"Haiti: 01-12-2010 We Remember," a group exhibit curated by West Orange-based artist Jean Claude Dominique opens with a reception this Thursday evening at the New Jersey Arts Incubator at Essex Green Plaza in West Orange. The show will run through March 23. On January 12, 2010, Haiti was hit by a catastrophic earthquake that killed and injured hundreds of thousands. Many times that number both in Haiti and in the New Jersey metropolitan area were permanently affected by the devastation.
Dominique remembers, "My family and I were glued to the television around the clock; the images were horrific. We could not believe what we were seeing — it was surreal … I don’t think they'll ever know how many people died."
Dominique, who was born in Port-Au-Prince and came to the United States as a 13 year old, forces himself to watch tapes of the horrific events, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. "It's a hard subject, but art helps make sense of the tragedy," he said. "I believe as artists we have to make strong statements."
The West Orange-based artist belongs to a group of Haitian-born artists called the "Ayitistik," Creole for Haiti and artistic. The group grew out of a call for artists put out by Marcial Bonhomme of the LAMBI Fund for Haiti, an eight-year-old nonprofit based both in the United States and Haiti. LAMBI is dedicated to the sustainable rebuilding of Haiti and is a co-presenter of this exhibit at the Incubator.
Dominique was among the Haitian-born artists who answered Bonhomme's call. "Ten of us had 110 paintings in a major show at the Summit Medical Center," Dominique said. After the success of the show, the artists created Ayitistik, and Dominique presented this challenge: paint works specifically about the earthquake.
Last year, Dominique went to Carol Berman of Livingston, the executive director of the Incubator, with the idea for an exhibit there, "She welcomed us with open arms."
Dominique and his fellow artists are driven by the need for remembrance. "The problems continue, but Haiti is not in the forefront anymore," Dominique said. "We want to make certain people remember every year."
There is another force driving Ayitistik — proceeds from the sale of the canvases will partially underwrite members going to Haiti and connect them with groups that work to heal children through art.
Dominique's own vibrantly colored canvases will be among the approximately 40 works that will be on view at the Incubator. His works both capture the terrible loss and give hope for rebirth.
"I watched footage of a truck dumping bodies into a mass grave," Dominique said. In one of his works titled, "In Memory of Those Who Perished," the artist represents the dead going to that mass grave. But there is also sense of the earth opening to receive them. The bodies are set against a brilliant field of blue — as if heaven is receiving them, too.
In "Destruction, Death and Rebirth," two stylized figures of pregnant women cast their eyes downward in grief. Rooted in the earth, their bodies form a heart of hope and the future.
Dominique and all of the artists look to the future and rebuilding a stronger Haiti, "This is part of our history; it will not go away .. I don’t know how long it will take, but we must make a difference. Hundreds of thousands of our brothers and sisters lost their lives not only because of the earthquake but due to a lack of Haiti’s preparedness, a solid infrastructure, and vision."
The presenting artists are Jerry M.C. Georges, Jean P. Blaise, Mona Coichy Haigler, Gracie Xavier, Jean Richard Coachy, Francisco Gervais, Joseph Thony Moise, Auguste Isaac "Zaak", Jean Claude Dominique and Marino Jean-Louis.
There is an opening reception for "Haiti: 01-12-2010 We Remember" on Thursday, Jan. 12 from 7 to 10 p.m. The Incubator gallery will be open every Saturday from 2 to 7 p.m. for the run of the show and by appointment: call (862) 250-4393. The gallery is at 495 Prospect Avenue, Essex Green at the shopping center’s top level. Walk along the courtyard between Petco and Panera’s and turn right at the AMC Cinema mural. See New Jersey Arts Incubator for more information and directions.