Artful Blogger

ARTFUL BLOGGER ROAD TRIP: A photo exhibit in Montreal shows the good, the bad, and the ugly of Haiti

Carnival III, Jacmel, 2011 © Benoit Aquin

The spectacular Haitian exhibition Vodou, which opened last year at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, will continue as the main show at the museum throughout the coming summer.

So, if you saw the show already and became intrigued with Haitian culture, then you might be interested in a new Haitian photo exhibition at the McCord Museum in Montreal.

The exhibition is titled Haiti: Chaos and Daily Life and contains dozens of large-scale colour photographs, some terrifying and some moving, by internationally renowned Montreal photographer Benoit Aquin, whose work is found in several prestigious collections, including that of the National Gallery of Canada.

The backdrop for the photographs is the 7.3 magnitude earthquake on January 12, 2010, that killed 220,000 people, injured 300,000 others and left 1 million homeless. Much of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince was left in ruins. Much rebuilding still needs to be done.

There are many images of destruction, bodies in the streets, ruined buildings, makeshift outdoor hospitals. The most poignant scene shows a pile of rubble covering a woman. All we can see of her is one hand sticking out of the mess. There is pink nail polish on her swollen fingers.

But there are also photographs showing Haitians’ lust for life, wearing outlandish costumes, dancing and generally partying in the annual pre-lenten carnivals that came just a few months after the quake. No quake could stop those parties.

Ceremony II, Souvenance, 2011 © Benoit Aquin

Some of those carnival scenes were shot in the seaside town of Jacmel, where I holidayed a few times in the 1970s and fell in love with this vibrant community of lively street bands, tasty Caribbean food, and French colonial buildings. Some of those buildings I recognized. It was like seeing photos of a friend after a car crash.

Some of the images show scenes of voodoo ceremonies. Many are of women caught up in a voodoo frenzy, their eyes rolled back in their heads, as they move jerkily like marionettes. In one scene, a group of white-clothed women perform some unnamed ceremony in a muddy, rushing river. They can barely keep their heads above the waterline – a metaphor for all of Haiti these days.

Alongside the photographs are poignant quotations from a book called The World is Moving Around Me: A Memoir of the Haiti Earthquake by Haitian-Canadian author, Dany Laferrière.

Haiti: Chaos and Daily Life continues at the McCord Museum, 690 Sherbrooke St. W. in downtown Montreal until May 12. McGill is the closest Metro stop. For information visit www.mccord-museum.qc.ca.