During a river excursion in Makasutu Forest, I hopped on a pirogue (wooden dugout canoe) with my guide Amado and paddled on a tributary of River Gambia. Our boat ride brought us through patchworks of red mangroves and past little thatched huts to arrive at Kubuneh, a village just a few miles away from Mandina Lodges.
On the surface, Kubuneh looked just like any other village in the area, but upon closer inspection, I found striking, contemporary street art painted all over the houses and buildings of the village.
As Amado explained, the paintings are part of the Wide Open Walls conservation project, founded by Lawrence Williams, an artist and also one of the owners of Makasutu. This idea was born from Lawrence Williams’s work with local artist Njogu Toray. Known as “Bushdwellers”, the duo worked with stencils and eventually moved on to painting on large canvases. This morphed into an idea of decorating some local compounds in the Ballabu region. Lawrence’s vision was to develop a project that functions both as a valid art installation in itself and at the same time promote The Gambia as a tourist destination.
In 2009, Lawrence met with the village elders or “alkalo” from the Ballabu Conservation Area that the project operates in, and they gave him their blessing. Eight street artists from around the world came to Gambia and over the course of two weeks and turned the village of Kubuneh into a living art project. I love the results of their hard work – wall paintings that stand out with their bold designs and colors, yet somehow blending immaculately into the environment. It’s also important to know that the paintings not only instill a sense of pride in the local community but also help to provide them with long-term economic benefits.
But Lawrence’s efforts don’t end here. In the near future, he plans to film a documentary and possibly publish a coffee-table book that compiles the paintings in Kubuneh and other parts of Ballabu. It is clear that the Wide Open Walls project will continue to expand and I sincerely hope that it’ll draw in more interest and benefits for the people of Gambia.
Here’s a look at many of the art work I found during my visit to Kubuneh:
To learn more about the Wide Open Walls project, click here.
Disclosure: My trip was made possible by The Gambia Experience but all opinions expressed above are my own.