Memories in Amber

Installation explores Haitian culture, history


Storytelling: Resin-filled blocks created by faculty members and graduate and undergraduate students on display before being assembled into an installation.
Christina Chia

In Duke’s Smith Warehouse, a wall of thirty-five resin-filled blocks glows like a stained-glass window—a striking tribute to both a resilient island culture and a new experiment in humanities teaching and outreach.

The installation, Haiti: History Embedded in Amber, was created by faculty and staff members and students as part of the Franklin Humanities Institute’s first Humanities Lab, a three-year-long effort to integrate teaching, research, and service projects relating to one theme. The inaugural lab focuses on Haiti, which in 2010 was ravaged by a devastating earthquake.

As part of the lab, students in an independent- study course last fall worked with renowned Haitian artist Edouard Duval-Carrié to design and create the blocks that make up the wall. Each artist placed images, documents, personal items, and other objects that capture the story of Haitians before, during, and after the earthquake into a translucent block. The blocks were then filled with four layers of resin to suspend the artifacts in space and time.

Duval-Carrié selected and arranged the blocks for the wall, which is backlit with LED lights. The installation officially opened in September.

Meanwhile, the Franklin Humanities Institute plans to build on the success of the pilot project by launching two new Humanities Labs this fall. One, titled BorderWork(s), examines the political, social, and cultural effects of defining boundaries between states and nations. Another, called GreaterThanGames, will focus on how digital games can be designed to explore real-world problems.

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