Friday, March 19, 2010
The New Yorker.-..Baron Samedi
Cover Story: The Resurrection of the Dead
Posted by Blake Eskin
The cover of this week’s New Yorker is titled “The Resurrection of the Dead.” It was painted by the Haitian artist Frantz Zephirin.
“The Resurrection of the Dead” is not a direct response to the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12th; Zephirin painted it in 2007. But Bill Bollendorf, who runs the Galerie Macondo, in Pittsburgh, explained that the three skeletal figures in the doorway are guede, members of a family of spirits who guard the frontier between life and death. The woman in the wedding dress is Gran’ Brigitte, and the man in the blue uniform is her husband, Baron Samedi.
Elizabeth McAlister, an associate professor of religion at Wesleyan University who specializes in Haiti (and who took part in Sasha Frere-Jones’ two-part roundtable on Haitian music), offered additional interpretation of the symbolism in the cover image. She understood the wall surrounding the doorway to be filled with
the unblinking faces of the spirits of the recently dead. Just crossed over, they still have eyes, which are the blue and red of the Haitian flag.
She went on:
Below them are the waters, the waters under which lies the country without hats, where the sun rises facing backwards. This is where the dead spend a year and a day. An ba dlo. Under the water. Resting. Floating. After that when it is time, they will be lifted out, drawn out, by their living. If they are lucky to have children living and walking on the earth.
The dead are still with us, in the unseen world. They have a space. They have a time. They have company. They are not alone. They will be received. They will hear prayers. They look at us.
Bill Bollendorf says he met Zephirin in Haiti in 1989. The artist first travelled to Pittsburgh in 1995, and every so often comes to visit and paint. “He always takes a Greyhound bus from Miami,” says Bollendorf. “He likes to ruminate on his art.” On his most recent visit, in 2007, Zephirin “painted five fabulous paintings and drank seven cases of Yuengling beer—and he was here for eight days,” Bollendorf says.
In his paintings, Zephirin will refer to, and comment upon, history, politics, and Christianity and voodoo; “Bourique Chaje” (“The Overloaded Donkey”) is a critique of a comment made by an American ambassador to Haiti. Zephirin’s paintings often contain animals; Bollendorf says Zephirin once told him,”I’m an eagle. I hang above it all and see what I can catch.”
Zephirin’s home was in Mariani, near the epicenter of the earthquake. “He lives on a mountaintop in this voodoo temple, and on the second floor he paints,” he said. Bollendorf was unable to reach Zephirin for several days after the earthquake. Zephirin finally called him on Sunday afternoon, and said he was “doing an earthquake painting called ‘The Cry of the Earth.’ Painting it while sitting at an easel in the devastated street, he tells me.”
More of Zephirin’s work can be seen at the sites of the Galerie Macondo and the Galerie Monnin, in Haiti.
Prints of Zephirin’s “The Resurrection of the Dead” are available through The New Yorker Store; The New Yorker will donate all profits to Partners in Health, which provides health care and other services in Haiti, and has taken a leading role in earthquake relief efforts. Subscribers can read Tracy Kidder’s 2000 Profile of Dr. Paul Farmer, one of the founders of Partners in Health.
(Photograph: Bill Bollendorf.)
* Frantz Zephirin;
* The Resurrection of the Dead
Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2010/01/cover-story-frantz-zephirin.html#ixzz0idQvJyKP