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Artist, 'sickle cell warrior' Hertz Nazaire dies at 48

Hertz Nazaire
Hertz Nazaire
Artist Hertz Nazaire

Bridgeport artist Hertz Nazaire died late last week. The Haitian American used his experiences with sickle cell disease as a catalyst for his art. Nazaire called himself a “sickle cell warrior,” someone who fought his own personal battle with the disease every day.

“There’s so many different ways to die from this,” he said. “Every time you go to the hospital, it’s a war for your life. That’s why the term stuck, because everyone feels like it’s a badge of honor just to still be standing.”

Nazaire came to the U.S. from Port-au-Prince when he was 8 years old. Growing up in Bridgeport, he turned to art as a way to cope with his poor health due to sickle cell.

“I was not able to go outside and play like the other kids, and run around in the sun, and do those types of things, so it made me think about art more because art is like such a personal thing,” Nazaire said in a 2016 interview with Connecticut Public Radio.

As an adult, Nazaire used his talent to bring attention to sickle cell disease. He chronicled his bouts and setbacks with large, vividly colorful paintings that are vaguely reminiscent of traditional African art. Nazaire said his style harkened back to his childhood in Haiti.

Ray Hardman / Connecticut Public
Connecticut Public
Hertz Nazaire's paintings often depicted the excruciating pain of sickle cell crisis. It earned him an international following.

“Most of what I keep about Haiti is the color,” he said. “What I was influenced by as a kid was these little trucks called ‘tap-taps.’ They’re really colorful, they have murals painted on them. Usually they are a religious theme.

Earlier this year, he completed the “Waiting Room Project” — three decorated chairs to signify the long waits people with sickle cell often endure in the emergency department.

“Imagine you walk into your local hospital for care and you are asked to take a seat. After taking a seat you wait a few hours, and then another hour, and the hours fly by, and you start to feel invisible.”

Waiting room project FB.jpg
Hertz Nazaire
2021's "Waiting Room Project" by Hertz Nazaire

Nazaire died Friday morning at Bridgeport Hospital due to complications from sickle cell disease. He was 48 years old.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series “Where Art Thou?” Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of “Morning Edition”, and later of “All Things Considered.”
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