The 2nd annual Wide Open Walls project took place from 3-17 June 2011. There was an amazing artist line-up this year and it featured some of the best artists from around the world. There was also more concern with the interaction with local communities as the project is hoping to grow in this regard. South African photographers, one also being an anthropologist, accompanied the artists as they ventured through Senegal and into the heart of The Gambia. This was a heart, soul and mind-opening adventure for all that took part.
All photos by Jonx Pillemer, except where stated.
Wide Open Walls 2011 Press Release
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 organisation founded by Ricky Lee Gordon (a.k.a Freddy Sam). “Write On Africa” is a community art project based in Cape Town, South Africa. Its main focus is to encourage inspiration and urban rejuvenation through special events, initiatives and art in public space to “inspire ourselves to inspire others to inspire change”.
Working with the community
WOW 2011 street artists were selected not only for their suitable styles but also for their approach and attitude towards making and sharing art. The line-up 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 for 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 film-maker 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. Rowan will then continue to document the project year by year with the intention of releasing a full length, in depth documentary.
Research was conducted utilizing ethnographic methods compiled by anthropology student, film-maker/photographer, Sydelle Willow Smith. She conducted a variety of interviews with community members, organisers 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.
Know Hope & Bushdwellers
Long term this project also seeks to raise funds for the village through the publication of a book. We will also aim to create an exhibition/fundraiser and sell photographs of the artwork to raise funds which will be distributed through the local NGO (the Ballabu Conservation Project) that has been set up by James English of Makasutu Cultural Forest in conjunction with all 14 chiefs of Ballabu. The project also aims to sustain an ethos of responsible tourism and it has been suggested that tourists, who want to visit the murals, will have to make a donation to the trust and will be expected to immerse themselves in the villages they visit through forms of cross cultural exchange to ensure that a sense of a “drive-by human zoo” is not created.
With the input of several key members from villages we have now begun the initial stage of designing a more in-depth cultural exchange program that will include local artists and allow for a greater dialogue. We are also investigating residency opportunities to allow for artists, writers, musicians, poets and researchers to stay within the villages and contribute their time and work in the form of teaching and skill sharing, working alongside their local Gambian counterparts, ensuring that as WOW grows so does the structure that keeps it in place.
Working with the community
Freddy Sam in collaboration with Selah, Know Hope and the children of Galloya village, pic by Rowan Pybus
Remed, pic by Sydelle Willow Smith
In conclusion we are very aware of the sensitive nature of this project and how our imprint and intervention can affect the village. As one of the chiefs said, “they will come to see the art and will find our ethos and way of life and want to learn from us”. This exchange of knowledge and practice is something that WOW plans to continually engage with, learning and growing along the way. A popular saying we heard in the villages of The Gambia sums it all up quite succinctly, simply put that it is “nice to be nice.”
Connecting with the community
Best Ever & Selah
ROA, pic by Sydelle Willow Smith
For artists travel blogs please visit http://www.wideopenwalls.co.za/ and for more information or images contact Ricky Lee Gordon (curator) directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also visit and support the Wide Open Walls Facebook page where you will find updated news and images. The 2011 documentary film by Rowan Pybus is scheduled for online release in August.
The next date for Wide Open Walls has not been set allowing for sufficient time to rebuild a strong foundation and sustainable program together with the input of the villages.