SCHOOL: Fordham University
MAJOR: International Political Economy
To the average person, trash is unusable and frowned upon. To Alfajo Jallow, trash can be turned into art. At 21, the Gambian-born can turn just about any trash-like object into a reusable and glorified work of art.
Once upon a time, in The Gambia, Mr. Jallow was unmindful of his niche until he met a woman who reassured to him that his calling in life was to be an artist.
Her name? Isha Fofana, an artist. She's the woman, who to this day, Mr. Jallow praises for giving him the opportunity to discover a raw talent which had long been drilled in the palm of his hand.
Mr. Jallow couldn't help but to gaze at the beautiful paintings that she hung on her walls when he first visited her. At the age of 16, he could not process the possibilities of reaching her level.
All he needed in order to initiate a bold move was to hear echoes of the woman's motivational words. Not worried about messing up or how it would turn out, he grabbed a brush and painted. He kept painting ever since.
In 2010, Mr. Jallow moved to America - where he found professional networks that became his wagon to success.
Throughout 2010, he only painted intermittently, but once 2011 came knocking on his door, so did opportunities. The painting he once thought was "horrible," sold at $2000 Dollars at one of his earliest exhibitions in New York under the dynamic support of ProjectArt.
Recycling provoked his use of rough texture, by pasting cardboards, stones, papers, plastics and fabrics on his canvas before painting. He paints with one goal: “How do I hold on to my identity as an African, but at the same time challenge it, while evoking a conscious thought process in the minds of his audience?”
Usually, after we finish drinking from a disposable cup or eating from a disposable plate, where does it most likely end up? In the dumpster. After Jallow is done using a disposable cup or plate, he doesn't throw it away. It ends up on his canvas. In essence, he makes beauty out of trash.
He, then, began using vibrant colors that were pleasing to the eye, and recycle items that gave the painting a 3-dimensional feel.
Mr. Jallow believes that African art has been very stagnant for the past century or even more and believes that it is his job as an artist and an African to rekindle the beautiful art from where he came from, but unerringly believes that African artists should try new things, challenge them while preserving their values and identities.
His art challenges and expands his audience's imagination, whereby helping them see art from different lens each time they come in contact with his creation. Peace, integrity and activism are messages Jallow hopes that his audience will draw from his work. He is freer than a bird, and trusts that his imagination will guide him to a world where creativity is abundant. Possessing a vivid imagination, stern posture and a powerful voice that moves people; he is an influence-wrangler.
Growing up in a society that did very little in questioning art and its importance, the young artist has taken it upon himself to ask critical questions about African art. Questions broader than just painting on a canvas and selling it for a living, but rather questions that spoke to the consciousness of African art and role youths played in it. While trying to answer some of these questions, Mr. Jallow became an activist unknowingly. Change was what he always wanted to see take place.
But he knew change required more than just painting in a studio painting, but rather getting involved economically, socially and most importantly- politically. Mr. Jallow discovered this through a variety of ways.
At Guttman Community College, where Mr. Jallow is currently pursuing his Associates in Business Administration, he saw the opportunity to be part of a small community that contributed to a greater community and he knew that his educational community was going to be filled with students like himself, students who needed each other to grow and learn. Students who no matter their circumstances, were ready to thrive and flourish within the community.
In his quest to help his community grow, he became the first Treasurer of the Student Government Association and a year later ran successfully for Student Government President. Currently as the President and a part of the larger CUNY system with about 500,000 students with more than 14,000 international students like himself, he saw the need for more representation and ran for a position and became the Vice Chairperson for international students.
Serving as the Vice Chair for International Students, Mr. Jallow held the first ever international cultural event for the entire University called “Culturally United New York”. This cultural event brought various international clubs from about 16 colleges in the university to celebrate different cultural values, art, cuisine, fashion, language and music under one umbrella. This he believed would create a further sense of community involvement for international students while at the same time creating an atmosphere of home away from home. Together with his colleagues, Mr. Jallow was able to secure more than $13,000 for international students, of which $4000 went directly to international clubs.
Serving in these positions, he saw the power of collective effort and unity. One way he was able to do this was through art- his innate skill.
In 2013, Mr. Jallow started an art project that focused on recycling trash around the campus by making paintings out of discarded materials. For the purpose of this project, Mr. Jallow, through his political involvement was able to secure about $15,000 for this project- “Guttman Through the Lens of Art”. The goal of this project was to increase, preserve and exhibit the fundamental values of the community through paintings around the walls of the school campus, documenting ideas that the school seeks to achieve. Mr. Jallow was among 60 students participate in this one year art project.
As a student leader, Mr. Jallow’s newfound knowledge and exposure made him reflect upon his roots. He wanted to better understand things he never understood growing up, like poverty. He wanted to better comprehend why his neighbors in Gambia at times could not provide for their families. Given this background, he has always wanted to contribute to his native country’s economic, political and social growth. Mr. Jallow is graduating this semester with an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration and by Fall of 2014, he will begin at Fordham University on scholarship to pursue a major in International Political Economy.
African art has been very stagnant for the past century or even more and he believes that it is his job as an artist and an African to rekindle the beautiful art from where he originated but also do it in a progressive manner.
Art has open Mr. Jallow’s world into a whole new can of worms and that is what he believes art should be for the youths. Youth and social entrepreneurship is essential to the development of Africa and he strives to continue serving his immediate community, and most importantly to help young people identify their potential while using art as a medium of growth and self-reliance. His dream is to see art not only become a concept just pondered upon in the studio, or an art gallery but rather in every aspect of our lives to produce social and political change.