Artist Profile – Roossevelt

Step into the world of art Roossevelt. At nine years old this native Haitian from Kabik in the Cayes-Jacmel region of the South East has a reputation that precedes him. Known for his hand-molded and vibrantly painted paper Mache masks and bird mechanisms, he has already been commissioned by several visitors to create special versions of his works. The attention Roossevelt attracts from domestic and international visitors has the entire community buzzing that there is no limit to the potential of this young artist.

Roossevelt is the son of a local fisherman and has a brother and sister. Every weekday at 6:30 am he is up and walking to school, where his artistic intelligence finds great success as he is nearly top of his class. At noon the bell rings and Roossevelt has mounted an overcrowded tap-tap bus, in order to return home and change clothes. Quickly he is on another tap-tap zooming toward Jacmel in order to study art at FOSAJ with local professionals until 5 pm. By the time it is dark at 6 Roossevelt is riding another public tap-tap back home. As soon as he steps foot in the door he is tackling the night’s assignments before even glancing at his studio.

Roossevelt’s tremendous work ethic continues after homework as he strides over to his atelier that is a shack in the backyard of a local American homeowner. Here he spends an hour or more each night putting the finishing touches on various pieces. This workshop is the manifestation of a particularly wonderful vision of the world Roossevelt knows. Every work stored in the wood walled, thatch roofed shed reveals a classically Haitian painting technique bound to the unfettered eyes of an energetic and joyful young man.

On Saturday and Sunday Roossevelt takes to the beach in order to vend his hard work, which he is soon to recognize as his “joie de vivre.” He greets people with an exceedingly polite and light demeanor that does not belie the standard giddiness to be expected of a nine year old. While most boys his age play ceaseless games of soccer on the beach spanning the weekend, Roossevelt’s mind is geared toward making his labor known and sharing the shades of his spirit.

Roossevelt readily extends his desire to share amongst his friends by lending his dramatic and radiantly decorated Kanaval masks, which many have spent their own time watching him produce. Within his circle he has unassumingly gained a position of leadership through which he has most recently coordinated a pre-Kanaval Ra Ra band in celebration of Haiti’s annual Carnival period. Roossevelt’s natural affinity for leadership is not capitalized on except to foster a sense of community wherever he goes. His art is the conduit for the prevailing tendency to engage a mind-set of mutual respect, which can be easily understood for any person journeying through the Haitian provinces.

Originating from a less-than-perfect situation is no excuse to fail this unspoken law of respect. Companion to this rule is the spark of freedom. The frontier life-style of the Haitian provinces necessitates the inventiveness that is on display in young Roossevelt. Any person lucky enough to meet this talent will know the full extent of the contemporary Haitian generation’s abilities to forge triumphs along a path that builds the collective mindset of what is possible and what the future holds for Haiti.