jean larson : bio

jean larson

jean larson

Congo Graffiti
It appears we’ve been drawing on walls for a very long time. Some of the very first evidence of our species’ need for artistic self-expression has been found on walls deep inside remote and dimly-lit caves. Ever since, we have been tempted to cover these large, public canvases with images and statements expressing our innermost feelings and frustrations with contemporary life. And as any parent well knows, walls prove irresistible to children as they explore those first stirrings of creativity.

I have spent time recently with some of these children, in a remote part of the Congo. They are the sons and daughters of the rangers from Upemba National Park in Katanga province, one of the most impoverished and neglected parks on the continent. These are children who have witnessed firsthand the horrors of war and conflict. For them every day is a challenge. A challenge to eat a nutritious meal, to stay healthy or to receive an education. Yet despite these hardships, they also convey a sense of joy and play that is rarely seen in more affluent societies. Their spontaneous outbreaks of laughter, song and dance are only matched by their enthusiasm to cover the walls of their village in
images of the world they see around them.

This has been the inspiration for my work. I was captivated not only by the figures and words scrawled in charcoal and crayon, but also the rich surfaces that were the backdrop to these images: crumbling old walls being reclaimed by the harsh and unforgiving environment of Central Africa. These canvasses are my wall and I have been moved by these children and this work to see the world a little through their eyes.