We are in Njau. A small village on the north bank of River Gambia. Our home for the next three days while doing an art workshop with Mr Njogu Touray for Women Initiative Gambia (WIG). The artwork that is produced during this weekend will be for sale at Continent Clothing's stall at Glastonbury Festival in the UK.
You may not have registered the village on your way upcountry. This is the home of WIG, an organisation for the women in the village, led by Isatou Ceesay. Here they use waste - and in particular plastic - to create products to sell to visitors. From trash to cash. They have also implemented a micro saving system for the members and a community fund where they collect a small portion of the money they earn for community purposes. The Gambia Cotton Trail has been working with WIG for a few years, and it is here the majority of our cotton is spun.
This is the second time the international artist Mr Njogu Touray is joining us to conduct an art workshop in Njau. He is a great asset and a good teacher. His mission is to share his knowledge and support fellow residents to use art to create their own income and to use art as a messaging tool. It is for the same participants to keep continuity and secure product quality. Our aim is to create different cotton products to give an additional source of income and create a deeper dent of cotton in the community. By using Gambian sourced cotton, it is not only the artists that are benefiting but everyone that has been involved in creating the fabric, from the farmers and spinners to the weavers and dyers for the book covers. A made in The Gambia product.
This time it is not only a workshop. We are on a mission to create cotton-covered books and paintings ordered by the clothing brand Continent Clothing - cloths designed, sourced and produced in The Gambia - run by Lucas Barrow-Townsend. Have you ever been at a market where you flick through beautiful posters, pictures, postcards etc.? This year our cotton trail art will be for sale at Glastonbury Festival, where people can flick through the different styles and choose their favourite to buy!
As we stop the car in Njau, Fatim welcomes us with a big smile and has already put everything we need on the table. "We are ready!" She says, and one by one, the participants come walking through the gate. Isatou Bah, Sorna Mbye, Incha Mbye, Burry Ceesay, Awa Manneh, Sait Ceesay, Eliman Ceesay, Iasin Mbye and of course Fatim Jobe, who is organising it all on the ground for the weekend. Cotton has a history in this village. This area is one of the places where cotton used to be cultivated, and the ladies are happy that cotton yet again has become a part of their community. This year they will also start cultivating cotton.
Njogu taught the group a few techniques and showed some paintings for inspiration of what they could create and the style we were aiming for. The group were listening eagerly, and with expertise guidance, one by one was showing their talent. Each with its own individual touch! Smiles all around while practising a new skill. After doing the paintings, small notebooks were covered with cotton fabric. We used natural dyed cotton (cassava green and kola nut rusty orange) as well as natural cotton. On the cover, we added symbols in black paint.
After three hot days, a lot of fun, concentration, learning and productions, we said goodbye to the group and hit the road. With us, we had 46 small paintings, 10 large paintings and 20 books. It is now on its way to UK and Continent Clothing's stall at the festival! Telling tales about The Gambia, The Cotton Trail and the people behind the artwork and products.
Next time you are travelling upcountry, make sure you stop in Njau and visit WIG. Learn about what they do, their involvement in The Cotton Trail and perhaps buy your next products or gifts to bring back home!