In 1992 myself and business partner James found a piece of land on a bend in a river in a place called Makasutu, The Gambia. 4 acres of land grew in to 1750 acres as we tried to protect the forest from the rapid deforestation that was happening in the area. Eventually after 7 years of work, and 20,000 trees being replanted we opened Makasutu Culture Forest to the world in 1999, and then Mandina River Lodge in 2002.
In 2004 we were asked by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation to present Makasutu as a case study to Governments in different parts of Africa as an example of what could be achieved through their S.T.E.P program – Sustainable Tourism to Eliminate Poverty. As a result of these seminars we were inspired to return to The Gambia and establish the Ballabu Conservation Project, an 85 square kilometre area, incorporating 14 villages and 100,000 people that surround Makasutu.
Since then we have been trying to find ways to bring focus and money into this rural piece of the African heartland, to help create projects that will eventually bring prosperity and sustainability to this area where subsistence farming is the main livelihood . We were lucky enough to get the support of the amazing Eden Project in the UK, but were still having a hard time getting people interested.
While all this was going on I got back into street art, after being away from the UK for so many years, and started collecting prints by Banksy, Eelus, Blek Le Rat to name a few, and then put a street art collective together (Bushdwellers) with Gambian artist Njogu Touray. I wanted to leave my mark on walls again after last making a mess as a teenager in South London. One night, I sent an email to Eelus, inviting him to come and paint a village in The Gambia with the goal of hopefully increasing tourism in the area. I never expected to hear back from him, but a few days later I got a reply. He liked the idea and got behind the project instantly! He suggested that he would put a group of artists together to come to Africa with him and push the idea to new heights. Thank you Eelus, without you this would not be happening!
In October the artists will travel to The Gambia for two weeks, staying at Mandina River Lodge at Makasutu Culture Forest. They will then travel each day to Kubuneh village by boat to transform rural Africa into a living art village. Kubuneh is part of The Ballabu Conservation Project, an 85 sq kilometre area incorporating 14 villages.
The rest is history in the making.
- Larry Bushdweller.