Photo: Paul Takahashi

Academy of Fine Arts students travel to Gambia – Wider collaboration in plans

A group of eight students from the Academy of Fine Arts have travelled to Gambia on Friday, November 23rd to study local materials and pigments. The trip is a continuation of a course in material studies that was held earlier in the academy. The trip involves wider collaboration between University of the Arts Helsinki and a recently built art school in the country.

The students will learn about pigments derived from nature, with the direction of lecturer Malla Tallgrén, who is also participating in the trip.

- Africa has a long tradition of textile and pigment manufacturing. For example, high-quality pigments can be made with minimal cost from the local sand. Moreover, there are still many undiscovered plants that could be utilised in colour manufacturing. The ecological aspects also come to play and we can approach an old, known subject from a completely new perspective, Tallgrén informs.

The idea to travel to Gambia came from Academy of Fine Arts’ professor Tarja Pitkänen-Walter. A new art school, the School of Arts and Design in The Gambia, has been recently built in the country and Pitkänen-Walter was asked to plan the school’s curriculum. The initiative for building the art school came from the Gambian-Finnish Xam Xamleh Art Promotional Association and it has received partly Finnish funding.

- Before I was to begin planning the school’s curriculum I felt it necessary to get acquainted with the place and local culture. What the syllabus could eventually be would form in close cooperation with the Gambian partners and University of the Arts Helsinki’s pedagogical education group both during and after the trip.

In setting up the school, University of the Arts Helsinki is collaborating with Gambia College. Teachers are set to graduate from the college, who would then work in the new art school. University of the Arts Helsinki’s doctorate students are also participating in the trip: Minna Heikinaho (Academy of Fine Arts) and Tuula Jääskeläinen (Sibelius-Academy) will run workshops as part of their artistic-pedagogical research.

Moreover, Academy of Fine Arts’ lecturer Stig Baumgartner will supervise a painting project for the school building.

Pitkänen-Walter sees that the trip could set off diverse collaboration in terms of art pedagogy, research and study trips for students.

- Our aim is to build a sustainable culture and model for cooperation that would continue on a local level and with long-term goals, Pitkänen-Walter envisions.

University of the Arts Helsinki students and faculty are visiting Gambia for two weeks, from November 29th.  See student Paul Takahashi’s photos of the trip on Instagram from mid-December onwards.