James the Artist

Meet James, the unofficial artist of Peace Corps Guinea. He is pictured below with two other volunteers, saying goodbye at the Peace Corps house in Conakry the night before we were removed.


James is a Liberian refugee living in Conakry, the capitol of Guinea. He grew up with his mother in Tanzania at a Catholic missionary, where he studied at an art school and learned how to make batiks, an art technique using wax and cloth. In 1982 he moved from Tanzania to Liberia and supported himself with his artwork. He lived there peacefully, married, and began a family.

Things changed abruptly. Political upheaval and civil war had been raging in Liberia since 1989. Rebels sought to overthrow Samuel Doe, the Liberian leader who held power for the past decade. Doe was ethnically Khran, and had favored the group politically during his regime. The rebels drew support from other ethnic backgrounds who felt discriminated against by the Doe regime. The Khran people were targeted in violent attacks. James and his family are Khran.

In November 1993 James’s wife and two children were killed while out searching for food. He survived the attack because he had remained at home with his youngest child. They fled the area and hid in the bush for one month before arriving at the border of Guinea and Liberia and entering N’zerekore, in the Forest Region of Guinea, in December 1993.

They would remain in N’zerekore as official refugees until 2000 when Liberian rebels attacked Guinea and refugees became targeted by the authorities of Guinea. James fled the Forest region for the capitol in 2000, and has been living with his son there ever since, paying for rent and his son’s school fees with his artwork. James has long been friends with the Peace Corps and his artwork covers the halls of the Conakry office. He is also featured heavily at the U.S. Embassay in Conakry.

Unfortunately James suffered a stroke on October 25th 2013 and is now paralyzed in his left hand and left foot. His son was forced to drop out of school to help his father with cooking and daily chores. James continues to produce batiks using his one working hand because it his only means of living to provide for himself and his son.

Before I left Guinea I met with James and brought back several of his pieces to sell for him in America. If you are interested in purchasing these, please contact me by e-mail at saralaskowski@gmail.com


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