Sep 1, 2010

From Haiti, With Questions!

by: Mary Kate O'Keefe

How long does it take to paint a mural? How do artists create paintings on such a large scale? How do they cope with the challenges of working outdoors? These are three of the many questions that an especially inquisitive group of young visitors from Haiti asked on their Mural Arts tour through Center City and West Philadelphia last week. Fortunately, Clara Williams (their guide) had samples of parachute cloth and an example grid system with her to better illustrate how muralists execute their work. Her captive audience was comprised of ten Haitian Young Leaders, a group affiliated with YMCA-Haiti. After being selected in Haiti through an application and interview process based on their academic standing, community involvement, and interest in community development, the group set off on a sponsored tour of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C.

As they stepped in front of Frito Bastien’s murals at the intersection of 10th and Spring Garden Streets, “their faces brightened,” shares Cathy Harris, the Director of Community Murals. This locale- the final destination on their extensive mural tour- was apropos, as the artist himself was born in Haiti and produces paintings in the traditional folk art style of his native country. When Mural Arts Project Manager Kevin Brown asked the attentive visitors which of Bastien’s walls looked most like murals that they might see at home, they enthusiastically replied that his Memory of My Life, located on an exterior wall of restaurant Llama Tooth, was their pick. Harris believes that this ultimate stop was the highlight of their tour because someone came and unlocked a gate that allowed the group to approach the mural and have more intimate access to the artwork.

In addition to viewing Bastien’s walls, the Haitian Young Leaders also had the privilege of meeting Mural Arts Philadelphia muralist David Gordon, who is currently in the process of completing a set of two murals at the visitor’s center at 6th and Market. Gordon reports that he shared information about the historical context of his work before the group posed a variety of questions about his creative process. Gordon says that being around them “gave you the feeling that they were really going to do things. You could see the intelligence in their eyes.”

When asked how their experience with Mural Arts on August 16th relates to the group’s interest in community development, Cathy Harris referenced a conversation she had with the Haitian Young Leaders about “how making a mural can help people address or discuss issues that they don’t normally have the opportunity to share.” During their day spent with Mural Arts, she hopes that the young visitors gained recognition that they are not alone in facing obstacles, that they met people here who care about them and are thinking of ways to support and cultivate relationships with Haiti, and that they witnessed fragments of their culture here in our city. This week, with their burning questions about mural-making already answered, our Haitian guests depart for the nation’s capitol for the last leg of their American adventure.

Last updated: Mar 21, 2016

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