Lawrence Williams, one half of Gambian arts collective Bushdwellers, stages an unusual and inventive street art event to fight poverty and promote sustainable tourism in rural Africa. Wide Open Walls, a so-called ‘art safari’ involving eight street artists, 1000 cans of paint and a rural African village, is the latest in a long line of projects designed to alleviate poverty and encourage sustainable tourism in a remote area of Gambian forestland known as Makasutu.
Selected by the United Nations World Tourism Association in 2004 as a case studyof what could be achieved through their Sustainable Tourism to Eliminate Poverty programme, the negative effects of deforestation have since been reversed in Makasutu, hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted, eco lodges have been built and the 85 kilometers squared ‘Ballabu’ conservation scheme has been put in to practice,incorporating 14 villages and 100,000 local people.
Now, a man named Lawrence Williams – founder of Makasutu Cultural Forest and half of Gambian street art collective Bushdwellers – is playing host to one of the most unusual events in the street art calendar; one which involves flying eight artists out to The Gambia and transforming an entire Makasutu village in to a huge live gallery show.
Wide Open Walls(W.O.W) is a community-based exhibition, curated by UK street artist Eelusand designed to generate revenue from tourism and put Makasutu on the map. With participants including London’s alphabet-man Ben Eine, mural team Broken Crow and New York’s stencil photorealist Logan Hicks, the artists have been travelling by boat from their camp to Kubuneh village each morning for two weeks, spending their days enlivening anything fromwooden shacks to mud-brick walls and canoes, and holding art workshops for local children.
Wide Open Wallshas the full support of both The Gambia Tourism Authority and theKubuneh village elders. The organisers hope to continue the project on a yearly basis, working with artists of international repute and allowing them, over time, to create permanent art installations in all 14 villages within the Ballabu conservation boundary.