On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti just outside the town of Léogâne, just 16 miles from the capitol city, Port-au-Prince. Buildings were crushed, monuments toppled, and as many as 220,000 people lost their lives.
Creativity can give us options. Creativity can give us something to fight for. And creativity can help us recover from the worst when it happens. Like in 2010, when Mt. Merapi erupted in Indonesia, monsoon rains flooded the Indus river in Pakistan, and a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti to it’s core. Or in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina.
Across all four regions and cultures survivors turned to art to reclaim their homes. In 2011 some of that art was featured in an exhibit called The Arts of Survival: Folk Expression in the Face of Disaster at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“The Arts of Survival provides a window to the many ways contemporary folk artists use what they know best to respond to natural disaster with vision, perseverance, dignity and imagination-even in the midst of political infighting, infrastructural log jams, and environmental after affects. Through this experience, they learn that the most fundamental power is the indomitable spirit of mankind.” — Exhibition curator Dr. Suzanne Seriff
In Indonesia, master makers created shadow puppets representing the volcano with fire and ash spewing from it to memorialize the story.
In Pakistan local craftswomen took to needle and thread, creating ralli purrs (quilt tops) from excess clothing from relief efforts into much needed blankets, both for warmth and to raise funds for rebuilding.
In Haiti, street artists pulled scrap metal from the wreckage, transforming it into sculptures depicting the terror they had experienced. Others stitched Vodou Flags or crafted terrifying papier-mâché masks.
In New Orleans, they painted poems on the sides of broken houses, stitched quilted memorials from moldy bedsheets pulled from drowned buildings. One built an entire village from broken furniture, old chain link fencing, and other salvaged materials.
When asked why, one artist answered:
“My reason for making this is to bring together the human family, so we can get together and rebuild New Orleans, so we can rebuild ourselves and our soul.” Joe Minter
Japan has been headlining disaster news a great deal of late:
- September 12, 2014: Mount Ontake erupted killing more than 50 people who had been hiking at the popular tourist spot.
- October 5, 2014: Typhoon Phanfone made landfall, shutting down Mount Ontake search and rescue operations, canceling 400+ flights, closing schools, triggering mudslides, and resulting in evacuation advisories for more than 2 million people, power outages to 9,000+ homes, and seven deaths with a number of people still missing.
- October 7, 2014: Typhoon Vongfong, upgraded this morning to a super typhoon, is forecast to hit Japan this weekend.
And, of course, most of us remember the deadly earthquake/tsunami-fueled disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant on March 11, 2011–the largest nuclear disaster since the April 1986 even at Chernobyl.
In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Japan shut down all of its nuclear reactors, but recently the Japanese government has approved plans to restart the program, including any reactors that pass strict, new safety tests, along with possible new plants.
While stronger safety criteria are a step in the right direction, Japan has a long history of seismic activity, and the occasionally resulting tsunami, due to it’s location along the highly active Ring of Fire that surrounds the Pacific. And the intensity and frequency of seismic and other events appear to be increasing. Add to that equation their 118 volcanoes on just over 145, 000 square miles of land, and one has to wonder if any safety measure could be strong enough.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who grew up in earthquake country. Despite the fact that her family home was built on bedrock, she grew up just knowing that, any day, the big one could hit and take everything away.
Now, maybe it was that. Or maybe it was the stories that her father read to her each night, filled with wild rides, and one ring to rule them all, and other battles of good vs. evil. But whatever the reason, she grew up obsessed with tales of the apocalypse.
And as she got older, she learned to store extra food, and how to turn off the water and gas, and stay indoors during lightning storms. In late 1999, she bought extra water and boxes of Duraflame logs in preparation for Y2K. And when she bought a house of her own, she made sure it was seismically up to code.
This house of hers had a huge garden and a second-story window that looked out over the ocean. And when it came time to plant, she didn’t choose flowers. Instead she created an apocalypse garden, where each tree and bush and seed would grow to serve more than one purpose–herbs for cooking and to attract pollinators, cherries for fruit and one day wood, winter and summer squash for food and to shade the delicate roots and stems of newly planted apple and plum. But her favorite was the black bamboo grown in barrels along the back fence. The shoots could be eaten, the stalks could be used to build, and the grove blocked a neighbor’s ugly yard.
That house belongs to some someone else now, and the girl has traded her ocean for the wide skies of New Mexico, but she still carries that garden within her. And in this increasingly uncertain world, those books that inspired her feel less like fiction or fantasy and more like a map for the road ahead.