Arts View

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Sept – Nov 2021

Famara Cham
Famara Cham

Famara Cham - Visual Artist

His paintings are a reflection of what he feels and sees from his daily activities and the world around him.

Famara was born in the early 90s in Tallinding Kunjang, The Gambia, West Africa.  He never attended art school and is primarily self taught.  He was awarded the best Artist of the Golden Jubilee (2009).  He went on to study Architectural Draughtsmanship at The Gambia Technical Training Institute from 2010-2011.

His dream is to relocate to Europe someday in order to work full time as an artist.

Art is his passion and at times he struggles to let his works go.  For him it is all about the love of art first and making money is usually a secondary consideration.

AGN;  You have mentioned you were introduced to drawing as a child.  Who did so and why do you think they did that, and how old were you at the time?

FC;  In actual fact it is more a case of being exposed to it rather than an introduction as such.  It is something I just picked up while at primary school when I was around 6 or 7 years old.

AGN;  You have also revealed that you are primarily a self taught painter and never received encouragement from your parents.  Since art materials cost money, how did you support your passion as a child?

FC;  I was using books from school which were not art books but I used them for that purpose.  I also used the pencils that were provided at school.  I never realised there were different types of pencils for drawing at the time.  Painting is something I got into later while studying architecture.

Such was my desire to draw I was often reported to my parents by teachers due to the extent of drawings I would produce in my text/study workbooks.

While at junior school I took the only art classes I have ever attended. Most of it was based on theory but they would also undertake some practical lines of study. Due to my ability my tutor encouraged me to take the lead in some classes. While I don’t feel I am a good teacher, my fellow students related well to my guidance and were encouraging of my efforts.

AGN;  Is there anything about your upbringing/the place you were raised in that heavily influences the way you express yourself through art?

FC;  While I would say yes, it is hard to pinpoint anything I can categorically state manifests thematically through my work as a result of that period of my life.  It’s more a sense of it being there at times, albeit in an understated manner.

In terms of pivotal experiences.  In order to find space mentally as well as physically, when I was at school I would go in early at say around 6 or 7am although classes would start at 9am.  Doing so enabled me to spend time drawing. 

Unbeknown to me one of my teachers who was part of the American Peace Corps posted to our school had been observing my drawing sessions.  I was surprised when she approached me during an early morning drawing session.  I hurriedly tried to pack my things away but she urged me not to worry and queried why I was wasting time studying architecture when in fact I am artist.

One day she surprised me by providing me with the first art materials I had ever received and she was instrumental in securing my first arts sales too.   She asked me to promise that I would never give up on creating art.  These are the sort of experiences and relationships that can mean so much to an emerging artist.

AGN;  Did you use any reference points e.g. other artists in order to benchmark your own development as an artist?

FC;  Alhajie Badgie is an artist who was an early reference point.  Before I started painting I visited him with my drawings.  He was very welcoming.  He looked at my pencil drawings and said, ‘for me to paint, it would be like someone picking up a cup to drink’.  He freely gave me art materials and encouraged me to paint.  Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci and a Canadian artist called Osnat are people who are more recent reference points.

AGN;  When and why did you transition from drawing to painting and why mainly the medium of acrylic/oil on canvas?

FC;  I started off with figurative drawing, especially portraits until around 2011/2012.  At the time I felt the need to express myself more widely to people and that the lack of defined rules in abstract art when compared to other forms of painting made it more appealing.

Texture is very important to me and I paint in a way that encourages people to touch my work.  I feel that further channel of communication allows for an even deeper connection.

I was told it is not advisable to use both acrylic and oil in the same painting.  I like to think outside the box and although I found it challenging, I discovered a way to use both on the same piece.  It is something I like to do due to the different finishes they allow for.

AGN;  Why did you choose to study Architectural Draughtsmanship instead of an arts course?

FC;  My father is a nurse and wanted me to pursue a science related discipline, however, I was not interested in doing so.  There were no arts courses in Gambia that I could apply for.  Further research led me to architecture as I felt there is a link between what can be done in terms of the designs and drawings that are produced as part of the architectural process and art.

AGN;  Has the discipline of Architectural Draughtsmanship impacted your approach to creating works of art?

FC;  Absolutely.  As a result of studying architecture I started using sketches and line drawings as the basis for developing works, a process that I never used to utilize prior to studying architecture.

AGN;  What is the art scene and market like in The Gambia?

FC;  I feel it is very dull.  I recall visiting more established artists when I was younger, however, they would put their brushes down in the presence of others.  It is as if they are afraid of people taking anything from their processes in case it diminishes what they do.  I don’t feel most of the older/established artists are very open or can see the bigger picture in terms of what being more open would lead to for the scene.

The market is only vibrant during the tourist season.  Most of my clients come from Europe.  I only know of one gallery that is open to all artists in the whole country.  On my part I engage in grass-roots activity where I allow people to visit me while working, they get to experience part of my creative process.  I also provide encouragement to young artists and I do all of this without charging a penny as my contribution to the development of the creative arts in the Gambia.

AGN;  Is there anything you would like to do to help expand it if funding was less of an issue?

FC;  I would like Gambian art to be widely recognized around the world.  If funds were no issue I would invest in a space for artists to exhibit their work as well as provide workshops and materials to aspiring and more established artists.  I feel such a resource would be inspirational to emerging artists.

Many emerging artists I speak to lament about the lack of opportunity to sell their work locally.  I would like to provide an outlet.

AGN;  You have expressed the desire to move to Europe yet there is a lot of competition here.  Why do you feel relocating here would be a good move?

FC;  I have a feeling that experiencing somewhere else would be more beneficial to me personally at this stage of my artistic journey.  The scene here is very limiting in a number of ways.  I would like to go away in order to grow as an artist and person before returning to make my mark on the arts scene here.

Previous ‘Arts View’ interviews are available here; archive

© 2021 All rights reserved - Ri Iyovwaye on behalf of African Global Networks (AGN) - Sept 2021