MuArt on the Block
Making a profit in the creative industries is challenging. The more so in developing countries, where fine arts are not yet valued enough as a stable, income-generating profession. Musa Sarr from the Gambia is hoping to change that.
Musa Sarr is young, ambitious and knows what he wants: To become a successful artist!
The 21-year-old Gambian has been making good use of his talents from an early age. In his first few years at school, he got some small jobs doing pencil drawings, and in the later grades he earned a more substantial sum with a mural and abstract paintings for fridge magnets.
Despite his talent, he never thought he could pursue art as a serious profession.
In the Gambia, a least developed country, the art scene is challenging; there are no art schools, few galleries, and only one national institution for arts and culture. A recognized platform where products could be exhibited and marketed is not a given for artists.
This is why Musa decided to train as carpenter and welder. But he realized very soon that he didn’t like it enough to become a professional.
Fine arts runs in Musa’s family: from his grandparents to his uncles, who are also artists and taught Musa his first painting techniques.
“My father told me: Musa, you’ve got talent. I think you can make money out of it! And he bought me art supplies, so I started painting on canvas and taking my work to the crafts market.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing Gambian tourism to a standstill, impacting thousands of people in the creative industries, a career seemed out of question, even for talented youth such as Musa.
However, having the support of his family allowed the young artist to overcome the obstacles that so many young people face when setting out on their professional path.
Although Musa decided to focus on his artwork only, his training in carpentry and welding served him well – at times, he integrates different materials such as wood and metal into his artwork.
Being a perfectionist, he constantly works on portraits, murals, and graffiti lettering. But money is rare.
“Once you name the price, nobody wants to buy it.”
Musa’s luck turned when a member of the International Trade Centre spotted his work at the crafts market. Under the organization’s Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP), Musa was hired to paint the Janjangbureh Youth Centre as part of the project’s mission to refurbish all youth centres across the country.
The job got him national attention and ultimately helped Musa receive more contracts. Social media channel Instagram also played a vital role in increasing his visibility as “MuArt”, his new nickname.
And that is not all: his success led him to train other young artists, encouraging them to grow outside of their comfort zones.
“I feel so proud to be able to inspire the youth around me. I have five apprentices and I am trying to help them find their way. Some of them feel what I do is hard. I try to give them the courage to build on their skills and confidence.”
For Musa, attitude is the secret to success: If you are talented, you stay focused, you work hard, and you improve, day by day.
“It is still a tough market in the Gambia. But I believe, once I have a studio and a gallery with my name on it, I will make it.”
Musa Sarr was part of the International Trade Centre’s Youth Empowerment Project (2017-2022) that supports youth employment and entrepreneurship in the country to address the root causes of irregular migration. It is funded by the European Union under the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.