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17582: (Hermantin)Sun-Sentinel-South Florida Haitians paint picture of hope (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

South Florida Haitians paint picture of hope

By Toni Marshall
Staff writer

December 28, 2003

In a Haitian village, an elder tells a young girl that the dragon of
peaceful wisdom will carry her across the sea. The serpent chases away evil,
allowing children safe passage to a new land.

The students at Toussaint L'Ouverture High School hold fast to this dragon,
whose winged likeness floats above a vibrant blue and green river across the
cafeteria wall.

"When I saw somebody paint, it was beautiful. That's why I like art," said
Linda Charles, 17, who left Thomazeau, Haiti, more than a year ago and is
now a student at the Delray Beach charter school.

Hundreds of miles from the island, Haitian culture abounds. It is served up
in spicy saltwater fish and pumpkin soup at local restaurants. It radiates
from the sashaying hips of mothers loping children throughout Miami's Little
Haiti or Broward's Sunrise Boulevard. It is heard in Kompa, music born out
of frustration with the Duvalier government. It curls from the pens of poets
and authors, and in the repetitive dreams of refugees clinging to sacred
rituals to stay afloat on the dark seas as they make their way to a better

The school's instructors encourage students, predominantly Haitian
immigrants who have learned English within the past two years, to study the
arts in a way that buttresses science and math as well as reading and social
studies, they said.

"The school focuses on the arts, not a sole tenet of Haiti, but an important
dimension of the Haitian spirit," said Joseph Bernadel, the school's chief
executive officer and founder.

Bernadel named the school after L'Ouverture for the principles Haiti's
liberator espoused: independence and social justice.

"The reason these students have failed is because they had nothing to
associate with," Bernadel said.

Art, whether visual or performing, helps them understand the other
disciplines, he said.

"Once a person becomes better in academics, then they'll become fighters for
social justice and become good citizens," Bernadel said.

At the school, many steadfastly work on projects for the bicentennial.

"These kids have replicated things from my childhood," said Bernadel,
pointing to what he called a typical "carnivalesque" mask. "You can see it
was part of their background."

Oddly, many of the students weren't artistic back in Haiti. But you couldn't
tell by the artwork they crafted for the school's Haitian bicentennial play.

Throughout the classroom, students turn out perfect petals, papier-mâché
masks and statues as vibrant and detailed as the street art in Haiti they
carry in their memories.

"The things we do for this bicentennial will be the catalyst for which this
community is going to be seen," Bernadel said. "Everyone is looking through
the prism of the celebration."

The whole world will learn more about Haiti next year as it celebrates 200
years of independence, and artists will capture the occasion.

>From intricate oil paintings to primitively decorated gourds, visual art
will be the most pervasive cultural messenger.

"There is a famous French writer who said it's like magic in that country.
... Everybody paints," said Alphonse Piard of Miami, one of dozens of
Haitian artists whose work appears in Haitian Art in the Diaspora, a
catalogue of painters.

One artist credits some of his abilities to his ancestors, whose spirits
recently possessed him, he said.

Jude "Papaloko" Thegenius said he unwittingly summoned a familiar spirit
that may have in the past guided his hands to paint, and guided him to leave
his country and find a sacred retreat in his Miami gallery, named
Jakmelafter the town in Haiti from which he fled 17 years ago. Filled with
oils, acrylics, watercolors and ironworks, the gallery stands as a shrine to
Haitian art and a tribute to artists struggling at home.

In Haiti, most artists do not have studios. Their work lines the streets,
hanging from walls and fences throughout cities and towns, selling for a few
dollars. Those who come here often face frustration as well. They still hold
on to a dream of tranquility that may never have existed, yet translates
into idyllic or primitive art.

"Hope is something inside all of us. We see it and feel it in our paintings.
At the same time, we think we have a vision for Haiti," Papaloko said. "I
understand my mission finally ... to promote the [Haitian] culture in other
places. But I had to connect with Haiti to know that."

He explained that painting is a part of him, an obsession, something
spiritual that he cannot let go, no matter where he ends up.

Toussaint L'Ouverture is his muse, filling his garden, inspiring him, taking
form in many of his paintings. At least two canvases inside the studio
flaunt his 19th-century image in military uniform, and a life-size one
outdoors reflects L'Ouverture's strong profile.

Last August, Papaloko dressed as the liberator in celebration of Bwakayiman,
which commemorates the ceremony led by Boukman, a powerful voodoo priest.
Boukman's action launched a bloody revolt that led to the Haitian
Revolution. Some think his actions placed a hex of despair on the country.

Outside the gallery, a breeze interrupts the stillness of Papaloko's
backyard café. The strong aroma of hot Cuban coffee drifts from the artist's
small cup to carefully arranged icons: a voodoo temple, offerings to Lwa or
the spirits and a self-portrait that includes a third eye.

Inside, sculptures, crafts and paintings pay homage to motherhood, religious
spirits and his homeland.

Furtive eyes peer from artwork, flirting with passionate colors while hints
of muted shades struggle to the surface, daring Papaloko to mock tradition
as he settles in his adopted homeland. His brushes dip into bright blues,
yellows, oranges and reds, tethering him to this art, which in some shape or
form has been with him since childhood.

Art is in all Haitians, he said.

Toni Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sun-sentinel.com or 954-572-2004.

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