Betsy Tobin

Conakry 2016

“I found it fascinating to see up close how positive the role of the American Embassy can be and found that it was all I could have hoped for.”

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Betsy Tobin traveled to Guinea to assist fellow artist George Sherwood with the installation of his kinetic sculpture Anemone of Eight Gyres, which was placed in the garden of the Residence of Ambassador Dennis Hankins in Caonakry, Guinea. During her week there, in addition to assisting Sherwood with the cross cultural exchange program that included studio visits and talks with local artists and students, and meetings with employees of the American Embassy in Conakry, Tobin did a presentation on her work, and on shadow theatre and video techniques. She also spoke to local actors and theatre directors at the National Museum.

To kick off the exchange program, Sherwood and Tobin met with local artists on Tuesday, which allowed them to create contacts with people, and generate interest in the activities that were planned for later in the week. They visited the Centre Culturel Franco Guineen, saw the current exhibition and met with the assistant director. They also met with artists/metalworkers at their “studio” on the sidewalk of a major boulevard. Later on, Sherwood and Tobin met with the actress Hadja and local artist Thiam at the Petit Musée. Tobin noted, “meeting Hadja on Tuesday at the Petit Musée was key as she helped to gather local actors and directors for the presentation / workshop I gave at the Musée National. The director of the Musée National also helped us to spread the word.”

The directors and actors at Tobin’s presentation were extremely enthusiastic about the work and techniques she shared. It was an introduction to techniques of shadow theatre and video projection that merge traditional techniques with contemporary practices. The artists at the workshop had never seen anything like it before and expressed the desire to work on a show together. “It was interesting for me to try to distill a presentation of my work into something that would be of interest to people from a different background in a different setting. Sharing the theatre work I do, the layering of imagery, shadows and video, with people who had never seen these techniques helped me to see it in a new way and generated some new ideas for how to use these techniques. It was fascinating to interact with local artists. For me it was truly an amazing and eye-opening experience to be in such a different culture. As someone who has worked with masks for many years, I also loved interacting with vendors and sculptors on the streets and learning more about the mask traditions of Guinea.”

Tobin, who lives and works in Boulder, Colorado was surprised with the… “we’ll-make-art-no-matter-what-no-matter-how” attitude. As she explained, Colorado artists often complain about not having enough money and support from the community. In Guinea, the artists don’t have money to buy materials nor are there materials to be bought, so they make tools out of what they find on the streets and set up studios in parks or on sidewalks.” In addition to the very powerful exchange with the actors and directors during the different workshops,… “I found it very inspiring to watching the metalworkers on the sidewalk of a busy street using handmade tools and drawing designs in the dirt and the wood sculptors working with chisels made out of metal from windshield wipers.” At the end of the different workshops, Tobin donated the materials she had brought with her from the U.S., so the participants could continue the work they had started.