Haitian artists put quake scenes on canvas

Tue Feb 16, 2010 3:03pm EST
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By Pascal Fletcher

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Before Haiti's January 12 earthquake, painter Louis Saurel was depicting the colorful scenes of rural life that many tourists prized as souvenirs of their visit to the poor Caribbean country.

Now he's applying his artistic talents to capturing the horrific moment when the deadliest disaster in his country's history turned his life -- and those of hundreds of thousands of his compatriots -- upside down.

In a makeshift tent where he has lived with his wife and five children since their home crumbled to rubble in the quake, Saurel, 35, has started painting pictures of the devastation in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.

Using the same blazing colors and stylized depictions that have made Haitian art famous, Saurel and fellow painters in St. Pierre Square in the city's hilly Petionville district are depicting the cracked buildings, jumbled rubble and shocked victims of the quake on canvas.

"It's a painful experience, but we artists are the witnesses, we paint the past, the present and the future," Saurel told Reuters outside his tent -- part of a chaotic, sprawling quake survivors' encampment that carpets St. Pierre and dozens of other open spaces across the wrecked city.

"Children who are only a few months old now, when they grow up and are 10 years old, they'll be able to see what happened through our paintings," he said.

The quake killed more than 200,000 people and left more than a million homeless, and there are some who might feel that painting quake scenes is insensitive and even cynical.

Not Napoleon Chery, 52, another of the painters in St. Pierre's Square. "This is part of the history of our nation and we have to have a national artistic production that reflects that," Chery said.   Continued...

<p>Artist Louis Saurel paints about the earthquake at his makeshift tent in Petionville, Port-au-Prince February 16, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria</p>