Local graffiti artist learns lessons of courage in Haiti mural project

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A report by Brendan Kelly for the Montreal Gazette.

You could say Xavier Laloux is trying to help Haiti one mural at a time.

You could. But Laloux wouldn’t like that because, the way he sees it, Haiti is helping him as much as he’s trying to give the Caribbean nation an inspirational boost.

“We’re not going there to help. We’re going there to thank them,” said Laloux on Tuesday at his tattoo parlour in a warehouse building in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. “From a personal point of view, I’ve learned a lot from my Haitian friends. Haiti has done great things. It has written great pages for the cause of freedom. I’m bringing them resources to thank them for the help they brought me in my own life.”

In addition to running a tattoo business, Laloux is a graffiti artist. In July, he and four other Montrealers traveled to Haiti to create murals on the walls of buildings in Port-au-Prince. “I thought we needed to bring a little change,” Laloux said.

“It’s like when you revamp your house. You change the colour of your living room; then, in a way, you’re in a new house, even though you didn’t change your location. So that was the whole point. It was to go and make the environment a bit different so the future’s brighter.”

The trip nearly got cancelled at the last minute, however, when riots erupted in the Haitian capital after the government announced it would be increasing gas prices. The group seriously considered not going, but in the end they decided it was too important.

As scheduled, they stayed in Haiti from July 11 to 18. Laloux said most of the protests had died down by the time they got there. He is organizing another trip to Haiti in November to created more murals, once again in collaboration with Haitian street artists.

Initially, they were going to take part in a graffiti festival as well, but that was cancelled due to the social unrest.

The group in July included well-known Montreal mural artist Bryan Beyung as well as filmmaker Jeremy Rubier, who made a short video about the trip that will be launched online in September.

“It was unreal. It was unity, it was the power of art, it was the communication of love through images,” Laloux said. “I was blown away. My own (tattoo) business is called Done With Heart. I put emotions in what I do … Montreal is about unity, and we brought that to Haiti and we were very well received. They taught us a lot of lessons about courage, about perseverance. The hashtag of that project was love, positivity, uniting, perseverance, courage and hard work.”

The team in November will include Montreal painter and street artist Maliciouz and the hip-hop artist and urban painter Monk E.

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