Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The Togo Report by Christa Kleinbub-Dunkl and Rainer-René Mueller

Kids' Guernica - Guernica Youth TOGO / The creation of a large mural


Since 2008 a sponsorship exists between the vocational school "Helene-Lange-School" Mannheim, Germany, and the private, supported by a German association, primary school "Miracle de Yahwé" in Sanguera-Kleme, a small village in Togo, West Africa, about 45 km northwest of the capital Lomé.


       Sanguera-Kleme village in Togo, Africa        @C. K-D and R.R.Müller *

At the Helene Lange Schule in Mannheim 2012, a Kids' Guernica mural was painted, and, thereafter, preparations were started to make this possible as well for the adopted school in Togo.

The canvas for the Kids' Guernica – Guernica Youth Project in Togo (always the same format is used by all Kids' Guernica – Guernica Youth murals, namely the same size of Picasso's Guernica I.e.7,8 x 3,5m) was donated by the Kids Guernica group in Japan in 2012. Transport of the canvas from Japan to Togo was made possible in Dec. 2012.

At first the teaches in Togo tried to implement the project on their own initiative and with financial assistance from the Helene-Lange-School, but it failed initially.


The creation of the big mural

In April 2015, the project is finally carried out successfully under our guidance.
We work with 20 girls and boys aged 8-13 years, who were selected by the teachers beforehand. The children had till then little opportunity to paint. There is no painting or art class, coloured pencils and suitable colours are rare and very expensive.
Nearly all the children come from simple, poor families, most parents are small farmers, many of overburdened mothers earn some money by trading on the market.



The children as painters

We are working with the children for about 3 weeks in a total of 8 days, each about 2-3 hours after class, 3 times they come specially on Saturdays into the school. (In these times the children are missing at home).
They are very curious, willing to learn, highly motivated and very proud to participate in this "big", completely new task. Often when we are working, many other students stand at the door and at the windows and watch (many would like also to join), which means that it is often very loud and restless and we continue to quiet them down for a bit of order must be.


  Mural painting in the village

We tell the children that they are participating in a global art project, in which many children have already taken part in the world. They are proud that they are the first children of Africa who carry out this project. We try to clarify the issue. A girl asks. "How do you paint peace?" We try to tell the children to think about what things appear in their everyday life and what makes up their daily experience in the village or in the family, how this reflects in their imagination when they think of "their world" as being peaceful.



               First drawings


Rainer-René Mueller guiding the children in making first drawings

First we distribute drawing paper and crayons and encourage the children to paint pictures that they have in mind. They create images with flowers, animals, objects and scenes from everyday life, which represent peace for them.


So, for example, there if Fufu, a traditional Togolese dish prepared with mortars and rammers.



A boy paints the Earth Spirit (animistic tradition) since it provides a rich harvest. The fact that all have enough to eat, is an essential precondition for peaceful coexistence.


Since the children in their immediate surroundings and the village animist religious transformed into sculptures and fetish depictions as perceived in their surroundings (see photo), these motives play into the big picture.



However, the German and Togolese flag is repeatedly painted as well, and not only because the school is support from Germany. For the "German-Togolese friendship" is for these children a sign of peace, and stands in contrast to the long history of colonialism, which was based on violence.

As a 2nd step, the children receive in large yoghurt pots (which Christa had collected especially for this purpose back home in Germany and brought with her) the 3 primary colors. Always 2-3 children share each of the 3 cups with the primary colors (simple acrylic paints): red, blue and yellow.






Rainer-René (for children Père René) explains that one can produce any other colour with these colours. He lets the children experiment in a playful way, so that they discover various greens, orange, purple and browns in free forms.


       Christa with the children

After each work phase the children evacuate together the space by putting all colour cups together, close their lids, wash and clean up the brushes, since the space is indeed used for teaching the next day. At each new stage of work a bucket is fetched with fresh water.

In a next step, the big canvas (ca.3,50 x 7.50 m) is spread out in the classroom. It's just big enough to completely unfold the canvas, and still there remains even some little space to move about.

We discuss with the children on how to continue. How can they transfer their previous ideas and fantasy images for peace onto the canvas, how can it become a common big picture, so that each one is represented by what shall be painted on the canvas? Since the younger children do not speak fluently French, communication is not always that easy, but the older ones convey things, and some things are simply done by giving an example.


We propose to the children that they lie on the canvas, each child in a chosen position, and that the outlines on the canvas are traced from each body. They touch each other, hands, feet overlap.


The children draw each other's respective body's outlines onto the canvas, and while doing that they experience closeness, gentleness, respect and trust. They begin to notice how they can help each other. Later, the open spaces between the bodies are filled with the earlier-designed images and symbols.



Next, each child paints now his "own body", so its silhouette can be seen itself as being a part of a peaceful world. They help and advise each other. The paint pots are always shared by a small group, the self-mixed colors are divided.

At the beginning we adults teach the children how to deal sparingly with the colors – how to take from the large paint tubes the primary colors and put them in the cup of the children; but over time they do it by themselves and help each other while doing so.

When working it is clear that it is not possible under African conditions to do "clean" work. The children go barefoot, because everywhere is the red African dust. We all have dusty feet and so is dust everywhere on the canvas, or at least traces thereof.








Also it is inevitable in the narrow space, where 20 children are working simultaneously, that they need to run across the screen, even when it happens that the fresh colors have not dried as of yet and thus they distribute them with their feet. Therefore a thoroughly "African" image emerged among African conditions. But no one is bothered by all of this.


African is also the collaboration of 2 or 3 teachers who support us. They are supportive all in the matters, identify with the project, but are loud, use an authoritarian style and admonish the children often unnecessarily strict, as if they have to paint the "right" way, which is not conducive to let children express through a beautiful and free design their talents and creativity. We try to gently persuade them to refrain from such exhortations and that there is no right and wrong here.


After a few working days all the "silhouette-bodies" are painted and the kids start now starting to fill the spaces with previously designed ideas they had put on smaller drawing sheets and begin to paint pictures, while creating also some new ideas. They have to vote by themselve, as to who paints what. Almost always several children work together. The children draw and paint very differently, some carefully, slowly, others plaint simply unconcerned over a large area lots of color. The major remaining free surfaces fill the children by using what is called the 'sponge technique' by applying blue and green colours.



Without an "overall concept" having been planned or discussed, a remarkable image, very varied in color and motif sequence becomes a big overall picture that really impressed us.
With opaque white last corrections are made, again some larger spots are painted over here and there to help out in repairing some things.


The Big Picture

After the painting is finished, we need to slow down the children even as they still want to continue painting while certain motifs they want to paint again. We can wash all paint pots, brushes, sponges, etc. and clean up the room. Then we have to wait until the paint has dried. In the afternoon, the time has come. We carry together the canvas up to the upper floor of the school and hang it out from the balcony gallery. We let it slide down the wall towards the courtyard and fasten it with strong cords.


Now the work can be admired by all. Only now do we discover the many small details that tell the an impressive African story in pictures. We make photos of the big mural with all participants standing in front of it and in the end each child receives a pen (German pens are in great demand) and a pencil. We ask that every child in the forthcoming Easter holidays writes a small letter to a friend or writes to us and talks about the experiences or thoughts made while painting. These "letters" are intended to supplement the presentation of the Togo-mural on the web page of Kids Guernica – Guernica Youth.

It is planned for the Easter holidays a little party with all the students, teachers and parents, in which the mural is to be displayed. Unfortunately, it does not come about before we have to leave because the Togolese government has unceremoniously extended Easter holidays because of the upcoming presidential elections to 4 weeks more (but that's a different story).

I, Christa, shall take the mural nevertheless back to Germany, because it will be shown both at the twinschool in Mannheim as well as in other planned exhibitions. The young artists agree that their mural image is going on tour and I promise that the mural shall come back, since it belongs to the school.

Christa Kleinbub-Dunkl, a high school teacher ret.
Rainer-René Mueller, Museums-Dir.iR, art historian

April 2015
* All photos and text are copyrighted. Re-use only after consultation and sources. c 2015 CKL & RRM





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