On 6th July 2018, a series of events shook Haiti’s capital. The country’s government initiated a sudden hike in fuel prices of up to 47%, igniting long-running social turbulence. A providence in austerity, with 60% of the population in poverty, thousands took to the streets to protest the unpopular move. Organised demonstrations turned into violence and three days of riots ripped through the city with seven killed and others arrested.
When Jeremy Rubier and his peers planned to film at Festi Graffiti, Haiti’s annual community street art festival, they had no idea that years of underlying tensions were about to flare. Or of the pending deadly riots about to erupt throughout the county’s capital – the very location of the communal event.
Scheduled to take place from 10th July, Festi Graffiti was cancelled. Despite warnings from officials, Jeremy, alongside Canadian creatives Akim Acacia, Thomas Dalemans, Bryan Beyung and Xavier Laloux pooled together 300 spray paint cans and embarked on a journey to Haiti to document the scenes.
Amidst the political upheaval, the group rallied local artists Rayza, Jerry, Snoopy, Gary, and St-Vi, to create a film of unity and strength as they craft spray-paint murals – works with messages of love – on buildings throughout the country. In a serendipitous sequence of events, the group’s creativity revives the community spirit of Haiti locals during difficult times. Jeremy Rubier takes us through the making of ‘The Art of Uniting’…
March – Learning About the Project
I first heard about Festi Graffiti when I was in Tokyo. My friend Bryan
, a Cambodian-Canadian street artist, told me he was going to be travelling there to work on a project with a group of other creatives from Canada. They would be embarking on a series of urban artworks around the country.
April – My Father’s Birthday
In April I flew back to Canada for my Father’s birthday (making him cry!). Whilst I was there, Bryan was also in the city. We met up and talked about Festi Graffiti. I wanted to get involved and we decided we’d document the journey on film. He put me in contact with the guy behind their project: Xavier.
May to June – A Wonderful Gesture
Xavier and I got in touch by the phone to work out how we could promote the mission and make the film. Xavier arranged tickets for me to attend and a wonderful production rental company in Montreal, Lou-Cam, loved the idea of supporting this movement and loaned us the gear free of charge.
7-8th July - The Haiti Riots
I was watching France in the World Cup semi-final when I heard the news that riots had shaken Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince
. People had been killed. Freaking out, I called my friend Claudia who works for the UN and is based in Haiti. She tells me to stay away and postpone the project.
11th July – Arrival In Haiti
A few days later Claudia told me that the situation has improved, but the country was still in turmoil. Protests and riots were ongoing in the city. However, riding on a gut instinct, we decided to continue our trip to Port au Prince as planned. When I arrived at the airport the staff quizzed me for a long time. It was a nerve-wracking start and made me question if I’d made the right decision.
On arrival it was hot and chaotic. The streets were destroyed and cars were burning in the streets. I finally met Xavier for the first time and the rest of my friends were waiting for me in a battered old car.
The sky was tarred black as we drove through the city. It was a frightening scene. Smoke from car tyres filled the air from last night’s riot but I wanted to capture the reality, so took out my camera and start shooting from the car window. However it wasn’t the best move, a truck driver saw me filming, and purposefully blocked the road with his vehicle and approached our car. Hostile, he asked me what and why I was shooting. I quickly learned the locals didn’t have high respect for film crew or the media.
A team photo (Jeremy Rubier - far left)
12th July – Approving the Shoot
To get the project approved we met at the ministry of tourism. We waited for three hours to be seen but were able to make a plan of the buildings we were going to paint and film over the next few days.
13th July – Painting Day One
On the first shoot day we arrived at a school, the first building we were to work on. I was shocked to find it appeared more like a prison than a place of learning but as soon as we meet with the Haitian artists Rayza, Jerry, Snoopy, Gary, and St-Vi my perception completely changed. They told us more about the people and the culture and what this work would help do. It was like the place came back to life.
14th July – The Best Western Hotel Facia
Our second location was the facia of the Best Western Hotel of Port au Prince. The area is known to be affluent, so it was central to the turmoil of the riots. We were painting right next burning cars but as we began to paint and switched on some music, people came to gather and watch. Before we knew it, a street party had erupted around us, it was mad.
15th July - Voodoo
On the 15th we travelled out of the city and into the countryside to paint in a rural village. As we were painting we witnessed a Voodoo party taking place under a huge waterfall. I almost broke my camera trying to film the amazing people, sights and sounds.
16th July – Block Party Part Two
Our fourth location was unconfirmed, so we searched the city for another wall to paint. After a few hours we were rolling and another block party erupted !
17th July – The Minister of Haiti
We had a surprise visit on the final night of our trip. Haiti’s minister visited us to talk about the work we had been doing around the city. It was a really humbling experience and we were happy to know we’d helped to bring a back some colour to a place that the world had assumed had fell into darkness.
When I look back I was terrified on Day One. The media had painted such a bleak picture of the country and the atmosphere was thick with tension. But by meeting the artists and the people it quickly became clear there was real life and heart in Haiti’s people and culture that the world just wasn’t noticing.