Save the last dance

Proceeds from ‘The Last Carnaval,’ a new photography exhibit by Daniel Kedar, are to aid in reopening schools in Haiti.

‘Haiti is my passion,’ says Daniel Kedar, “and now it is more like compassion.” For the past 20 years, the Israeli photographer/businessman has lived on the island, running an import business of commodities such as rice and sugar, serving as a community activist, and as an artist, producing three coffee-table photography books on the country and its people.
He is currently in Tel Aviv, where he owns a penthouse, with his new exhibit, “The Last Carnaval,” to raise money towards reopening schools in the ravaged country. Most of the photos are from 2006 and 2009 in Jacmel, when life still ruled in its particular African-tinted way. The remaining photos are from after the earthquake of January 12, which killed more than 100,000 and left one million homeless.
“I was in Miami when the quake hit, and flew home immediately and began digging for survivors with many other people,” he says, as guests begin arriving at the Kastiel Gallery in the south Tel Aviv industrial zone.
Jacmel, a southern Haitian town with an active population of traditional artists and dancers, was not as hard hit as the capital, Port-au-Prince. “I can personally guarantee you that every single person you see on the walls here whom I photographed up until 2009 is still alive today,” he says. “I know these people.”
In the photos, boys have painted blood-red and ash-gray faces and bodies, bringing distant Arawak Indian and African roots alive, and the voodoo spirits of the dead mix with the living. Their ancestors were Arawak Indians slaughtered by Spanish conquistadors and the slaves brought from West Africa by traders to the then prosperous French colony. Other Carnaval revelers are wearing intense, brilliantly colored masks of demons, magical birds and animals.
The images are at once joyful and sinister, like life and death side by side. The young boys are painted like old men. Almost none are smiling. Did they feel the January disaster coming?
KEDAR, KNOWN as Danico by a large network of friends and activists in Tel Aviv, takes photos from inside Haitian society, as if he personally knows his subjects, many of whom he does. He speaks the French spoken by educated Haitians and the Creole patois spoken by everyone there. He is married to Maryse, a local Haitienne, and a former tourism minister. They served as an interface between international organizations, many Israeli, and what was left of the Haitian government in post-quake rescue and reconstruction work. Kedar is personally responsible for saving many lives.
Now Kedar and Maryse, who he says “is back in the middle of things there,” are working with the Israeli NGO Latet and their own Fondation Prodev Haiti to rebuild up to six schools.
“Haiti is a great place and the people are wonderful,” says 93-year-old activist Ruth Dayan, an early guest at the exhibit. The outspoken left-wing activist and widow of Moshe Dayan visited Haiti numerous times during her work with the Inter-American Development Bank. “Danico is a unique man, able to work with his passion for Haiti,” she says.
“Do I know you from Haiti?” Kedar asks another visitor.
“No, I don’t think so, but your photos look like the real Haiti,” replies Scott Kleinberg, a USAID official who lived there for three years. Now he works with the Palestinian private sector in the West Bank. “Haiti is a country of bad luck and good people,” he comments.
It was a generous crowd at the Kastiel Gallery opening. People gave more than NIS 100,000, according to Kedar and Latet official Dana Manor. All proceeds go to Latet.
The show runs until March 23.
Kastiel Gallery, Rehov Alfassi 36, Tel Aviv, (03) 528-5794