Hand painted Gambia (and Jamaican bonus)



Julbrew is Gambia’s national beer and the crocodile is revered in the country for its healing and other powers.

A recent trip to a wedding in The Gambia, West Africa, was another piece of delight for a hand painted signage enthusiast like me.  In a similar fashion to my February visit to Bangladesh I was often distracted by the variety of forms found in the small part of the country we visited.  Also like Bangladesh, I was doing most travelling by car and therefore only getting to photograph a limited number of signs.  Here is a little photo essay to show what I found, hand painted and otherwise…

Pippa’s Boutique shows that it’s not just walls that are good for painting on.

A common feature of the signs is the very explicit display of the products available inside the premises.

At Sabas-Ngozi’s store it isn’t so much the products that you can buy on display, rather the creatures they’ll destroy.

“Fix the pest”, indeed!

I was completely ravaged by these cursed animals on my first night.  In fact, the technical term for the main malaria carrying mosquito in Africa is Anopheles Gambiae, perhaps the clue is in the name…

This more recently hand painted wall is advertising one of the telecoms brands outside the main tourist market.  It wrapped around the whole perimeter wall which sadly this photo doesn’t do justice to.

Closer inspection reveals detailed illustrations of some of the handicraft and other products available for purchase inside.

Perhaps this is an example of ‘privilege’ advertising, with QCELL paying for the sign’s production in return for the use of the wall space and the inclusion of the market’s products in the design.

Wood carvings were abundant, and you could see them being made on site.  We bought a carved hippo to congratulate Gilly’s brother on completing his epic kayak challenge through the hippo-infested waters down the river Gambia.

Inside the market we spent some time playing Oware in the aptly named happy corner.  Accompanying the play was round after round of the strong and highly sweetened green tea, Attaya.

All smiles in happy corner.

It looks like the low prices being paid have extended to the signs advertising them…

We happened to be staying on the same road as the Gambian VSO office and I was very happy to see that they had commissioned this hand painted sign following the introduction of the new logo last year.  It is however slightly flattened in this reproduction…

Most of the signs I saw were for small businesses, advertising on their own premises.  This one for Maggi was a rare example of a big brand using the medium.  Most were taking out space in the emerging billboard sites lining the major roads.

We spent a day at the beach here, I don’t know where to start on the idiosyncrasies of this sign.  Perhaps my favourite thing is the hasty addition of the website and phone numbers which appear to have been missing  from the original design, if indeed there was an original design…

Adjacent to the signboard was this wall with a number of drinks brands advertised in small panels.
This is another emblem for the national beer, the example at the top of this post was also on the same wall.

I love this design of this one, the layout and lettering are of another era.


Photo: Derek Clifford


Photo: Derek Clifford

These mounted signs are very common in Cambodia.  I love the copy, the mixture of upper and lower case letters in “always nice” and the styling of the ‘models’.  Also, “home service”, can’t say fairer than that!

In another echo of Bangladesh I captured this sign, perhaps my favourite of them all, with the last photo on the camera before the battery died.  I’m a Soul Man!

Now a couple of the non-handpainted variety that caught my eye for another reason.

The name says it all, “the place to be”.

And now as a little ‘compare and contrast’ bonus here are some hand painted signs from Jamaica.  The pictures were all taken by Gilly Clifford and it is interesting to note the similarity in terms of the illustration of the goods available for purchase.  Does anyone have any other material from West Africa or the Caribbean to see if this is just coincidence or indicative of a wider stylistic symmetry between these locations?

There’s barely enough space to fit everything on the wall.

Don’t forget the chicken foot!
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