Cataclysms and their consequences

Having lost their homes, many Haitians now live in precarious camps
Having lost their homes, many Haitians now live in precarious camps. Wikimedia Commons

For Bill Brubaker, a former Washington Post staff writer, reporting on the effect of January’s catastrophic earthquake on Haiti’s artists (“The Art of Resilience,”) combined his passions for journalism, travel and Haitian art, which he has been collecting for 30 years. (His first Haitian painting cost $10.) “I know a lot of the key players, and I care about them,” he says. “I was really anxious to see firsthand how they were doing.”
Saddened by the devastation and loss of life, he was also heartened by the survivors.“I knew that Haitians were a resilient people, who had overcome so much in their history—but I was surprised by the resilience I saw, particularly among people like [artist] Préfète Duffaut, who was sleeping in a tent. He is in his 80s, and he has no intention of quitting. He and a number of other artists were starting to paint what they saw on the streets—what has become known as ‘earthquake art.’ They are doing exceptional work under extremely difficult circumstances, with just a few tools and a few cans of paint.”

Caroline Alexander, whose latest book is The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War, says she is drawn to “stories of courage and striving and the response of human beings to the circumstances they are put in.” This month, she investigates shell shock, first identified in World War I (“The Shock of War,”). “This story is horrific in its own terms just as a piece of history,” says Alexander, “to watch what these young men were going through, baffled as they were by what they perceived as the failure of their own spirit, their sudden inability to be courageous. But I also began to feel that it was very instructive—that it was a mirror to what we are looking at today. To me, shell shock is the ultimate metaphor of war, because whatever it is—psychological or physiological or both—it is somehow symbolic: there are things that human beings can’t sustain. You can literally be rocked out of your mind.”

Smithsonian commissioned Haitian artist Frantz Zéphirin to paint our cover, which, he says, depicts the international philanthropic response to Haiti’s earthquake. The 18- by 24-inch painting will be auctioned, with proceeds going to the artist and his gallery and to the Smithsonian Institution-Haiti Cultural Recovery Project. For information:

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