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Founded by Lawrence Williams, Wide Open Walls is a project to turn villages in Gambia (under the Ballabu Conservation Project) into living art and also promote the Gambia as a tourist destination. Collaborating with Write on Africa (The South African organisation for community art based in Cape Town), they focused on  inspiring others and themselves with art in public spaces. Taking place from 3-17 June 2011 Wide Open Walls invited street artists from Bushdwellers (The Gambia), ROA (Belgium), Know Hope (Israel), Remed (Madrid), TIKA (Switzerland), Freddy Sam (SA), Selah (SA), and Best Ever (UK), the artist were selected because of their attitude in making and sharing art. Some of the art included the community participating as they held workshops and had a chance to connect with the community. The project was documented by South African photographer, Jonx Pillemer, Sydelle Willow Smith and filmmaker Rowan Pybus. The project plans to release a DVD of the work process in August.

ROA from Belgium

Remed from Madrid shares: “It is completely different painting here to painting in Europe. In the West a spray can often represent a tool of vandalism, here I really feel welcome. I feel free there is a great sense of support towards your Art. A really strong sense of Peace and Unity, everything is flowing so easily. I think public street art can affect positive change as it alters the environment in a good way if it spreads a positive message in direct combat to advertising billboards for example.”

Tika from Switzerland shares: At first, the fact of me being invited to come and paint in a rural village, where the roads are made of red, bouncy soil, water has to be pumped and electricity is not yet for everyone, raised a lot of questions… Does the village life in it’s humble, present way, need to be changed? Should these villages really become a tourist attraction? Shouldn’t it be the people from the villages themselves painting their compounds? But then, very soon, I realized that the Internet has already reached and Toubabs (white tourists) have already been throwing minthies (sweets) from their vans to the kids… so my conclusion is that it’s better to have a bunch of artist like us to come, with all our concerns, wanting to do good and beautiful and our, maybe naive, belief of sharing friendship, art and thoughts to give the circle of change a twist in the direction where humans treat each other respectfully and equal despite gender, race or social background.

Ricky Lee Gordon a.k.a Freddy Sam from South Africa shares:Whether or not we went colonization has already happened and the ripple has begun and outsiders intervening in the villages way of life will continue, and at least we may be able to open a fair and informed, dialogue with both outsiders and the villagers to be able to observe and balance the ripple, South Africa is a perfect example of how culture has slowly become faded into a new modern and sometime corrupt way of life,and so we should be able to learn from each other, as artists our approach was sensitive and honest,, the murals themselves were received as gifts of joy but the conversations and bonds made are true examples that the world can learn together. The program has a lot of work to be done and a lot of room for improvement to allow this to be a sustainable and positive project, but we are off to a good start..

Know Hope from Israel shares: Painting in the villages was different from painting in a city because I actually met and got to know the people on whose wall I was painting on, which is usually not the case. One thing that I think wasn’t new, but definitely amplified and more present, was the direct interaction, impact and transformation (I only use this word for the lack of finding a more precise one) that the work had on the village. It became a happening-as, for, by and with the community.

Selah from South Africa shares: My art is entirely relational and contextual. As a process it starts with a conversation and in practice is realized literally as a publication on the wall. This process was very closely aligned to the values of the family heads and chiefs with whom I spoke – in terms of the power of conversation, negotiation, listening – and was therefore received with enthusiasm and joy. My texts were always already present within the thought and values of these Gambians with whom I shared so much tea – and had then only to be illuminated on their homes.

Njogu of Bush Dwellers from The Gambia shares: Wide Open Walls Gambia, is a democratic and interactive street art project bringing artist of the world to celebrate through art, all good things in life, environmental awareness, peace, love and respect for our cultural values. For me as a Gambian artist it is inspirational to work alongside and share with our international friends that make the long journey to experience Africa. The community spirit will stay alive through such projects. Africa and the world unite!

Wide Open Walls begins a great conversation for public art especially within the continent. When Mary Sibande’s work was showcased in Johannesburg last year on tall canvases hanging over buildings, walls and on bill-boards, it gave the opportunity to give a larger audience viewing to work that they would normally have to go to a gallery or museum to see. Public art needs to exist more in open spaces because art galleries and even museums in Africa don’t provide the right model to get wider audiences to care and appreciate art, and it should be all around us inspiring communities in areas where art is unlikely to be seen. JR provided audiences in Kibera, Kenya, Southern Sudan, Sierra Leone and Liberia a different perspective when he placed large canvases over trains, rooftops and on walls in their communities. Art and culture go a long way in attracting tourists to visit places even for this specific reason. Without doubt, art measures up as an attraction and a way to connect communities with imagery that is beautiful and resonates with them. It’s my hope more projects like this can spring up around our communities.

Finally a video of  Wide Open Walls done in 2010 in Makasutu.