Mama Africa: When Passion Prevails

Mama Africa is a name we have heard a thousand times. Art Residence & Art Center Gambia in Tanji is a location we wanted to visit for quite some time. While traveling to Gunjur on several different occasions in the past three months, a sign near the road kept reminding us to book a visit. And we finally did. We contacted Mrs. Isha Fofana, known as Mama Africa, and set up an interview. Mama Africa Art centre is truly a piece of art itself. The breath-taking gallery greeted us upon arrival, and we were admiring all the decoration and details of the lodge.

Mrs. Isha Fofana is a Gambian woman, mother of four, and an incredible artist. She has entered the art world 30 years ago and does not plan on ever leaving it. Gambian women, their colours, resilience, and hard work is what inspire Mrs. Fofana the most. She enjoys playing with colours, music, and fashion style. She sees art in everything that surrounds her. Only the eye of a true artist can do so. Through the years, she became more aware of people’s choice of clothes, jewellery, colours, but she especially pays attention to natural colours and materials. She believes her talent is God’s gift.

Video Music Credit: Baaba Mal

While still living in The Gambia, she faced many obstacles as a female artist. The majority of artists in The Gambia are men. When she moved to Germany, she realized there are plenty of women artists. She visited many art shows and museums and saw an opportunity to establish herself as an artist. Everything she kept hidden inside burst out in the form of art, and she has been creating ever since.

She longed for an international environment so, she and her husband moved to Köln. There she debuted with her first art exhibition. Alongside painting, she familiarized herself with many different cultures that serve as an inspiration to this day.

After nine years in Germany, she moved back to The Gambia. The former government invited her to return and inspire younger generations with her art. She was delighted and accepted the offer.

She built a gallery, an art centre, a museum for women, and a school. Everything was free of charge for the people of The Gambia. After five years, she received a letter saying they are to demolish everything she managed to create throughout the years. She was shocked, and even a single thought of her hard work disappearing in a split second was too much to bear. Tearing down her art was surely going to be the end of her.

When that sad day came, a lot of people stood by her side mourning with her.

As sad as it might have been, it was not the end. Mama Africa decided to do it all again.  Now, she owns a new art centre, a lodge, and a land full of trees. She shares her knowledge and experience with everyone and educates her employees daily.

At the new location in Tanji, she managed to build a beautiful centre in just four years. The whole centre is her idea. Every stone, every tree, every detail is there because she planned it like that. People used to think that the unfortunate incident from years before left her devastated and sad, but they are astonished to see what she managed to rebuild. She spends every day at the centre from early mornings to late evenings. She invests every ounce of her knowledge, time, and passion in the centre.

The emphasis when it comes to the lodge is natural food. They grow fruits and vegetables and make their peanut butter and sesame oil. The food offered to guests is the food she eats.

She supports and spreads The Gambian culture. Visitors stay because of the surroundings, nature, birds singing, and the overall positivity surrounding her place. Visitors can feel the love that helped build this lodge.

People often ask her if she is expecting visitors since the lodge always looks ready. Her philosophy is that her place needs to look the best for her guests. Not only does it take to put in the money and work but also the heart.

Mama Africa loves her guests and enjoys spending time with them. Visitors are welcome to come to her with no plan in mind and enjoy a nice relaxing day at the beach. For others who wish to participate, there are plenty of daily activities such as art classes, cooking or making music. She wants to dedicate her time as an artist that she is as well.

There are a lot of her art pieces exhibited around the lodge but are not for sale. There are also several pieces you can buy, support her, and take home as a souvenir.

There is no entrance fee for the gallery. Visitors can come and enjoy her art or buy a drink in the bar above the gallery if they wish to support her work. She wanted to make sure everyone can enjoy art without having to pay for it.

She is very open to new ideas. New ideas that benefit her business are much appreciated. She does not have a problem with receiving new ideas and giving her own in return.

Her down-to-earth personality is the best way to connect with people as an artist. She longs for communication with her guests, shares everything with locals, and is very excited to meet everyone. Visitors who wish to meet her are welcome to have a chat and get to know her. »In art, we are all the same, walking hand in hand, giving each other attention and knowledge. That is what art is all about.«

They say behind every successful man is a successful woman.

In art, men and women help each other. Women are very creative and possess many talents. They are mothers caring for children, which is an art in itself. There are many stories hidden in their daily lives while caring for children. She also asks men to help their women, support, and love them. Happy wife, happy life. 

Her message to the world is to pray that the world will soon see brighter days. Five years from now, she believes many more people will find out about Mama Africa and her work. She wishes for health to live a long life and help many people with her knowledge and wisdom.

She is not a person to pay much attention to promoting herself. She keeps herself busy with work while people discover her. Her place has something for everyone and will never stop evolving and growing.

At the end of the interview, she calls upon people to help each other make the world a better place. Hand in hand, creating an inviting place for our future generations.

Contact Details

If you want to visit Mama Africa Art Residence & Art Center Gambia or book accommodation, please do not hesitate to contact them directly.

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