• Our Story

Our Story

ChristinaAndLaurie

Our story began as many stories do, with two friends, Laurie Reyman and Christina Mallie, who shared a common passion. For us it was Africa. In 2010, Laurie, a social worker, was working with an international NGO in the remote and underdeveloped town of Harper in post-war Liberia. Harper is a place stunning in its natural beauty, situated on Cape Palmas at the bottom of Liberia. But the town itself was largely destroyed in the civil war, which ended in 2003. Since that time very little had been done to restore burned-out buildings and other damage from the war, and neglect caused the town to deteriorate further. Visual remnants of the war were everywhere and Laurie could only imagine what memories these physical reminders triggered for those who had suffered through the war in this place.

Together with Christina, an artist and educator who also had strong ties to Africa, we wondered how it would impact the people of Harper if these physical reminders of the painful past could be transformed into something beautiful and hopeful; something that could create a vision of a positive future.

At the time Christina was completing her bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Hunter College in New York. She was unsure of what her next steps would be as she struggled with how to reconcile her love of Africa and desire to help people with her love of art. Throughout her arts education she was regarded as an anomaly by her peers – a playful joke once shared was “Christina, are you going to paint in the studio tonight?  No? Oh sorry, I forgot you want to save the children first. My mistake.” People knew she loved Africa, and she told herself privately that she would give herself only until she finished her undergraduate degree before she would cut the cord on creating art almost completely and start doing humanitarian work. She felt isolated in the studios and guilty for spending her time doing something that seemed so distant from helping others. But she also felt like an artist in her element. When Laurie proposed that they carry out an independent mural project in post-war Liberia, she thought, “Yes, I want to!” within the first 5 minutes. She was hopeful that in Harper she would finally have a chance to bring together the things she loved.

Post-war Environment (5 of 13)

Bottles of gasoline for sale in front of one of many un-renovated buildings burnt during the civil war, Harper City, Liberia, 2010.

We believed that a location as isolated and underdeveloped as Harper would benefit from an infusion of creative energy, and decided to test out our hypothesis in our pilot project. Art is likely at the bottom of the list of priorities in humanitarian assistance, but it was clear in this situation, where the country was heavily dependent on international aid and artistic creativity was given little attention, that many people felt helpless, dependent, and stagnant. Liberia has not had the arts taught in the schools for a generation and basic knowledge such as color mixing is absent.

Initially, the project felt a bit odd within the humanitarian context, especially with the influx of Ivorian refugees into Harper. When Christina first arrived in April 2011, civil unrest in Côte d’Ivoire had caused thousands of Ivorians to flee over the border into Liberia, and aid organizations were scrambling to assemble a new refugee camp just outside Harper.  Aid and development workers responded to the art project with skepticism, but the project went ahead. After 56 youth had done basic arts training and started to transform their town through murals, the community, including the aid and development workers, started to pay attention. For the first time since before the conflict, people were working towards something beyond the basic survival activities that consumed Harper. The community who helped design the murals, and the youth who were painting them, were stepping out of their difficult daily lives for a few hours and collectively envisioning and painting a better future for everyone to see. The community couldn’t believe that the potential to create something so beautiful existed within their children, within themselves. In a place almost devoid of the arts, the murals brought a special therapeutic energy that helped people believe in more than their immediate reality, and connect with each other through their common hopes and dreams.

We witnessed the transformational possibilities of projects such as this for people to feel empowered, excited, hopeful, and strong, and this filled us with wonder and excitement. It was evident that art does have a real power, and we believe that art should be created and shared by everyone, even those living in neglected and poor communities such as Harper. We hope to continue sharing this gift with the people and places around the world that need it the most.

  • Our Projects

    • Caring For Congo
    • 2015

      Goma

    • Goudoubo Project
    • 2014

      Goudoubo

    • Little Wlebo Project Photo
    • 2012

      Little Wlebo

    • Oxfam Project
    • 2011

      Oxfam

    • 2013-2014

      Mentao

    • Tubman University Project
    • 2012

      Tubman University

    • Harper City Project
    • 2011

      Harper City