Community art project between Scotland and Malawi- SMP member Jenni Gudgeon shares her story

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I am a photographic artist who etches (scrapes) into the top layer of photographs to create one off artworks. I am running a community art project called I Love Scolawi between Auchtermuchty, Scotland and Blantyre, Malawi using my technique.

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Ordinary adults and children in both countries are attending workshops to etch what they love about living in their country onto photographs that were taken in the other country (Malawians etch onto Scottish photos and Scottish etch onto Malawian photos). I’m taking the base photos, which portray the plants, geography, architecture and animals of each country.

The project will culminate in an exhibition of the best pictures from each country to be exhibited in both Scotland and hopefully Malawi.

I’m hoping that when people see all the pictures together, each country jumbled up with the other, it will inspire them to think about the common experience of being human that binds together different cultures across the globe .

At the moment, I’m in Malawi for 12 days with my husband Bill, to teach the Malawian workshops and take photos for the Scottish ones. I’ve taught all but one of the workshops, and after a shaky start they’ve all gone really well, and I’ve been delighted with the amazing pictures that the participants have created.

Bill comes out to Malawi about twice a year to work on a project with the College of Medicine in Blantyre, but this is my first time in Africa. In my mind I was imagining the wide, hot, African plains that you see on the TV, and I’m still taken aback by how green and colourful the landscape is.

The first workshops I taught were at Chikwawa Primary School which is twinned with Auchtermuchty Primary School. I was really nervous because I was unused to having everything translated for me. It made me forget what I was saying, and made it very disjointed so the class got confused. I was disappointed with myself, so Bill and I sat down and wrote a script to make sure that everything was mentioned, and it was said in the right order. Every other workshop has gone really well and the presentation has got slicker and slicker. It feels really good to see the participants understand the point of what we are working on together.

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While here, I’ve also taught workshops for the Chirimba Scout Group (who have links with the Auchtermuchty Scout Group) and with the WOFAD project (Women for Fair Development) which helps women affected by HIV, and teaches them their rights.  Tomorrow I’m teaching a workshop to an organisation that helps street children in Blantyre which is funded by people in Fife.

When I’ve not been teaching, I’ve been out and about photographing. As well as finding plenty to photograph in the towns and countryside, we have made special visits to Majete Wildlife Park, and the Zomba Plateau.  The pine forests at Zomba felt so like Scotland that I kept being surprised to remember I was in Malawi! I could have been photographing in my local haunt of Falkland Estate if it wasn’t for the heat and the tree ferns.

I’ve been extremely touched by the reception I’ve been given here in Malawi. Every person I’ve worked with is delighted that I’ve visited them and excited to be part of I Love Scolawi , and be taught something fun and different. Today I was especially touched to have pictures created by some women who can’t write. They struggled and needed help, but they wanted to give me something they created to take back to Scotland. Their pictures are immensely important to me and to the project.

I travel back home in a few days’ time, and I’m already sad that my time here is coming to an end. I hope to come back in September with the exhibition of the project, but I don’t know if that will happen.Image

I’ve had to fundraise personally for this trip after failing to achieve any external funding. The people of Fife and beyond have been incredibly generous in helping me fundraise, but I am still a long way short of the amount required, and I can’t justify paying for a second trip to Malawi.

If you would like to hear more about this project please email jenni@redcabinstudio.co.uk  and ask to be added to my mailing list.

If you would like to donate to the project, this can be done via the PayPal donate button on the right hand side of my blog http://ilovescolawi.blogspot.co.uk

Thank you for your interest,

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