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The Mural That Made A Photographer Stop In His Tracks

A student at a girl's school in Port-au-Prince walks past a mural by a famous Haitian street artist.
Courtesy of Patrick Farrell
A student at a girl's school in Port-au-Prince walks past a mural by a famous Haitian street artist.

The Doctors Without Borders Instagram feed often features doctors and patients and pills.

Last week, a startlingly different photo was posted.

A woman, her head slightly turned, stares out from the wall of a building on the bustling streets of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. A lock clamps her lips shut. The painted woman's larger-than-life eyes gaze past a real-life schoolgirl in blue, her head down and shoulders hunched.

The picture stopped us in our Web-browsing tracks. And it turns out it also stopped Patrick Farrell in his tracks when he saw the mural back in 2013.

Farrell is a Pulitzer-winning photographer for The Miami Herald.He had been working with Doctors Without Borders to document unsafe and illegal abortions in Haiti. The photo is featured in "," a multimedia project that highlights the issues women face around the world.

The portrait of the locked-up woman is by Jerry Rosembert, a Haitian graffiti artist whose dozens of murals across Port-au-Prince have become iconic as critiques of the government. Some are solemn reminders of Haiti's lack of economic and gender equality. Others are upbeat, reflecting the people's resilience after the 2010 earthquake that left the country in rubble.

To Farrell, the artist's message "is that women and Haitians in general maybe don't have a voice or aren't allowed to voice the way they feel."

And that's what his Doctors Without Borders assignment was about. "It seemed that women didn't even have the right to do things to themselves," he says of the country where abortion has historically been illegal.

Farrell and his team drove by the mural several times before he hopped out of the car with his camera. It was mid-to-late afternoon, he recalls. A nearby all-girls secondary school had just let out, and young women in blue uniforms were walking past the mural, alone and in groups.

For 15 minutes, Farrell just snapped.

"I waited for people to go by," he says. "In that one moment, the young woman came by, and the frame came together."

The lone schoolgirl's "body language and juxtaposition to the mural" resonated with Farrell. "It's a young woman in Haiti walking by this mural that has this very powerful message. And when she's old enough, [you wonder] if she is going to have to go through the same struggles that other Haitian women have had."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linda Poon