The Art of Change

Students of the Alliance Francaise get a demonstration in the art of Graffiti.

Students of the Alliance Francaise get a demonstration in the art of Graffiti.

Quick! What comes to mind when you think of Graffiti? Illicit? Vandalism? Damaging?

The artform of scribbles and drawings using spray paint often draws to mind images of pesky youngsters up to no good, scrambling away from the scene of their crime. But a quartet from Guadeloupe are hell bent on changing that perception. 4kg is a group of Graffiti artists who are using their talents to promote peace among the youth in communities. And in collaboration with Alliance Française de Sainte-Lucie, UWI Open Campus, and the Nobel Laureate committee, they have brought their innovative teaching method to fair Helen.

On Thursday evening visitors to the Pyramid got a small sampling of their considerable skills. What started out as a few seemingly errant sprays of paint was rapidly transformed into a vibrant mural much to everyone’s delight, especially the French students who clamoured to capture the steps on their smartphones. It’s exactly the kind of interest and response they were hoping for, says Yeswoo, one of the fantastic four.

“We came to St Lucia to help children to talk about violence and to express themselves in different ways. We did it in different countries like the States, Brazil and Europe but currently in the Caribbean only Martinique and Guadeloupe. It was one of our goals ten years ago to paint in all the islands. The thing is we want to do Caribbean Graffiti so we have to go everywhere. Like in every country, some are very overjoyed, some don’t care. But in general they like it. They see that it is fun and really good. Some wonder why am I here but after they say, oh. I did something I have never done.”

Alliance Française’s Cultural Coordinator, Stanislas Riener, was also pleased with the crowd reaction. It was exactly what he envisioned when he lobbied to get the group to the island.

“I was really trying to bring down some new artistic stuff to St Lucia. Back in the day I used to work with Graffiti artists to use the arts to work with the kids and so on. It was kind of empowering. So I thought it could work in St Lucia and it was possible with the support of the Open Campus and the OECS who were willing to do something for Nobel Laureate week. 4kg is one of the most famous and important graphic collectives in Guadeloupe and the French territories. So for me when I think about graffiti I think about 4kg.”

Riener also explained that this is just one of several activities that they have planned for the week.

“This event was just to present them to the St Lucian community but the project is more than that. They are doing some workshops against violence with the youth, especially the youth at risk, using graffiti as a medium to raise themselves.”

Also in attendance was Kentillia Louis, Theatre Arts curriculum officer CAMDU in the Ministry of Education, member of the Nobel Laureate committee and a Theatre Arts in Education lecturer at UWI Open Campus. Louis shared the thought process behind the collaboration.

“This year the Nobel Laureate committee decided they wanted to look at ways of promoting peace and non violence especially at youth and community levels, with all the crime that has been happening lately. We realize that St Lucia has risen to the third highest crime rate in terms of violent crimes in the region among youth. The Open Campus, usually have some kind of seminar in the arts every year during Nobel Laureate week. And i’m a big practitioner and advocate of using arts for social and behavioural change. So I figured looking at community, it has to be something visual, it has to be bold, something that will get the youth involved.”

Louis recalled a previous conversation with Riener about the Graffiti artists in France and Guadeloupe who have been doing work with young people from various communities as a way to effect change in their lives. It seemed like an idea which would translate well on the island. Especially for products of the system.

“Get some of the persons from the courts program, the juvenile program from the boys training center and make them realize that there is a way out of this and give them something to do that is positive.”

Already Louis is seeing a favourable outcome.

“Right now there are two boys who have been here from yesterday and did not know that we were doing this tonight. They wanted to stay and they did. They only went home because I sent them a while ago. But they want to be by the artists, they want to be there. They are so excited. No one would think that they are boys from the courts program because they are so excited. And that’s what you want to see in them. You have to give them something to connect with that gives them a purpose.”

The coup de grâce will be the unveiling of a mural on Tuesday morning at the Methodist School in Castries, but the project does not end there.

“The OECS have decided to partner as part of their youth program, and Ambassador Soomer has really pushed for us to get funding for this. And the idea is to do similar murals throughout St Lucia. We’ll choose different communities,” said Louis.

Graffiti and social change? Who knew?

Yeswoo said it best. “Sometimes we are too closed up. So see other things, open your heart and your mind.”

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