MY TRAVEL PLANACCOMMODATIONtrips & activitiesevents

Portrait of an Artist: Muhammed "Dodo" Jatta, Tunbung Art Village

My Magazine 2023/05
7 min
Author: Lana Skorohod
Tunbung is a Mandinka word for the land, abandoned by the early people of Tujereng, living on the beachside. The legend says it was abandoned because of the fear of a mythical creature, Fantatingting. So for years, nobody was living on this side; it was only Dodo's older brother, Etu, who was brave enough to embrace the place. Later on, a lot of compounds grew around Etu's and the only trace of Fantatingting is a lovely sandy beach bar by the ocean carrying the same name.

Etu built Tunbung for the people who love art internationally, as well as locally. The idea of the place was always to embrace the artistic potential in people and in the environment. This is why workshops were offered and it was always a project under constant development, full of clues and hypotheses. Etu's efforts were well recognised, many Gambian artists learned from him (Omar Sarr, Omar Cor, Abdulai Conteh), and many foreign countries got a taste of his talent (USA, England, Netherlands, Egypt). That was until one morning after coffee, Etu was rushed to the hospital, where he tragically passed away.

But there was somebody else following Etu and watching what he was doing. Dodo, Etu's younger brother, ended up taking on Etu's legacy after his death in 2014. Etu called his younger brother to leave Bakau and come to Tunbung, away from the troublesome city streets. So not only did Dodo save Tunbung, in a way Tunbung saved him too. But it was never easy for him, as Etu's shoes were always big ones to wear. He felt obliged to carry on what Etu was doing and that was also what Etu himself instructed him. Dodo was not sure how to embrace the place at first, but he managed to protect and preserve it. He never let the place to be sold or commercialised, but he allowed it to be a school as it was supposed to be, where in the morning time children come and learn different subjects, among them art. After years of also receiving workshop requests and support from late Etu's friends, he found the power to push forward on his own. As he pushed forward, he started to organise the workshops again, teaching batik, tie and dye, sand painting, screen printing, beadwork, acrylic painting etc. He also renovated the rooms in Tunbung, which were built with special techniques and materials in Etu's times so the guests can stay in them.


 The Concept

Dodo is an artist, just like his older brother was. But with Etu not being around anymore, his biggest challenge is to keep the legacy alive. In Tunbung, there is a gallery space dedicated only to Etu's works which are not for sale anymore – there has to be an open gallery space so his works are not lost among the buyers. Dodo's works, on the other hand, are exhibited in the rooms and in the classroom, and they are for sale. A prominent symbol in Etu's paintings is the fish – and the same goes for Dodo's work. »A fish symbolises a warm welcome to The Gambia. If you are from the West and you are coming to The Gambia, we must first provide the fish. Most people like to eat barracuda and have a nice time,« Dodo explains. The colours he usually uses are so-called»African colours«, primary colours like red, ochre yellow, green and blue, and then he tries to bring it in different ways. But he didn't always paint in an abstract style. His first paintings were portraits and there are still some to be seen in Tunbung. Later Etu advised him to paint abstract – in his opinion, portrait painting does not have a future. Abstract is a legacy he wanted to hand out to him. »In The Gambia, all we understand to paint is the cultural things. So it is always very difficult to do anything different,« Dodo explains.

His way of thinking about creating art is inherent to the spirit of Tunbung. »It is always about the concept for the artist – what he is doing is never finished. He is always trying to add more and more and more. But there has to be a certain stage where he has to stop. By stopping there he can finally see it is working because he has something to understand from it. By only adding, it can later confuse him.«

Everything in life is always changing; by forcing it to stay the same you are bypassing its essence. Recycling works the same way. By it you can take something that was not useful anymore and make it survive in another form. It is how life works and it is how an artist should think if he is chasing after sustainability. Recycling demands creativity. In Tunbung, there are some examples of it. There is a guest house made out of bricks from an old colonial house in Banjul. The bricks were brought to The Gambia by the Portuguese during colonial times. Later there was an Asobi store, where all the Gambians would buy school uniforms. When they wanted to destroy the old house, Etu went there, collected the bricks and tiles and brought it to Tunbung to build a guest house out of it. Another guest house is built out of red laterite, beach sand with salt and cement water bricks made with a compressing technique created by Etu. It was an idea for the poor people so they could have easy access to construction. After the renovation of the rooms, Dodo added some recycled furniture, like bucket shelves. A lot of different objects that have the potential of becoming materials for further use are collected in Tunbung, from car doors to an old tv and iron sculptures. They are incorporated into nature, waiting for a good recycling idea where they would again come into use. Because of this Tunbung is always changing its outlook – with every person who enters it, it changes.

Tunbung is also inseparable from the nature – the trees and animals that live there shape the scenery as much as the objects and the people. Trees shape the way light enters the place and attract birds to this mystique piece of land in Tujereng outskirts.

The Workshops

Besides recycling and creativity, educating was always as important. Before there was Tunbung, there was a gallery in Bakau, named African Center for Arts. If anyone wanted to learn about African art it was the only place they could go to. There were school students and individuals coming. »Practical education in art is very important; for everybody to make their own piece from zero, « explains Dodo. Tunbung should offer encouragement to do art which can hardly be found in a typical community the youths come from. For that purpose, he wants to separate the rooms and workshops and build a classroom so the children can have more space and a »free mind which allows them to get more information faster.«

From foreign visitors it is expected to choose a workshop they want to attend – tye and dye, screen printing, batik, painting, sand painting or beads making. They can bring their own materials if they would not be satisfied with materials available there. Paintings are usually made on 30x40 canvas framed or not framed. They can make a frame by themself, put a canvas on and prime it. If they come with a group, Dodo gives them a briefing. Everybody listens and then tries to make their work with his help. »We show you how we do it, the steps. We want you to have it easy. You can end it however and whenever you want.« Guests can also choose a menu to eat, but workshops and rooms are separated – they can decide on one or both. »Here you are free for whatever you are here for.«

Dodo is a knowledgeable and approachable person with a unique understanding of art and life. A part of recycling is also the recycling of ideas, in that way Etu's legacy would survive through a slightly different form, own to Dodo. Rigidly keeping it Etu's is not going to keep the ideas alive. Dodo deserves more validity which would allow him the courage to be the main character in his own story. He is capable of building bigger and better on the solid grounds Etu put in place and keep the spirit alive through change. Nonetheless, Tunbung gives a feeling of a living entity inspired by the two brothers, creative visitors and nature.

Contact Tunbung Art Village


Lana Skorohod
Student of Cultural Studies
I am a cultural studies student. My interests are creating and curating art, cultural management and exploring cultural diversity. While travelling to The Gambia, I learned about these topics at The National Centre for Arts and Culture in Banjul and many other locations.

Did you enjoy this article? Share it with friends >>>

Creating a Magical World: Magic
Yoga Bliss Gambia: Yoga for Mens Health


Subscribe To Our Magazine
No spam, notifications only about new issues.
Subscription Form za Mailerlite - landing

All articles

Subscribe To Our Magazine
No spam, notifications only about new issues.
Subscription Form za Mailerlite - landing

Other articles

Volunteer at Bijilo Medical Center! 
Bijilo Medical Center is a healthcare facility located in Bijilo, The Gambia. It provides essential medical services to the local community, including...
First-time visitors to The Gambia - Dos and Dont's
The Gambia. A small country in West Africa situated on the Atlantic coast and surrounded by the neighbouring country of Senegal. If you have yet to he...
Book your Experience with Locals in Gunjur!
Located in the Kombo South district of the West Coast Region, Gunjur has a traditional and environmentally conscious community that promotes conservat...
New accommodation providers joined My Gambia booking
From the vast options, choosing a suitable accommodation is vital as it can enhance your cultural experience of the place you visit....
© MyGambia 2024
Developed by Marklab

My Gambia Team

Typically replies within 30 minutes

We will be back soon.

Hey there 👋
We are here to help. What can I do for you?
Start Chat with us