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The study investigates how the arts and humanities facilitate the recovery of places following catastrophe. It contends that personal engagements with humanistic activities enable place-making by helping to restore relations among mind, body, and environment at an individual scale while also producing forms that circulate to help reinstate place at collective scales. Evidence from research conducted in and on Haiti following its 2010 earthquake supports the argument.
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Progress in Human Geography
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/0309132513512543
published online 23 January 2014Prog Hum Geogr Thomas Puleo
Art-making as place-making following disaster
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Art-making as place-making
following disaster
Thomas Puleo
Arizona State University, USA
The study investigates how the arts and humanities facilitate the recovery of places following catastrophe. It
contends that personal engagements with humanistic activities enable place-making by helping to restore
relations among mind, body, and environment at an individual scale while also producing forms that circulate
to help reinstate place at collective scales. Evidence from research conducted in and on Haiti following its
2010 earthquake supports the argument.
art, disaster, Haiti, humanities, place, resilience
I Introduction
This paper contends that the arts and huma-
nities can and do play a role in post-disaster
place-making. To make my argument, I situate
an examination of artistic and humanistic
responses to the 2010 Haiti earthquake within
current geographical discussions of imagina-
tion, representation, place, health, and resili-
ence, and the role of the arts and humanities
in them. My analytical aim is to demonstrate
that persons who are traumatized by cata-
strophe participate in the arts and humanities
because such engagements, what I loosely term
‘humanistic activities’, foster the restoration of
health and place at an individual scale and that
the products of these activities circulate among
observers to facilitate a similar recovery at col-
lective scales, in both mental and material reg-
isters. My normative aim is to demonstrate that
humanistic activities, particularly in their pop-
ular and informal versions, deserve increased
acknowledgment and support from disaster
relief programs for their capacity to facilitate
the recovery of both people and places that
have been devastated by disaster. By making
these arguments, I offer support to a more gen-
eral one: that humanistic activity is not a
‘superficial ornament’ of society but an essen-
tial part of it (Bate, 2011: 12).
II Geographical imagination,
representation, place, health, and
I start by examining the geographical discus-
sions on imagination, representation, place,
health, and resilience to identify points of con-
nection among them, including intersections
with the arts and humanities. The geographical
imagination is understood as a ‘persistent uni-
versal instinct’ that commingles nature and
Corresponding author:
Arizona State University, PO Box 873902, Tempe, AZ
85287-3902, USA.
Progress in Human Geography
ªThe Author(s) 2014
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culture through creative art (Prince, 1962) with
a visual and aesthetic sensibility (Cosgrove,
1984). It is also a ‘powerful ingredient ... a
way of envisioning the world, experiencing and
reshaping it too’ (Daniels, 2011: 182). Tradi-
tionally, the key modes through which the geo-
graphical imagination was accessed, stimulated,
and expressed were narrative description and
cartographic depiction, pursuits once consid-
ered to be secondary to interpretation and expla-
nation but then later understood to be essential
precursors to them, as the act of representation
itself emerged as a subject of investigation
(Daniels, 2011). Subsequent discussions of the
geographical imagination lifted the arts of rep-
resentation from being simple tasks that were
preliminary to geographical study to serving
as complex components of it that were as funda-
mental to the work as the geographical phenom-
ena they portrayed (Daniels, 2011; Tomaney,
2010). Even in the geographic tradition the arts
of representation have long been implicated in
understandings of the geographic imagination.
The idea of geographic imagination is central
to the concept of place, particularly as it relates
to the self. Place exists between the objective
and the subjective (Entrikin, 1991), the physio-
graphic and the imagined (Daniels, 1992), and
the mythical and the mundane (Daniels, 2011).
It is the realm of location and locale but also
sense of place (Agnew, 2002), the latter compo-
nent having a distinctly imaginary quality.
Through ‘imaginative geographies’ a subject
can ‘‘‘map’’ the self into the world’ (Cosgrove,
2011: xxiii), thereby at least partially dissolving
the line between dweller and dwelling. The self
is immersed, supported and contained within
these ambivalent matrices as well as being a
maker of them. Accordingly, for some geogra-
phers place is essential to the formation of the
self, a relation in which both place and subject
are in a constant state of becoming (Pred,
1984). Some geographers have argued the need
to connect the social and geographical imagina-
tions (Agnew and Duncan, 1989) to better unite
habitant and habitat, a part of a larger effort to
move the discourse on place from one that is
‘explanatory and diagnostic’ to one that is
‘anticipatory and utopian’ (Gregory, 2010: 285).
The tasks of explaining existing places and of
anticipating new ones rely on the power of the
imagination to mediate the relation not only
among past, present, and future dimensions but
also between cognitive and material domains
and individual and collective registers. Places
develop first in the imagination before they obtain
material form but the imagination also works in
constant dialog with the place in which it is
immersed and which it pursues.
Geographical imaginations and the instru-
ments and practices that facilitate them in the
creation and transformation of places have also
been destructive in nature, as evidenced by the
roles they have played in the waging of war, the
founding of empire, and the establishment of
colonialism (Daniels, 2011). They have also
been essential to acts of recovery. For example,
the geographical imagination is the realm where
medical care and landscape meet to create ‘ther-
apeutic imaginaries’, some of which are more
effective than others depending upon the eco-
nomic, political, social, cultural, historical,
technological, and environmental factors that
inform and influence them (Pope, 2012:
1157). People also engage their geographical
imaginations to reconstruct place-based identi-
ties in order to transform their old internal map-
pings to conform to their new external ones,
such as when governing elites disrupt them
through the act of redistricting (Zhu et al.,
2011). The geographic imagination provides
an essential link between people and the places
in which they reside, in all of their human and
material complexity.
Additional studies enrich the discussion. Place
sets the conditions within which societies deter-
mine the parameters of health (Philo, 2007). In
a more clinical sense, it fosters the formation of
a child’s self because it provides a purchase for
his or her imagination in its integrated social and
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material infrastructure (Spencer and Blades,
2008). For persons with learning disabilities,
attachment to place contributes to their emo-
tional and social wellbeing, a dynamic that ‘con-
ventional biomedicine and health policy have
failed to address’ (Hall, 2010: 277). This relation
is also apparent in disaster settings where ‘people
with lower levels of social capital tend to per-
ceive higher risks from climate change impacts’
(Jones et al., 2012: 33), a findingthat supportsthe
more general insight that cognitive, social, and
cultural practices must be included in any model
of environmental or health assessment (Holme´n
and Furukawa, 2002; Kuruppu and Liverman,
2011; Nightingale, 2003; Nyqvist et al., 2008;
Patterson, 2008). Individual, social, and material
phenomena and processes commingle in space
and single and collective geographic imagina-
tions hold them together to create places that
mediate both function and meaning.
A key function of the imagination is the invo-
cation and manipulation of the future. The dis-
tinction between the perceived present and the
imagined future is often uncertain, however,
especially when these two dimensions serve as
fields for potential intervention. For instance,
the destruction of the Twin Towers spurred res-
idents to prepare for possible similar events.
These preparations required projections into a
Manhattan of the future, but since material
interventions into future space are as impossible
as those into past space, actors had to resort to
manipulating present space rather than attend-
ing to ‘conditions of possibility’ that exist only
in the imagination and always lie beyond phys-
ical engagement in a future time dimension
(Aradau and Van Munster, 2012: 98). Given
that future space is inaccessible in material
terms, a default to interventions into present
space is necessary. Past, present and future
dimensions collapse into one another as mem-
ory, perception, and anticipation collide and
commingle in a single geographical imagin-
ary. The strength of art is that it allows for
interventions into future space by facilitating
the expression of ‘conditions of possibility’
within the imaginative domain. In this way it
partly resolves the dilemma posed by future
place-making by substituting imagined inter-
ventions into future space for material interven-
tions into present space.
A review of the literature on resilience offers
further possibilities for the mingling of imagina-
tion and place in post-disaster settings. Resili-
ence was defined by C.S. Holling as ‘the
ability of a social system to respond and recover
from disasters and includes those inherent con-
ditions that allow the system to absorb impacts
and cope with an event’ (Holling, 1973, quoted
in Ainuddin, 2012: 26; see also Cutter et al.,
2008; Pike et al., 2010).
Resilience also exists to a strong extent in a
place’s institutions, making harmonization
among them vital. Such harmonization relies
not only upon the financial aspects of institu-
tional relations but also upon the mutual senses
of trust and affinity they share (Adger, 2000).
Therefore, because social capital is as important
as financial capital, an activity that develops and
operates outside of political, historical, cultural
and psychological contexts loses efficacy
(Morrice, 2013; Ainuddin, 2012; MacKinnon
and Derickson 2012; Nerlich and Jaspal,
2012; Munt, 2012; Cote and Nightingale,
2012; Tobin et al., 2011; Wolf et al., 2011;
Lowry, 2009; Furedi, 2007; Birch and Wach-
ter, 2006; Folke, 2006). Resilience thus
emerges from ‘a complex web of social inter-
actions, characteristics and capacities that
enable a community to live with the hazards
they face’ (Crowley et al., 2012: 209).
A humanistic reading of these statements
reveals ample room for the role of the geogra-
phical imagination in their interpretation. For
instance, given the cognitive-material nature
of place, the geographical imagination can be
easily conceived as one of the ‘inherent condi-
tions’ of systemic adaptability mentioned by
Holling (1973), as an essential element in the
development of institutional trust and inclusion
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noted by Adger (2000), and as an essential tool
for the political, historical, cultural, and psycho-
logical contextualization cited by several scho-
lars (Ainuddin, 2012; Birch and Wachter,
2006; Cote and Nightingale, 2012; Folke,
2006; Furedi, 2007; Lowry, 2009; MacKinnon
and Derickson, 2012; Morrice, 2013; Munt,
2012; Nerlich and Jaspal, 2012; Tobin et al.,
2011; Wolf et al., 2010). Another opportunity
emerges in a list of factors that DiGiano and
Racelis (2012) consider to be essential to resili-
ence, namely social memory, a kind of collective
historical context and emotional state that facili-
tates the interpretation of the past, the perception
of the present, and the imagination of the future.
Resilience exists as a function of personal and
collective cognition as well as social and mate-
rial infrastructure. Read as pieces on resilience,
the studies on risk assessment cited earlier sup-
port this claim with imagination viewed as a
kind of ‘social capital’ (Jones et al., 2012:
33; see also Holme´n and Furukawa, 2002;
Kuruppu and Liverman, 2011; Nightingale,
2003; Nyqvist et al., 2008; Patterson, 2008).
Precisely on this point, a recent survey of stud-
ies details how imagination influences the per-
ception of climate change (Yusoff and Gabrys,
2011). My claim here is that the imagination
offers a resilient mode and domain for place-
making, particularly in cases where disaster has
caused severe social and material disruption,
and that the arts and humanities facilitate indi-
vidual and collective access to it.
III Haiti: art-making as place-
making after the 2010 earthquake
The aim of my research in Haiti is to investigate
how art-making serves as a form of place-
making following a disaster, one that works
across imaginative and material domains as well
as individual and collective registers. In making
the link between art-making and place-making,
I use the term ‘humanistic activities’ to refer to
practices that are neither explicitly artistic nor
obviously geographical but that are nonetheless
implicated in recovering the health and integ-
rity of both people and places following a
disaster in ways that are attentive to both aes-
thetics and space. They exhibit creativity, energy,
and form, qualities that facilitate wellbeing and
place-making in that they stimulate the mind,
exercise the body, and express the imagination.
These activities are particularly vital following
a disaster because they retain the roots of place-
making within the cognitive self after the social
and physical infrastructure of a place has been
disrupted, an observation that finds support in
some of the earliest and most fundamental
geographical understandings of place-making
and imagination (Agnew and Duncan, 1989;
Cosgrove, 1984; Daniels, 1992; Entrikin, 1991;
Pred, 1984; Prince, 1962). While disasters
destroy old places, they also necessitate the
growth of new ones and thereby serve as catalytic
events (Alexander, 2000; Philo, 2007; Puleo,
2010). So, while post-disaster art-making and
place-making are creative activities, they emerge
within the fields of destruction that made
them both necessary and possible and therefore
develop in close relation with them. As I demon-
strate below, this tension is evident in post-
earthquake Haiti, as the chaos created by the
earthquake implicated itself into the recovery that
followed, an inherently conflicted relation that
humanistic activities help mediate and resolve.
Before I argue for the involvement of huma-
nistic activities in place-making in post-
earthquake Haiti, I offer a short critique of
current uses of the arts and humanities in disaster
relief. International relief programs engage the
arts and humanities in various forms and to var-
ious degrees, usually as instruments that carry
particular public health messages (skits that
demonstrate safer sexual practices, for example)
rather than as activities in which the public parti-
cipates for their own active benefit (see Gupta
and Singh, 2011; see also Doctors Without Bor-
ders,; Oxfam,; USAID, One
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partial exception to this general trend is a project
in Haiti that provides a venue for performances
that range from speeches by renowned artists and
writers to talent shows for local performers. The
impetus behind the initiative is to create a place
that facilitates the peaceful accommodation of
the many migrants from Port-au-Prince who flo-
wed into the small suburb of St Marc following
the earthquake (USAID Haiti, 2012). The venue,
Le Troquet, is a good example of the use of the
arts and humanities to restore a place to a state
of health following a catastrophe, but it is only
one example of the relation between post-
disaster art-making and place-making. I suggest
that the use of the arts and humanities is more
extensive and common than what occurs in such
institutional settings and I privilege these com-
plex but informal engagements with humanistic
activities here.
Descendants of history’s only successful slave
revolt, Haitians are proud of their country and still
evince high levels of independence and persever-
ance, particularly aspersonal qualities. In a coun-
try where most institutions are poorly developed,
individual initiative is vital to social and material
wellbeing (Farmer et al., 2011). I visited the
island-nation on two separate research trips, one
in June 2010 and another in January 2011, and
have followed its recovery through media sources
and personal contacts since the day of the event.
With the assistance of American and Haitian
research partners, I conducted multiple landscape
observations, media surveys and personal inter-
views. I draw on the first two methods for this
study while reserving the personal interviews for
future publications. Unlike the USAID effort, the
two cases I examine involve strictly private
endeavors that were aimed at restoring order to
shattered persons and places, what Lollini and
Bouchard (2007: 22), in a Mediterranean rather
than Caribbean context, refer to as ‘simple, natu-
ral gestures ... (for) finding a meaning in the dis-
asters of war, hate, and violence’. Specifically,
the statement describes how a Croatian woman
lays out figs to dry in the sun, and how another
woman collects mint in the hills above Ramal-
lah, each of these acts serving as rhythmic per-
formances that create peaceful spaces amid
violent chaos (Consolo, 2007a, 2007b). They are
humanistic activities that increase resilience in
economic, physiological, and nutritional terms
as well as in psychological and emotional
respects through their aesthetic reconstitutions
of order. I change the interpretation of Lollini
and Bouchard’s statement somewhat to empha-
size the capacity of these gestures, not to pro-
it more legible by reordering and rehabilitating
the elements that turn chaotic space into habita-
ble place. This is not ‘restoration’ in the sense
of returning a landscape to an original ‘predis-
turbance state’ as criticized by Lowenthal
(2011: 219) but the restoration of a new place
ecology as described by Philo (2007), one that
naturally occurs across psychological, physio-
logical, and environmental domains.
The first case concerns an artist named Jerry
Moise Rosembert, a man in his early thirties,
who is much better known by only his first
name. He has become widely known for his ico-
nic drawings of post-earthquake Haiti as a dis-
traught cartographic representation, with a
rough outline of the country forming a cracked
face with tearful eyes and a pair of pleading
hands in front of it (Figure 1). The phrase ‘We
Need Help’ often accompanies the image.
Using cans of spray paint he created the first six
versions in his Port-au-Prince neighborhood of
Bois Verna, but before long they appeared all
over the city (Bhatia, 2010; Daniel, 2010; Kay,
2010; Stephenson, 2011). Whether Jerry created
all of them is uncertain. What is certain is the
impact that the artwork had on the local,
national, and global understandings of the crisis.
The international press captured the image
and used it to illustrate the first reports that
emerged from a landscape that offered an over-
whelming number of depictions of distress.
What began as a single impulsive gesture, the
solitary expression of one person, generated
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first an image, then a phrase, and then an icon
that travelled digitally throughout the world,
to weave a collective impression at multiple
scales (Serres and Latour, 1995). As I describe
in the paragraphs that follow, Jerry’s work
increases his own resilience in the face of disaster
and then contributes to a greater ‘systemic adapt-
ability’ as described by Holling (1973) as others
become aware of his art at local, national, and
global scales.
Street art and graffiti have a long history in
Haiti. They are often religious in content but just
as frequently they engage secular political,
social, and cultural themes (Bhatia, 2009;
Butcher, 2010; Gordon, 2010; Rodman, 1988).
The Creole word spre (as in spray paint) refers
to street art and is a common phenomenon in
Port-au-Prince. It has been particularly preva-
lent since the earthquake that dramatically
increased the need, content, opportunity, and
space for it. The ornate tap-taps, privately
owned shuttles that ply Port-au-Prince’s streets,
carry designs that are similar in theme but more
sophisticated in technique and execution and
much more expensive to produce. The elaborate
decoration of a tap-tap indicates the competence
and reliability of its owner-operator because it
represents that he or she is willing and able to
make a sizable monetary investment in an
ostensibly non-essential aspect of the business.
In fact, potential passengers know that a tap-
percentage of his or her revenue on decoration
is successful enough also to afford regular
mechanical maintenance.
Jerry produces his art to help himself as well
as his fellow Haitians. In a country that offers lit-
tle hope for advancement, Jerry felt that art was
his only way toward success. Shai Stephenson
reveals some of the artist’s personal motivation:
Rosembert was a shy child who always liked to
draw. He saw violence and suffering in the streets
and heard about it on the news. With no way of
changing his actual surroundings, Rosembert
escaped into fantasy, creating a world different
from the one he knew – ‘a world without fighting,
a world without trouble, a world where everything
is OK’. (Stephenson, 2011: 24)
Figure 1. Iconic drawing by Jerry Moise Rosembert (Walter Michot/Miami Herald Staff, 2010).
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Pooja Bhatia provides insights into his social
incentive, as she quotes him saying:
There are a lot of people suffering in Haiti, and the
government does not care. When I spre, it’s to
show them that someone does care, that someone
notices. Haitians get up early, you know, and
when they see it first thing in the morning, it’s like
a surprise. (Bhatia, 2009: 6)
He painted one of his first works, a depiction
of a man escaping from a window of Haiti’s
General Hospital, on the wall of the hospital
itself and incorporated one of its windows
into the design. It is a form of social-
political commentary that validates the feel-
ings of Haitians toward an institution in
which medical staff spoke to patients in
French instead of the much more commonly
understood Creole, and wrote them prescrip-
tions for medicines they could not afford
(Bhatia, 2009). Drawn from real concerns
of daily life and alive with spontaneity, parti-
cularity and humor, Jerry’s depictions reso-
nate easily and forcefully with the people
who see them. Similar to the activities of the
women living in war-torn parts of the Medi-
terranean, Jerry responds to the stress caused
by the earthquake by engaging in an activity
that re-establishes order within himself and
his immediate surroundings, order that devel-
ops through the performance of a humanistic
activity, that is evident in the object that it
produces, and that emerges through its circu-
lation to facilitate the restoration of order at
larger collective scales.
Jerry’s work, while not fine art, was
immediately recognized as something differ-
ent from the regular spre that consists mostly
of simple political slogans that are crudely
sprayed onto walls at the behest of politicians
for a small fee (Bhatia, 2009; Stephenson,
2011). Jerry’s motivation seems to arise more
out of a sense of social responsibility and
artistic inspiration than monetary gain. He
Sometimes I go into the ghettos ... There are a
lot of people who live in bad situations in Haiti.
I try to transmit their feelings. What they feel,
I paint on the walls. That’s what made me start
drawing so many people crying. A lot, a lot, a lot
of people crying. (Stephenson, 2011: 27)
Jerry creates his art to express feelings that he
develops in relation to the conditions of his
place, including the welfare of other people who
reside in it. The independent subjectivities of
the people around him inform his creative
response, so that what he creates represents not
only his own perspective but also the perspec-
tives of others, demonstrating the complex dia-
log between subject and place that has been
recognized by several geographers (Agnew and
Duncan, 1989; Cosgrove, 1984; Daniels, 1992;
Entrikin, 1991; Pred, 1984; Prince, 1962). Art-
work and the making of that artwork displays
this dialog to reify the relation between individ-
ual and collective entities, thereby increasing
the sense of trust and inclusion that is an essen-
tial component of resilience (Adger, 2000).
Jerry has applied his art to institutional
efforts, particularly those of non-governmental
organizations, such as when he depicted on
latrine doors people washing their hands, to
communicate the importance of personal
hygiene in the midst of a cholera outbreak. His
commissions generally attend to concerns that
are more social than political, such as when the
United Nations Office of Project Services paid
him to decorate 500 new shelters to make them
more personal and inviting (Stephenson,
2011). He creates his art with aims that are
grander and more abstract than those which
these rooted instrumental deployments sug-
gest, however, addressing both the world:
‘We are not mean or hostile because of the things
that have happened to us,’ Rosembert says of Hai-
tians. ‘Haiti is a beautiful country ... people can
come and see it for themselves. Don’t just listen to
what others say; see Haiti with your own eyes.’
(Stephenson, 2011: 27)
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as well as Haiti: ‘I am drawing all over to help
people stay positive, and I think it is starting
to work a little bit’ (Stephenson, 2011: 27). Both
quotes describe the use of art to create images
that increase resilience by contextualizing the
earthquake and local responses to it in broader
political, historical, cultural, and psychological
terms (Ainuddin, 2012; Birch and Wachter,
2006; Cote and Nightingale, 2012; Folke,
2006; Furedi, 2007; Lowry, 2009; MacKinnon
and Derickson, 2012; Morrice, 2013; Munt,
2012; Nerlich and Jaspal, 2012; Tobin et al.,
2011; Wolf et al., 2010) and stimulating social
memory (DiGiano and Racelis, 2012). Local
and global imaginations rely upon representa-
tions that are conceived and produced by artists
in relation to local and global places. The pro-
duction and circulation of these representations
after a disaster increase their collective pur-
chase and impact on economic, political, and
social activities, such as the provision of aid
and relief through both individual and institu-
tional efforts. The capacity for representations,
particularly images, to circulate instantaneously
throughout the world was especially influential
on cellphone donations following the earthquake,
which accounted in one instance for approxi-
mately 20%of all funds received by the Amer-
ican Red Cross within 10 days following the
disaster (Heath, 2010).
Such populist applications of the arts and
humanities stand in contrast to at least one
understanding of them within geographic litera-
ture. While the capacity of the humanities to
foreground the author is evident (Cosgrove,
2011), the elitism and social apathy ascribed
to them are not, contesting at least in part Denis
Cosgrove’s (2011: xxiv) claim that ‘The indivi-
dualistic, reflective and pedagogical concerns
of the Humanities remain distinct from the col-
lectivist, interventionist and scientific research
concerns of Social Sciences’. While Jerry is not
and would never claim to be engaged in peda-
gogy or scientific research, his art has clear
collectivist and interventionist aims. Cosgrove
seems to have been referencing a particular
form, tradition, or practice of the arts and
humanities that privileges private over public
aims and perspectives. Jerry’s work is of a
more socially oriented kind which is of ‘a
grounded, culture and society model (of)
lesser-known, more vernacular works ... con-
cerned with recording and commemorating the
everyday world’ (Daniels et al., 2011: xxviii).
This is an artistic practice characterized by
‘mental reverie as well as material reality, of
conflict and uncertainty as well as creativity
and possibility’ (Daniels et al., 2011: xxvii).
In this mode, art fulfills ‘conditions of possibil-
ity’ (Aradau and Van Munster, 2012: 98). It
also fulfills one of the key aims of geography,
which is to provide ‘a form of practical wis-
dom, concerned with changing the world as
well as interpreting it, and for many cultural
geographers the discipline is connected to
forms of intervention and activism from urban
planning to community participation’ (Daniels
et al., 2011: xxx).
The second case involves a man named
Levy Azor who goes by the sobriquet of Du
Du (Figure 2). Dressed in a Jordanian army
uniform, with a whistle in his mouth and a pur-
ple wand taken from a game of horseshoes in
his hand, he directs the traffic that flows
through the chaotic intersection of Borgela and
Sans-Fil Streets. Just as Jerry was a street artist
before the tragedy, Du Du directed traffic at
this intersection for 23 years until the earth-
quake caused a utility pole to fall and injure his
legs (Cave, 2010). After a period of recupera-
tion, he returned to his usual place, spinning,
gesticulating, and blowing his whistle in
rhythm with the flow of traffic. He lives solely
off the tips that truck drivers give him and he
does the work voluntarily and independently,
avoiding enrollment in both the military and
police forces of a government that he claims
does little for its people. Through these actions
he restores order not only to his own life but
also to the lives of everyone who sees him.
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Damien Cave likens Du Du’s performance to a
‘roads overrun with tents, rubble, pedestrians
and peddlers; tap-tap taxis stopping suddenly,
dump trucks coughing black exhaust, few stop-
lights, 99-degree heat, no air-conditioning, dust,
beggars and angry drivers blaring horns’ into a
‘symphony orchestra’. As noted by one observer,
his activities ripple beyond the scale of his body:
‘He’s working for the country’, said Michelle
Anthony, 38, as she watched him recently from
a food stand a few feet away. ‘He is working for
us’ (Cave, 2010).
Acting in the present, Du Du gives no indica-
tion that he is attending to ‘conditions of possi-
bility’ (Aradau and Van Munster, 2012: 98). His
work of reordering the present nonetheless
instills hope for the future in those who see him,
just as spatial manipulations of downtown Man-
hattan alleviated the fears of residents who suf-
fered the shock of the 9/11 attacks. It is a display
of ‘life reasserting itself without language’
(Gregory, 2011: 16). While Gregory uses the
phrase to describe the re-emergence of animal
life in a bombed-out urban landscape of post-
war Germany, I find it an apt description of a
kind of performative place-making that relies
not on word but gesture, more conscious,
articulate and aesthetic than instinctual, but
still infused with the urgency that catastrophe
instills, rooted in the basic stirrings of life as
denizens move toward re-establishing order
to their disordered landscape, restoring their
personal health by forming new relations with
their altered surroundings (Philo, 2007). In the
same piece, Gregory (2011: 13) relates the tale
of an author who complains that the bombed
landscape ‘cried out for more eloquence than
he could muster’. The power of performance as
a place-making technique is exactly the capacity
to succeed in environments where words fail.
Gregory makes the point that places and land-
scapes that have been so thoroughly destroyed
can be so incomprehensible as to render ordinary
language useless, with sentences emerging as
broken as the streets of the bombed city. Under
Figure 2. Levy Azor, better known as Du Du, directs traffic (James Estrin/The New York Times/Redux,
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conditions of catastrophic disruption, still and
moving images convey the scene while language
fails, with the curve of a line, the sweep of an
arm, and the tweet of a whistle restoring order
to disrupted minds and landscapes.
Performance blends and blurs the relation
between movement and representation. The ico-
nic photos of Jackson Pollock dripping and
splashing paint onto a large canvas that he has
lain flat on the floor are perhaps greater repre-
sentations of his work than the paintings them-
selves (Ketchum, 2011a). The artist who
works with images rather than words is in a
sense much more free as his medium of expres-
sion is less restricted by social convention.
Visual artists therefore are better positioned to
be innovators because visual expression is more
easily produced and circulated and more dur-
able in its expressive capacity under cata-
strophic conditions. Culture exists as much in
its making as in the product that is made, with
meaning emerging from representations as well
as their performance and circulation, which is
also a kind of performance, as it imbues a ‘vio-
lently unbuilt’ landscape with import only as it
passes through places and memories that that
are still intact (Ketchum, 2011b: 173).
IV Conclusion
All the culture that is most truly native centers
round things which even when they are communal
are not official – the pub, the football match, the
back garden, the fireside, and the ‘nice cup of tea’
(Orwell, 1970 [1946]).
Part of George Orwell’s enduring appeal is
the easy mix of the personal and political that
characterizes his writing. Similarly, in this study
I have privileged personal over institutional
engagements with the arts and humanities in the
aftermath of disaster. Identifying them as ‘huma-
nistic activities’, I claim that such engagements
are effective becausethey enhance the geographi-
cal imagination that is essential to post-disaster
recovery. In relation with place, self, health, and
resilience, imagination fuels the recovery process
and in turn is bolstered by it, as imagination, self,
and place re-emerge in an intricate dialog. Huma-
nistic activities foster this dialog in three ways.
First, they mediate the relation between cognitive
and material domains. Through the production of
art, people are able to express and realize their
imagination in physical form that is perceivable
by the five bodily senses. Second, they facilitate
the relation between individual and collective
registers as both the activities and the objects they
produce circulate at scales that lie beyond their
provenance, escaping not only the inner work-
ings of the artist but also those of its immediate
place of origin. Third, they negotiate relations
among time dimensions as they facilitate mem-
ory, perception and anticipation, allowing the
mixing of past, present, and future that is essen-
tial to place-making, particularly following a
catastrophe when social and material modes
of place-making are often disrupted and
destroyed. Individual and collective memories
of a place’s past as well as imaginations of its
future become legible through the production and
performance of art. Through these humanistic
activities, survivors of disaster can attend to ‘con-
ditions of possibility’ in future imagined space
rather than restrict their efforts to the manipula-
tion of present space which by its relatively fixed
social and material nature limits the cognitive and
physical development of possible places.
While relief institutions have deployed the
arts and humanities in certain instances, mostly
as instruments of communication, I hold that
individual uses reveal their broader strengths.
By producing works of art in public places in
response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Jerry
expresses his own subjectivity as well as the sub-
jectivities of the others he observes. Those who in
turn observe the images he produces recognize
both individual and collective responses to the
tragedy, a form of engagement that helps build
collective and individual trust through the inclu-
sion that informed it and that it represents. Du
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Du’s work, which acts more through performance
than object production, also restores order to
torn lives and landscapes. Having suffered rup-
operating in both individual and collective reg-
isters, his single recovery fostering collective
recovery through an activity that is nothing less
than an artful performance but still of great
instrumental value as it re-establishes his and
others’ local material order. Given that place
derives partly from subjective engagement,
that imagination is a key facet of subjectivity,
and that the relation between subject and place
is essential to resilience at both individual and
collective scales, humanistic activities such as
those performed by Jerry and Du Du emerge as
essential to the post-disaster recovery process.
In any place that has been broken by human
or natural catastrophe, people consciously and
instinctively start working toward restoring
order to their disrupted lives. Contrary to a com-
mon post-disaster narrative, survivors of cata-
strophic events are not so traumatized that
they can do little but wait for outside assistance,
but are quite capable of acting on their best
instincts and ideas for survival. Art-making
emerges as a form of place-making that works
even and perhaps especially in the ruin and des-
pair produced by catastrophe.
This research was supported by a grant from the
Institute for Humanities Research at Arizona State
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... Learning is highly personal and dependent on prior social and cultural experiences [e.g., Falk, with the geoscience content, leading to stronger motivation to learn about the regional earthquake 608 hazards and the communities directly impacted. to reconstruct a community's sense of place after earthquake disruption [Puleo, 2014]. All but four of the 23 A&PN exhibits are temporary displays ( Table 2). ...
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