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Graffiti reflects hope in Haiti

Artist Jerry Rosembert uses vivid murals in Port-au-Prince to raise hope and push for change.

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Jerry Rosembert uses his spray-painted art to send positive messages to fellow Haitians still reeling from the January 2010 quake.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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Like the rubble left behind by the January earthquake, graffiti is nearly everywhere in this tattered city.

Haitians have tagged the walls of seemingly every building with spray- painted messages complaining about politics, poverty, and corruption. It's a never-ending memo of discontent – until you see a mural signed by Jerry.

Jerry Rosembert uses detailed graffiti murals to tackle current social issues by reflecting the hopes and needs of the Haitian people.

On one corner, Mr. Rosembert reminds people to wash their hands to avoid cholera. Elsewhere, he tries to instill confidence, telling passersby, "Haiti will not perish."

"I think that it has an effect on people, even if it's just in a small way," he says, standing in front of one of his colorful murals on the wall of an art gallery that recently began selling his paintings. "If it's just one person who sees my work and remembers to wash their hands and doesn't get cholera, that's something."

As a child, he loved to doodle – he'd sketch his teachers in class. But it wasn't until he befriended the lead singer of a popular Creole rap group that he decided to use his talent to push for social change.

The earthquake that killed at least 230,000 people and left more than 1 million homeless reinforced his commitment. "I started painting about two or three hours after the earthquake," Rosembert says.

His tags made immediately after the earthquake depicted praying hands and a map of Haiti crying, a powerful message that the country was in desperate need of aid.

"Life was not easy in Haiti before, but we never had anything like that," he says. "I lost friends and family. Not just me, but everybody. All of us lost people on Jan. 12."

Rosembert works only at night to avoid raising the ire of Haitian police – even though he's become something of a local celebrity. He paints with both hands simultaneously. And he moves quickly, completing intricate murals in 10 minutes or less without the use of a photo or sketch as a guide.

"I just get a picture in my head, an image of what it should be, and then I go to it," he says.

Rosembert was recently offered six months of formal training at an arts school in France. But he's not going.

"Six months is too long," the artist says. "I need to be here in Port-au-Prince."

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