Grotesquerie of Gargantuan Gargoyles, Part One

The cacophony of Port au Prince begins with the very first steps out of the airport terminal and the onslaught of freelance porters and taximen. Among the touts and eager family members waiting to greet a long-absent diasporan I spotted in the crowd my name, scrawled in black magic marker on a sheet of notebook paper. Minutes later I was in an Isuzu Trooper in the safe hands of Faubert, a driver for the Oloffson Hotel, sent to pick me up and drive me to Jacmel to teach sound at the Sine Lekol Jakmel.

The airport is on the wrong side of the capital for access to Haiti's south and west, and driving to Jacmel requires traversing a throbbing cross-section of Port au Prince quartiers. I immediately asked Faubert to make a stop at the very heart of the maelstrom, at 622 Boulevard Jean Jacques Dessalines, the city's main drag. Even on a Sunday afternoon the boulevard was a logjam of mobylettes weaving through the steaming refuse, and honking, blockaded tap-taps, the lurid, muralled minibuses that serve as public transportation. Diesel fumes and the sizzle of arc-welders and hot dust assaulted the nostrils. This is the auto-repair district, where dozens of unlicensed mechanics ply their trade on the sidewalks, banging and hammering and welding, pulling engine blocks and repairing oil pans and beating out panels and adjusting mufflers right on the sidewalk, as pedestrians struggle to walk by.

It is one of the most chaotic corners of a very chaotic city. There, waiting for me, was Andre Eugene Jean Robert, a leader and founder of the sculptors of la Grand Rue, a group of trash-collecting anarchist artists who have turned a vacant lot here into a kind of Vodouist Watts Tower. A twenty-foot figure of rusted, welded iron, part abandoned bedspring, part truck chassis, sprouting an immense vibrating phallus made from a a length of log fixed into the coil of a big rig's shock absorber, presides over the entrance.

Eugene, standing by the right leg of the Grand Rue watchman, included to show scale

Sproing! Eugene demonstrates the action of the, uh, lower portion of a gigantic torso

The doctor is in! Schedule your next checkup now. Appointments still available for November 1st

Behind are countless sculptures jammed together on this wasted plot of land, so densely packed together that it is impossible to tell where one figure ends and another one begins. The ensemble is a sort of metallic stew incorporating the refuse of modern society, Vodou spirits personified as grinning demons, djab, and hobgoblins, like incarnations of Maurice Sendak's Wild Things made from bent, tangled and mangled bits of metal, lumps of melted plastic and the rest of the bottom of the world's garbage barrel, stuff from the dregs of humanity's trash, which even here finds no other use. Shattered grates from cheap, expired Chinese electric fans, hubcaps, abandoned dolls and clothing, and even human skulls that wash out of the ground of the nearby central cemetery, all find their way into this army of demented creatures, metaphors for a world gone mad.

Bizango, if you don't know.

I only had fifteen minutes to spend with Eugene on the way into Haiti, as we were rushing to reach Jacmel before nightfall, but I promised to stop back for a closer look on my way out....

No comments: