Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Smithsonian Partners with the Episcopal Church in Haiti

We've been praying for the Episcopal Church in Haiti for months now, so it seems appropriate that when the church in Haiti makes the New York Times, we ought to let you know about it. Most of Trinity Cathedral's world-renowned murals depicting the life of Christ in a Haitian context were destroyed in last year's earthquake, but several survived, and the Episcopal Church and the Smithsonian institution are partnering to save them.
The effort to save the murals is a visible extension of a little-known cross-border bond. The Episcopal Church of Haiti was founded by an African-American named James Theodore Holly, who led about 2,000 black Americans to Haiti in 1861 as part of a wider emigration movement. He and his sons played prominent roles as professionals and scholars after founding “what was actually Haiti’s first national church, and the first Episcopal church founded outside of the Anglophone world,” said Laurent Dubois, a historian at Duke University.

The eight muralists, while Haitian from their toes to the tips of their paintbrushes, also had American ties. Many trained at an academy founded by an American artist, Dewitt Peters, who came to Haiti in 1943.

Credit for the work, though, must also be shared by the Haitian bishops and priests who “gave them the liberty they needed,” said Mr. C├ęsar. Some of the unconventional images would later become controversial for Christians who saw links to voodoo, but for many Haitians and art historians, they represented one of this country’s proudest cultural moments.
Those who follow the Episcopal News Service may not be surprised by this course of events. In May, ENS reported:

[Smithsonian undersecretary for history, art, and culture Richard] Kurin, who returned from Haiti on May 25 after negotiating a cultural-heritage recovery plan with Haitian government officials, told ENS that he had not seen the Holy Trinity murals prior to the earthquake, despite having been in Port-au-Prince many times. 
"It was incredibly striking and sad and in some ways strangely uplifting to see those murals in their current state," he said. "When you see the ruins of those walls and the murals still standing, they are standing there proudly amidst the destruction." 
Kurin said he was also struck by what he called the "Haitization" of biblical stories portrayed in the murals. "In that fact, there's a respect for the people of Haiti in those murals … the art of those murals incorporates Haitians in that story and that's very moving," he said. "Those murals represent a coming together of different cultural traditions and making them particularly and especially Haitian. They're unique; they're beautiful." 
Kurin and others hoped to include the murals in the Smithsonian's Haiti Cultural Recovery Project. The project will operate in a 7,500-square-foot, three-story air-conditioned building in Port-au-Prince that once housed the United Nations Development Programme, according to a Smithsonian news release. It will be a place where objects retrieved from the rubble can be assessed, conserved and stored. Haitians will be trained to take over the conservation effort in a few years.
The news about the murals matters to us here in Indianapolis even more than they might otherwise now, because this weekend, Bishop Jean Zache Duracin of Haiti will be visiting Christ Church Cathedral.

Join us in welcoming Bishop Jean Zache Duracin, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti! Saturday, February 26, 2 p.m.- 5 p.m. at Christ Church Cathedral. Come learn more about the Diocese of Indianapolis and the Diocese of Haiti partnership and the culture of our mission work together. There will be an opportunity to ask questions and have an informal face to face time with Bishop Duracin at a reception from 4 p.m.-5 p.m. Pere Kesner Ajax, Coordinator of the Diocese of Haiti Partnership Program, will also present. Also, join us on Sunday, February 27, as the Bishop Duracin will preach at the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services at the Cathedral. He will also be guest at the Dean's Forum at 10 a.m. All are warmly welcome!

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