is depicted by mainstream media.
And it's not false. Some might even say worse... since in Port-au-Prince, people have cater for basic services that are supposed to be provided by the government. Waste is not picked up, running water comes only random, and only few hours of electricity are seen every day. Haitians are a proud people, independent and enterprising. So they take things in their own hands (No choice! unfortunately): They burn their solid wastes, buy diesel generators and build water tanks and wells.
The colours of Port-au-Prince
But the bleak landscape I just described is not what struck me when I got to Port-au-Prince. It was the colours. They're everywhere! All the colours of the rainbow flood the streets, fill the crowded markets and cover the front of houses and stores alike.
Well inspired by the colours of Port-au-Prince, the Haitian social enterprise COCREAD, a startup venture dedicated to boost entrepreneurship has had the wonderful idea of a collective project of renovation and embellishment through art and colours called the Villa Rosa Tap Tap project, in partnership with Favela Painting, a Dutch founfation. So the community leaders, residents, artists, and other partners have teamed up to create a public artwork by painting the housefronts in appealing geometric fashion in the rural area of Villa Rosa, in Turgeau
The design is inspired from the tap tap, the adapted pick-up trucks which make for the most popular means of transporation in the country. Besides the spectacular visuals, this initiative reinforces solidarity and resilience in the communities and increases the sense of collective pride, while stimulating entrepreneurship.
Like an explosion of popular art
Besides the buildings, the streets are converted in open air art galleries, where the artisans expose their art: paintigs, sculptures, papier-mâché or metal art, each one more colourful than the others.
I discovered that Haiti is a country of artists. Out of a population of little more than 10 million, around 400 000 are believed to live out of their talent as primary or secondary source of revenue, which amounts to the highest percentage of any economic sector in the country. And rightfully so. Haitian art is spectacular and unique, a paradise yet to be explored by art lovers.
Art on four wheels
As a matter of fact, art is fully integrated to culture and everyday life in Haiti. Haitian artists' love for colours is such that it expresses itself in the most surprising places. Vehicles are not an exception! You see in Haiti some trucks turned into real artworks; in Haitian creole, they're called bwafouye, which means carved from wood, as a clear reference to the woodwork used to frame them.
But it's on the famous tap tap that you can get a real taste of Haitian art. It's a Kaleidoscope of colours that crosses day after day the streets of port-au-Prince, which are a carnival by themselves only. I've seen very few road signs or traffic lights in Port-au-Prince. people drive by horns, and horrible traffic jams are frequent.
Few Haitians own a car or a motorbike, so they walk, or use buses or tap tap. The tap tap is a private vehicle of which driver stops here or there wherever somebody stops it to take a ride. This doesn't help the traffic at all!
It's generally a pick-up truck fitted with a roof and lateral benches.
Even though comfort varies from one tap tap to another, all without exception are works of art on four wheels (well....some are better executed than others after all...). They are all a testimony of the talent, taste, ideologies and even football team preferences of their owner. These colorful and surprisingly detailed paintings are inspired both from the flora and fauna of the country, religious imagery, historic made popular heroes such as che Guevara and Barack Obama, music or even the omnipresent feminine figure of the beautiful creole women.
Tap tap owners dedicate lots of time and resources to the conception and maintenance of their vehicle and its painting. In a country where the life standards are woefully low, it says a lot of the passion and talent of Haitian people for art in all its forms.
Souvenirs from Port-au-Prince
All said, during my stay in Port-au-Prince, I have seen the debris and the piles of rubish haunting the streets. But the memories I bring back home are a lot more colourful...painted with smiles and the welcoming arms of their multicolour city.
The intimate relationship between the Haitian people and artistic expression makes it a country to discover for all art and colour enthusiasts. A well kept secret...
Just to entice you a bit, some pieces of our collection of Haitian paintings: