Voa Nu, Pwisans Nu (Our Voice, Our Strength)

Voa Nu, Pwisans Nu (Our Voice, Our Strength) by Felix St. Fort and Ernel Martinez & Parris Stancell. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Following the tragic 2010 earthquake in Haiti that left millions of people homeless and in desperate need of medical care, eighteen survivors were relocated to temporary housing in Germantown by Partners in Health.

A year later, Mural Arts began working with the survivors and the larger Haitian population in Germantown to produce a new mural that creates a healing conversation, gives voice to and builds connections within the Haitian community. 

Over the course of 10 weeks, artists Parris Stancell, Felix St. Forte, and Ernel Martinez worked with the group of survivors to teach art-making techniques and brainstorm visions for the finished product. The result of their collaboration is one large scale mural designed by Felix St. Forte and Ernel Martinez that will adorn a nearby Haitian church at 4675 Germantown Avenue and a smaller mural designed by Parris Stancell which will be installed on the exterior of the survivors’ current residence adjacent to the church on the 5000 block of Wakefield Street.

The large mural, Voa Nu, Pwisans Nu (Our Voice, Our Strength) , weaves together Haitian icons and facets of Haitian culture in a vibrant-colorful homage to the survivors of the 2010 earthquake. The artists used vibrant colors that incorporate the full range of the rainbow to communicate the hues typically seen throughout the Haitian culture. The central image is the squash, which plays a dominant role in Haitian history and tradition. The image at the bottom left corner of the mural is a tap tap, one the colorful buses that dot Haiti’s public transportation system. 

Above the tap tap is a depiction of the nation’s statue honoring Le Negre Marron, an unknown freedom fighter symbolizing the thousands of enslaved Haitians who fought for freedom from France. Le Negre Marron is portrayed using the conch shell to make the rallying call for freedom. The two circles on the right side of the mural underscore the resilience of the people and the beauty of the land in Haiti. Installation of this work is underway and will be completed in June 2012. 

In March, Mural Arts partnered with the Free Library of Philadelphia’s One Book, One Philadelphia program to present an intimate painting activity with renowned Haitian Author Edwidge Danticat. Each year, the program challenges Philadelphians to read a pre-selected best-selling book and participate in a series of engaging events. This year’s book, Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work, a collection of essays by Ms. Danticat that illustrate the struggle of making art in exile and what it is like to live and work in a country constantly in conflict, where even the act of reading means taking a stand against oppression.