A group of South Africans – 2 street artists, a photographer, an anthropologist and a film maker – joined artists from all over the world in Gambia recently to work with Wide Open Walls to turn villages in the area into a living art project.
Wide Open Walls was founded by Lawrence Williams, one of the owners of Makasutu, a conservation project home to a set of magnificent river lodges at Mandina in The Gambia, West Africa. Lawrence, a keen artist, has been working with local artists on a project called Bushdwellers for a number of years and has always wanted to expand the project into something more, something lasting that could both function as a valid art installation in itself and at the same time promote The Gambia as a tourist destination. The basic idea was to turn villages in the area (falling under the Ballabu Conservation Project) into a living art project.
This year saw the first time collaboration between Wide Open Walls and Write on Africa, a South African based organization started by Ricky Lee Gordon (a.k.a Freddy Sam). “Write On Africa” is a community art project based in Cape Town South Africa. It’s main focus being to encourage inspiration and urban rejuvenation through special events, initiatives and art in public space to “inspire ourselves to inspire others to inspire change”.
WOW 2011’s street artists were selected not only for their suitable styles but also for their approach and attitude towards making and sharing art. The lineup included Bushdwellers (The Gambia), ROA (Belgium), Know Hope (Israel), Remed (Madrid), TIKA (Switzerland), Freddy Sam (SA), Selah (SA), and Best Ever (UK). The immediate goals of the project were to create connections between the street artists and the communities through mural painting, art workshops and extended interventions. Art supplies were provided to children of various villages, and a dilapidated classroom was refurbished by Freddy Sam and community members, creating a colourful space for children to use as a crèche and a classroom. South African photographer, Jonx Pillemer and filmmaker Rowan Pybus were there to capture the two week long project, spending ample time with community members and the street artists reflecting on the interactions and friendships formed during the collaborative creative processes. The 10-minute documentary will be released online in August.
Research was conducted utilizing ethnographic methods compiled by Anthropology student, filmmaker/photographer, Sydelle Willow Smith. Sydelle conducted a variety of interviews with community members, organizers and street artists, this research will aid the preliminary stages of the next Wide Open Walls project serving archival purposes as well as ensuring that direct collaboration between the community and the project is ensured throughout the process. We hope this information will then inspire more like-minded projects around the world.