I have made painted pictures as long as I can remember. Africa was the main theme of my paintings from about 1993 to 2006, and I painted during each of my nine 5-10 week sojourns in Africa between 1995 and 2005. I still make paintings that are influenced by my experiences there. Africa is not easy and more than once I lit candles there late at night & painted “to save my life”.
This is called The Little Girls. It is from a series of watercolour sketches I painted in Africa in 2001. None of them was ever “finished” or made into “real” paintings.
A number of the little girls had the most silly frilly lacy party dresses that were made in China and sold very inexpensively. They were usually purchased at the time of the major festivals, but quickly devolved into everyday clothes–people who live in poverty wear their clothes, they don’t hoard them. Still, those European style party dresses were, to my eyes at the time, one of the more absurd aspects of Africa.
Here the little girls perch on little wooden stools and lean against the building, which I might add, is “whitewashed” rather than painted. The color often rubs off onto your clothes after the first season because the heat and humidity undermines the poorly mixed home made cement blocks and thus the bond between the two.
When I was a child, a party dress was a party dress, and I usually outgrew it before it got worn out. Alas, what fun I might have had if I had been allowed to wear and enjoy the darn things.
This is another in that same series of paintings of Daily Life mentioned above and is called Some Young Women Chatting. Most of the houses–usually long rows of rooms with doors out into the compound–have verandas that run the length of the building, places that are useful during the rainy season or the heat of the day if there are no trees for shade. This piece shows a group of young women at the edge of such a veranda. Three are standing while one sits on an overturned plastic bucket.
During the day, the walled compounds are the domain of the distaff side of the population, for the men make themselves scarce. Responsible and fortunate men leave to earn money, old men gather under a tree or in front of a small store to chew the fat and keep an eye on the street life, and the young men find a different place from the old men from which vantage point to do the same as the old men. The boys roam.
Womens’ at-home chores include caring for the children, sweeping the buildings and grounds, carrying water fro the public tap if there is not water piped into the compound , doing laundry, shopping & preparing means, and a myriad of other smaller jobs. This work is shared by women of all ages, for even small children can sweep, and even the oldest Auntie can pick through the rice looking for stones. Once the day’s work is substantially finished, often after the midday meal which occurs after 2pm prayers, there’s plenty of time to visit friends in each other’s compounds, time for gossip and laughter.
The African nation known as The Gambia is the smallest on the continent, about 220 miles east to west, and 30 miles wide at its broadest point. It basically consists of most of the River Gambia and a small amount of land on either side of it. Legend has it that that was how far the British cannon reached, and how far away British troops were able to keep the French troops from whom they were in the process of wresting away control of the longest river to the interior in that part of Africa. In many locations along the river, the other side is easily visible. Because the Gambia is so flat, not only does the river meander, but it is affect by ocean tides nearly 120 miles inland.
This painting shows three people gathering wood–a pregnant mother and two girls. The younger of the girls is still learning how to balance headloads and is thus shifting her body to keep the firewood centered and on her head. There are reeds on this side of the river and baobab and mango trees on the far shore. The border features a design of triangles and diamonds with cowrie shells, which symbolize prosperity and procreation, in the upper corners.
This painting is called “M’BaFo & BaFofana”. M’BaFo translates to mean “my mother Fo” pronounced mmm-BAH-foh, and Fo being a nickname. That’s the name of the little girl, who was named for her father’s stepmother. The woman is BaFofana, pronounced Bah-FOH-fana, where the “Ba” has the double meaning of both mother and big, and she is the stepmother of the little girl’s father. BaFofana is is sitting on a wooden stool carved into an hourglass shape. M’BaFo is standing beside her. Unusually, BaFofana’s head is uncovered. The border features triangles and cowrie shells, and the strip across the middle with leaves on it is strictly ornamental and has no other meaning.