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Forgiveness “A Necessary Medicine” in Haitian Arts Collective

  • Collectivity as Survival Strategy Members of Sant Atizana Matènwa arts collective celebrate and embrace their group's unique focus, which places communal success first. Image Credit: Myriam J. A. Chancy

  • Collectivity as Survival Strategy Members of Sant Atizana Matènwa arts collective celebrate and embrace their group's unique focus, which places communal success first. Image Credit: Myriam J. A. Chancy

  • Collectivity as Survival Strategy Members of Sant Atizana Matènwa arts collective celebrate and embrace their group's unique focus, which places communal success first. Image Credit: Ellen LeBow

  • Collectivity as Survival Strategy Members of Sant Atizana Matènwa arts collective celebrate and embrace their group's unique focus, which places communal success first. Image Credit: Myriam J. A. Chancy

Forgiveness “A Necessary Medicine” in Haitian Arts Collective

We, women artists
 
 We want to work like all the men
 We handle the hoe
 We throw the pruning-knife
 They say that's not much. Really?
 Where are the women?
 We are right here!
-- Work song shared by members of Sant Atizana Matenwa
 

Building a system of values and expected behaviors has not only enabled women on a tiny Haitian island to support themselves as artists, it’s built a mechanism for them to forgive members who lapse from those standards.

Sant Atizana Matenwa, a women’s collective in a remote Haitian village, empowers women through artwork and is guided by a spirit of love and forgiveness. The collective operates on clearly articulated principles of self-love, forgiveness for those who have perpetrated violence in the community, and compassion for the physical integrity of women and children.

As one participant noted, a Haitian proverb teaches that “one finger can’t eat stew alone,” and this group values collaboration for several reasons.

“When we work together, “ says collective member Francelia, “we can reject all that isn’t good, gather up what is and with it come together as one body.”

From handpainted silk scarves to wall hangings, the group creates a variety of vibrant artworks. Perhaps most importantly, their clearly expressed standards place an emphasis on remaining true to the group, rather than individual motivations.

 “This community has really worked to make people think collectively,” adds member Ellen.  “They’ve really educated people to not just think for themselves--there’s been a lot of push to understand that as a group we can survive, and if everyone’s out for themselves it’ll fall apart.”

Along with being together, the group’s code of conduct has clear provisions for working members back into the group’s good graces when things do come apart.

“I think people have really found strength behind determining principles and then striving to follow them and then creating a system to problem solve around that,” says Arielle. “Living in a small community, forgiveness is a necessary medicine.”

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Humanities.

A folk song performed by members of Atis Fanm Matenwa