"Tree of Life" made from recycled oil drum
One of my favourite places on earth to shop is Ten Thousand Villages. It's rare that I can walk by a store and not go inside. Ten Thousand Villages is a program of The Mennonite Central Committee, and its chief aim is to provide "opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to [other] markets through long-term, fair trading relationships". I have enormous respect for the MCC and the Ten Thousand Villages program, and I can't say enough about the wonderful things they sell. So, each month on my blog, I'll feature one of the artisans or artisan organizations Ten Thousand Villages represents.
Haiti is not an easy place to live. Violence and political instability are constant, and a staggering 80% of the country's population lives below the poverty line. Adding enormous insult to injury, the catastrophic earthquake in 2010 left over a million people homeless and completely devastated the economy.
Since 1973, Comité Artisanal Haitïen (CAH) has worked to encourage Haiti's rich artisanal heritage by helping artisans develop their businesses and find local and foreign markets for their products. CAH represents over 200 artisans in various craft traditions, including stone carving, metal sculpture, paper maché, horn and bone, basketry and natural fiber weaving. The partnership between the artisans and CAH generates incomes to support approximately 1,800 people. Since the 2010 earthquake, CAH has added a new initiative called the Haitian Design Centre, where artisans can generate more designs to ensure the sustainability of their work and income.
Talk about amazing.
"Face of the Sun" oil drum sculpture
I'm particularly fascinated by the metal drum artisans that CAH represents. The craft is unique to Haiti, and it began in the 1940's in a town called Croix des Bouquets, where all the empty oil drums from nearby Port-au-Prince were dumped. Local artisans reclaimed the waste by refashioning it and combining it with other materials to make beautiful art. Because of the artists' resourcefulness with steel drum waste, Crois des Bouquets is no longer littered with steel drums, and the artists now purchase used drums to create their art.
There's something very poignant about artists making beautiful art out of rubble in a country with a worldwide reputation for being a political and economic mess. As Haiti struggles to rise from the ashes, the steel drum artisans' creations are perhaps a sign of hope and strength and promise.
*All art images courtesy of Ten Thousand Villages
Jane Hogeterp Koopman
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