Many people wouldn’t think of graffiti as Hastings’ proudest export but in March this year one of the town’s spray can artists brought joy to an African country rebuilding from civil war.
After Aaron Hosannah organised a St Leonards hip hop festival with Valona Taylor from Sierra Leone, she invited him to organise a public arts mural in the country’s capital Freetown.
Aaron said: “The people took part with 100% passion and commitment. For me it was a very humbling experience. People were just so happy. You could just feel people’s hearts.”
Hastings has been twinned with Sierra Leone for ten years. Hastings’ Deputy Mayor, Nigel Sinden said: “As a member of the Friendship Link I have always been happy to see people gain links and help with education in the country.
Hastings born and New York raised, Aaron has already painted commissioned graffiti for businesses in the UK and Switzerland.
This time he had the honour of painting Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs.
He began by teaching graffiti skills to 20 people in Freetown, aged from nineteen to seventy.
Aaron said: “The first day was to get everybody used to spray cans as 96% of the people had never touched a can in their lives.
“Suddenly, here they were with all these colours and they loved it.”
On the second day, he asked people to draw things that they wanted in the mural. There were drums, a watermelon and a woman carrying a basket on her head.
Also included was a tribute to a local musician named Dr Ola and the cotton tree where the constitution was written for Freetown.
“As they started to grasp it, they began to do their own thing like flowers,” Aaron said.
“The Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, came to see the finished mural. The dignitaries were just so happy with the outcome. For me it was about connecting with the people.”
A civil war from 1991 to 2002, ravaged the country. Despite rich mineral deposits including diamonds, Sierra Leone has staggering deprivation.
Despite the deprivation, Aaron said: “People living in the harshest conditions also had beautiful ways about them and they shared.”
He added: “To me that was one of the most beautiful things. It was my pleasure to share my skills but I received so much more in return during my eight days there.”
As word of the mural spread people came up to him and said they loved it.
He said: ”The painting sent a ripple to many people in Sierra Leone which I thought was wonderful. Hands down that was one of my greatest lifetime experiences.”
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