One rule about Peace Corps service is that you truly never know what you’ll do during your time as a volunteer; case and point: I helped to organize and run a classy art show. Though I’ve never really thought myself much of an art aficionado, I’ve always enjoyed going to galleries and taking in the sights, but putting myself in any position close to “an authority” on art, never. The truth is I was mostly brought on to the planning team of this art exhibition as a consultant. I’m the closest volunteer to Conakry and in the best position to help with the leg work. Also, I guess I can be a bit artsy at times, at least I pretend like I am.
The months leading up to the exhibition had been periodically interrupted by meetings for the preparation of our grand opening. One piece of this artfully designed (more art puns to come) project was to make a promotional video showing interviews of three different artists with three different forms of art. Our first interview was with an artist who is a close friend to all the volunteers in Guinea. His name is James Bucher, but most would know him by his trade name, Batik James. Batik is a traditionally African form of painting using colored waxes on cloths. James provided wonderful footage of the surprisingly simple process as well as an impressive back story. No matter who you meet, if you take the time to hear their back story, you’re guaranteed to be surprised. James’ roots in art go deep. He learned much of his craft while living and studying in Tanzania. He, like many others, made his way to Guinea when the fighting began in Liberia. He took his wife and some other family members and began a new life in Conakry, where he now lives in a small compound hidden through some back streets. His work is always beautiful and, god bless him, cheap. I’ve already made a few gifts out of the works he’s talked me into buying. James’ story is very rich and I do enjoy visiting with him whenever I get a chance.
|Sekou Oumar Thiam|
So there’s my personal interest story for the month. The event itself went by with much less fuss than the lead up. Before the weekend got going, we gave the artists a training on client relations and self-marketing. We planned on them using that training the very same weekend as they were visited by many members of the ex-pat community here in Conakry. Sitting down during a calm Sunday afternoon I thought to myself, how nice it was to see a project up and running. Being a teacher will definitely have a product at the end of the year but this was tangible differences made in a weekend. When all was said and done, the 35 artists had sold close to $5000 worth of art. It was also nice to see how many gifts I got from thankful artists.
I hope to organize another art show, with the help of some fellow volunteers, before I leave Guinea. It was a nice way to help the art community of Conakry but there was much room left for improvement. If we do go for it a second time, keep an eye out for things you liked and I could pick up some nice souvenirs!
PS: For more photos of works from James, Gibril, Thiam and more artists, check my facebook albums.