Walking through Cité Dieu is bleak. Four years after the big earthquake of 2010, the neighborhood remains askew, like many ghettos throughout Port-Au-Prince. Cold, grey cement structures jut out at odd angles, having been shaken out of place and never fully repaired. The alleyways are filled with an eerie silence as quiet desperation ensues. This particular ghetto is tucked in beside a dump along the sea. The dump receives waste from the more affluent neighborhoods on the hill whereas in the ghettos, trash is not picked up more than once a month. It fills the twisted alleyways and clogs the drainages as it slowly makes its way into the Caribbean Sea. It would not be at all surprising if Port-au-Prince was the primary contributor of marine debris in the Caribbean simply because of the lack of civic infrastructure in the most densely populated neighborhoods, the poorest of which lay closest to the sea, downstream from the rest.
Crossing the Boulevard Harry Truman, we are greeted with the warm buzz of industry in the Grand Rue neighborhood inhabited by the Atis Rezistans. The creative community consists of craftsmen and fine artists and offers a marked contrast to the desolate quality of Cité Dieu. Haitians have long been subjected to the impositions of outsider worldviews while suffering severe injustices due to globalization. However, in the face of severe poverty, this community has developed alternative economies based on creative capital and has gained a deserved respect for their visual practice. The artists blend woodworking traditions with contemporary materials like metal, tires and plastic to create poignant reflections of the economic disparities they face. They make use of material discarded by the surrounding autoworkers and machinists, implementing a sort of creative ecology which offers new life to unwanted materials. People here have an acute understanding of the waste they produce because it stays present in their sphere, whereas the waste stream is hidden from urban environments elsewhere. We can draw from this understanding and learn how to transform discarded material into useful objects or art which speaks specifically of place. Making use of the material that passes through their sphere is transformative both physically in the material, and conceptually in the issues comprised therein.
Louis Kervens is a proud twelve year old with straight shoulders, a gleaming perfect smile and a heart he holds out in front of him. He made a representation of the Vodoun Lwa, Boussou, a spirit protector of the seas. More than anything, the seas need a protector, and his image recognizes that need. In the overall installation, Louis’s piece speaks of no other place than Haiti. Instead of imposing a singular idea of how this collaboration should be shaped, the Debris Project remains open to gathering the distinctive voices that grow out of a particular place. This allows for authentic representations from a diverse range of people who share a concern about this material which touches us all. In gathering expressions specific to place from all over the world, the installation becomes a large scaled call for awareness and action that stems from localized interpretations of the waste present in the waters that connect us.