Deep in southern Gambia is a cluster of mudbrick huts with a difference. Daubed with colour and rich symbology, they are an installation, the work of Bakau-born painter Baboucarr Ndow, better known as Etu.The centrepiece of the plot, arranged under a majestic, spreading tree, is Etus open-air studio, newly opened to the public. Its a fascinating jumble of paint pots, found-object art and vibrant canvases. Etu has called the place Tunbung Art Village.
Hes a gentle, charismatic character who welcomes the visitors who come here to browse or take part in art workshops. Tunbung grew out of a creative appreciation of my local environment and culture, viewed from the perspective of one who has travelled, he says. Here, I can paint for twelve hours a day. The sunlight touches everything around me. And I can meet people and exchange ideas.
Tunbung Art Village, which is just outside the village of Tujering, is one of several grass-roots art ventures that are stimulating fresh interest in painting, photography and sculpture in The Gambia. Traditional Gambian society sets great store by the oral arts of singing and storytelling, but pays relatively little attention to the visual arts; the carvings, batiks and beaded jewellery youll see on display in the countrys bengdulas, or craft markets, tend to be formulaic, following well-worn tourist-friendly themes. But thanks to Etu, and to enterprising creative concerns such as the African Living Art Centre in Fajara, the Village Gallery in Kololi and the Lemonfish Art Gallery in Kartong, this is changing: local artists are beginning to gain confidence and receive wider recognition. Etu now has a strong following in Europe. Ive just had an exhibition in Maastricht, he says, and of 30 paintings, 24 sold within the first two weeks.
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